Hip Strength & Stability Week 4 - Bridging for Glute Strength
By David Drinks
Welcome back for week 4 of the hip strength & stability series! Once again, the goal of this series is to progress from the hip mobility series that we recently wrapped up to the next logical step – strengthening and stabilizing your hips.
If you’re new to this series, you may be wondering why I chose the somewhat cumbersome title “Hip Strength & Stability” instead of just “Hip Strength” or “Hip Stability”. The answer is that we’re intentionally trying to show you the difference between strength and stability training.
Your hips need both strength AND stability to function optimally.
So, as we move through this series, I’ll be highlighting different exercises that are more strength-focused (to build muscular strength around the hips), and exercises that are more stability focused (to promote joint integrity and better control of your movement at the hips).
The main point is this – you can’t stabilize your hips without first being strong, and you can’t move well and stay pain-free without stability at your hips. With that being said, let’s get to our week 4 exercises!
This week, we’re talking about your glutes. That’s right, I’m writing a blog post all about butts…
Whether you realize it or not, your butt is not just made for sitting on. Your glute muscles (the gluteus maximus being basically what we think of as the butt) are some of the strongest muscles in the body. They play a huge role in keeping your hips healthy and ensuring that you move properly.
The glute muscle's biggest role is to extend the hip. Hip extension refers to the act of moving your leg backward, behind your body. If flexion at the hip is lifting your leg straight up in front of you, then hip extension is the opposite of that.
Hip extension occurs in both the walking and running gaits, when climbing stairs, when standing up to an erect posture after sitting or bending to pick something up, and in other similar scenarios.
As you can probably tell from that list of hip extension activities, the hips can extend, and thus the glutes can be active when the foot is off the ground (when walking or running), or when the foot is in contact with the ground (when climbing stairs, standing up or lifting something up).
Additionally, the glutes can be active when resisting unwanted motion. This is where the stability aspect of glute strengthening comes into play.
For example, if you jump and land, you need your glute muscles to both extend the hips and propel you off the ground, and you also need the glutes to engage eccentrically to control your landing and prevent excessive hip flexion (i.e. prevent you from collapsing forward when you land!).
On top of that, your glute muscles don’t just work in one plane of motion. If you look at a picture of how the glute muscles are oriented, it’s actually more of a diagonal angle. This allows them to play a powerful role in hip external rotation (e.g. the open clamshell we went over a couple of weeks ago).
Notice the diagonal orientation of muscle fibers in the picture above? That same orientation of muscle fibers also allows the glutes to play a large role in controlling unwanted internal rotation of the hip.
I mentioned how the glutes can control against unwanted flexion in the example of landing from a jump. However, a much bigger challenge that you face when landing from a jump, or even just squatting down, is controlling against internal rotation of the hip and femur.
What does that look like? Well, femoral internal rotation looks like this:
Notice how the knees dive together in the above picture to the right? This is a remarkably unstable and dangerous position for your knees to be in.
Fortunately, if you have strong and stable glute muscles, they will be able to control your legs and maintain proper alignment all the way from the hip down to the foot!
Hopefully, you can now appreciate the great importance of having strong and stable glute muscles. They’re useful for more than just sitting on!
That’s why in week 4, we’re focusing on training your glutes with a few variations of the glute bridge.
Glute bridging is an excellent choice for almost every single person to incorporate into their workout routine. I’ve had 90-year-old clients do bridging, and I regularly have athletes of all ages perform some variation of a glute bridge.
This is because everybody needs glute strength, whether you’re trying to perform in a sport or just get up out of bed in the morning.
The bridge also offers a great means of making it super easy and simple to strengthen your glutes, but also giving you the option to incredibly challenge your glute muscles and build some serious glute strength!
So, today we’ll start with some of our baseline glute bridging variations, and you can look forward to some quite challenging bridging variations coming later this series.
Today, I’ll go over three variations that we like a lot – The Glute Bridge, The Glute Bridge with Band, and The Single-Leg Glute Bridge.
These offer three unique but similar challenges, each a little more challenging than the one before it.
Check out the video below to learn how to perform each variation:
As you saw, all three of these exercises are excellent glute strengthening options. The glute bridge with a band and the single-leg bridge also add a lot of stability work for the hips.
The banded version adds a whole different plane motion that the glutes must control against. As I mentioned, the glute muscles play a large role in controlling unwanted internal rotation of the femur, and that’s exactly what they’re doing in the bridge with a band. The band places an internal rotation force at the knees and the glutes must kick in extra to stabilize the hip and not allow knees to move together.
The single-leg bridge, on the other hand, takes advantage of the fact that whenever you move an exercise from being done on two feet to one foot, you not only challenge the muscles on the working side more, but you also force more of those muscles to kick in and stabilize against the unwanted motion.
Basically, you have taken away 50% of your stability by removing one leg from the equation, so you must make up for that by kicking in with the muscles on the working side to better stabilize.
Lastly, one other benefit to consider when strengthening the glute muscles is how it can positively affect both the low back and the hamstrings.
This is because your glute muscles should be your primary hip extensor muscles. However, if they are not strong enough, or you’re not using them properly, then you will make up for it by overusing other muscles.
There are generally two options if your glutes aren’t working optimally – you’ll either overuse the hamstrings to extend the hips (they are a secondary hip extension muscle group), or you’ll just not fully extend your hip and make up for it by overusing your low back extensors to hyperextend your spine. If you’re thinking that sounds bad for your back – it is.
In the first scenario, your hamstrings get overworked and they tend to develop too much tightness and can even become injured.
In the second scenario, the compensation of hyperextending your back and overusing your spinal extensors to make up for a lack of hip extension leads to excessive tightness and often pain in an overactive low back.
So, if you want to save your low back and hamstrings, it’s best to learn how to properly engage and strengthen your glute muscles.
The important thing when doing a glute bridge then is that you actually use your glutes! Believe it or not, in what seems like a simple movement, you can still compensate and overuse your hamstrings or your low back.
Usually, you’ll notice cramping in your hamstrings if you’re overusing them, and it’s even possible to notice excessive tightness or pain at the low back if you’re arching your back and using it too much to bridge.
To avoid this and strengthen your glutes, make sure you actively brace your abdominal muscles to keep your low back locked in place throughout the movement. From there, really squeeze your butt muscles together to lift your hips. If you don’t think about squeezing your glutes to extend your hips, you’ll likely overuse the hamstrings.
So, brace the core, squeeze the glutes, and start bridging today!
The question of how often and how much you should do is one that I always like to answer at the end of these blog posts. It doesn’t make much sense to tell you to just go do something without giving you some guidelines to stay within.
For bridging, you usually have a lot of leeway with how much or how often you perform these exercises. Typically starting with 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions will be best and you can work up to 3-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions from there.
With each version, you have the option to increase the challenge by adding a hold at the top (up to 5-10 seconds). I typically like to add a hold to the banded version most, as it gives you a little more time holding tension against the band in the fully extended hip position.
Finally, you could perform some bridging every day without consequences, but doing at least 2-3 days of bridging per week can be enough to build some great glute strength and stability!
There you have it. Now you can bridge with confidence, knowing you're improving your glute strength and keeping your low back happy and healthy!
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