If you want to get faster and/or stronger, you need to incorporate a glutes workout into your routine.
“There's just no way around it,” says Rich Borgatti, an SGX coach and the owner of MountainStrength.com. “The glutes and hamstrings make up the majority of our posterior chain, which makes up the majority of our ability to move well through space.”
Essentially, being able to run uphill, climb over obstacles, do burpees, or rip through box jumps (which are in some stadium races now) is completely at the mercy of your glutes.
“If they’re de-conditioned or only working at 50 percent capacity, we’re at a disadvantage for just about everything we do in one of these obstacle races,” says Borgatti.
Beyond dips in performance, lazy glutes put you at risk for injury.
“If the glutes aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing as a prime mover, the assistor muscles (hamstrings, for instance) are going to be taking a lot of that load,” says Sam Stauffer, director of training for Spartan. "If you're deadlifting or squatting or doing a lunge and your glutes aren't firing properly, your hamstrings have to take on the load and they're definitely going to start to wear over time.
"It may not be right then and there, but in a repetitive sense, you're looking at tight, strained, or pulled hamstrings.”
If you’re someone who always has tight hamstrings or thinks “they're just not flexible” or “they feel funny when I'm running," it's likely that they're overstrained because you're not doing enough glute exercises, or you don't know how to fire your glutes the way you're supposed to, per Stauffer.
Let’s take an example from pro sports.
“Ice hockey players have these massive hips and strong glutes, and they really don't have the kind of issues we see across other sports,” says Stauffer. “That's exactly what you want. If you look at other races, like marathon running or long distance running, which probably equates to our sport the most, you're not going to see really big glutes or strong hips because these athletes are not using the glutes as much, or the way they should be.”
“Lazy glutes,” as they’re often called, are an unfortunately common issue thanks to desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles.
“What happens when we sit a lot is that we're shortening our hip flexors and then, when our hip flexors shorten, our glutes are actually kind of lengthening, says Borgatti. "Our hamstrings are lengthening a little bit so when we stand up, we're not contracting our glutes as much as they can.
This is how to wake up your glutes to ward off injury and see big improvements in your performance on race day.
Step 1: Add glute activation drills to your warm-up
“We work the glutes in every single warm-up that we do — there's never a day we don't hit that body part,” says Borgatti.
“Even for avid lifters and people who have stronger glutes or know how to use them, it's a good idea to wake them up and turn them on and get them moving,” says Stauffer, who recommends working in your glute activation drills after a dynamic warm-up and foam rolling before the main event.
Work these warm-up moves into your warm-up before any workout, even if you’re not working the glutes specifically that day. Do a set or two of each for as many reps until you start to feel the burn in your glutes.
Side to side/front to back mini-band circuit Hip lifts Quadruped hip extension Donkey kicks
Step 2: Strengthen them in your workout
“There are certain glute exercises we would be able to put into any program and have people work on it every day,” says Borgatti. “Since it's such a big muscle group, you can work it every day in some capacity."
Work some of the first-tier exercises into your routine as often as five times a week. Limit the second-tier moves to 1-2 days a week, as they’re more exhaustive. For all, do 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps. According to Borgatti, this rep scheme is for muscular endurance, ideal for Spartan competitors.