When working out, many people focus on training the obvious muscle groups such as abs, chest, and “curls for the girls,” but what is the athlete's most important muscle? While these all play important roles, they are by far not the only ones needed for optimal athletic performance.
One of the most exciting times in my life as a kid was when I got new shoes. My parents would always teasingly ask me, “Can you jump any higher or run any faster with those shoes?” The truth, due to the placebo effect, was that a part of me thought that I could. In reality, there is no shoes that will actually make you run faster or jump higher, but there is a muscle group which every athlete should work out that can do just that. The one muscle that is most important to any athlete.
What muscle am I speaking of? Well, Sir Mix-A-Lot had it right when he exclaimed, “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” You see, in order for any athlete to be successful, the glutes must be their most important ASSet (okay, bad joke!) Whether you are into football, swimming, fighting, basketball, or long distance running, if your glutes are not operating at their best, then you won't be either.
By now, I am sure many of you are reading this and thinking, “Okay, I get it. The butt is important, but how do I work it out?” Well, allow me to share three of my favorite exercises which will bust your butt. (Pun intended.)
1. Hip Thrust
The hip thrust was made famous by “The Glute Guy” himself – Bret Contreras. According to many electromyography studies, there is no exercise which can work the glutes like the hip thrust. It should be started with just your body weight at first. Place your heels flat on the ground and your back comfortably against a bench. From this position, you should push up from your heels and raise your pelvis off the ground. If you are performing this exercise correctly, your knees should now be about 90 degrees to the ground. Now allow your butt to sink slowly to the ground. Finally, repeat all of the above.
Remember, the key to this exercise is not to arch your back in order to get your butt off the ground, but rather to squeeze your glutes to pull off the move. As you reach the apex, poke the sides of your glutes. If they are not rick-hard, you're not doing it right. As you become more accustomed to performing the hip thrust correctly, you can start adding weight. Do this by simply laying a barbell across your lap, making sure to have some padding between the weight and your body.
The deadlift is by far my favorite exercise, so naturally I am a bit biased and inclined to include it in my list. When properly executed, there is no other exercise which can give you the total body strength like the deadlift. Another great fact about this exercise is that it is a hip dominant movement, which means that it also works the glutes very well.
This exercise involves lifting a bar of weights. For those who are not mobile enough to pull the weights from the ground, there is no shame in having the bar slightly elevated. On the set up, be sure that your abs and lats are squeezed tight and that the bar is close to your body. Remember, this is not a squat from the ground so do not squat down to the bar. Instead, you will need to push your heels through the ground as you pick the weights up, or as Dan John says, “Heels to China!” At lockout, bring your hips through the bar...meaning you should squeeze your glutes and not arch your back.
The eccentric portion of the deadlift can cause a lot of issues because it puts a great deal of stress on the body. If you need to, simply drop the weights, but if you can just set the weights down this would be best. Just put them down in the same way that you picked them up; push your hips away from yourself, keeping your abs and lats tight.
3. Kettlebell Swings
The Kettlebell Swings can also be performed with dumbells, and is another terrific exercise for the backside. It is, however, an extremely technical exercise to perform. The key is to allow your hips to perform the movement, not your arms.
You will set up for the Kettlebell Swing just as you would for a deadlift, and then explosively contract your glutes, thrusting your hips forward. This action will bring the weights up and in front of you. Be sure to keep your lats locked at the top, so that the weight doesn't go over your head. Next comes the important part.
Do not simply bend back down with the weight, but rather allow the weight to begin falling. As your arms become close to your pelvis, push your hips back...and I stress here, push your hips back, do not squat down. As soon as the weight goes through your legs, repeat the whole exercise. The Kettlebell Swing is great for really getting your glutes firing and activating their fast twitch fibers.
There you have it. These are just three of my favorite glute exercises, but there are many others which are also very effective. Some of these include the Pull-Throughs, Romanian Deadlifts, and even the Broad Jumps. Now that you are aware of the existence (and importance) of the glutes, do yourself and your athletic career a favor...work them. You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it.” As the glutes become stronger, I can guarantee your athleticism will also improve.