Guest post by Swan Instructor Travis Steele Sisk
Since the release of Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back" in 1992 we have all desired a better derriere. At least I know I have. Whether your reasoning is simply aesthetics or actually gaining strength to perform Olympic dead lifts with ease and without injury, an understanding of how well your Glutes are firing (or not) is required to get the most out of your butt workout.
In my journey through physical fitness, actually feeling my Gluteus Maximus firing in any exercise has always been a challenge for me. My quadriceps and hamstrings always seemed to take the grunt of the work whenever I tried to do squats or bridging. My work as a Pilates instructor has lead me to see similar muscle firing patterns in my clients. After doing some research on myself physically and by reading various articles in sport medicine journals, I have finally found what works for me in getting my Gluteus Maximus firing so that I'm actually sore the next day from performing squats. This information has allowed me to help my clients find the same burn when trying to get that butt working!
Through this series of exercises you should be able to reach a point where you feel your Gluteus Maximus firing during a deep well aligned squat (and if not during the exercise hopefully the next day)!
The first step is self myofascial release of the I.T. Band, Calves, and Glutes.
Start off sitting on the foam roller with one leg extended and the opposite ankle crossed over the knee of the extended leg. Bend the knee of the extended leg and proceed to roll the butt cheek of the crossed leg side to side on the foam roller for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. Next is the I.T. Band! You do this by turning onto your side on top of the foam roller, bending the knee of the top leg and planting that foot on the ground in front of the leg extended on the foam roller (see image below). Proceed to roll from just below Greater Trochanter (boney region on the side of your hip) to right above the knee. NEVER over the knee joint!
Last bit of foam roller work is your Soleus (or calves). Have a seat on the ground with your legs extended in front of you, place the foam roller under one calf and cross the opposite leg over at the ankles. Lift your body weight off the ground with your hands. Proceed to roll from right below the knee joint to above the ankle. Repeat on other leg.
Now that your fascial structure is loosened up. It's time to do some work.
I suggest starting with single leg circles.
Laying on your back, raise one leg up in the air keeping it as straight as you can while reaching for the ceiling. Keep the other leg extended down on the floor while you draw basket ball sized circles in the air with the big toe of the leg extended towards the ceiling, making sure the circle crosses the mid-line of your body. Draw 8 circles in one direction and then reverse with 8 circles in the opposite direction. Use your breathe and make sure to engage your abdominals as you exhale. Repeat with the other leg, 8 circles in each direction.
Next you want to get the Gluteus Medius firing, as this will help keep your knees tractioning over your toes when your move through your squat.
The best way I have found to accomplish this is through the Side Leg series.
A great starting point is Side Laying Leg Lifts (which was outlined previously here). Instead of switching from one side to the other immediately, stay on the first side and add on Clam after your Leg Lifts. To execute Clam, bend your knees slightly from their extended position and lift both feet off the floor. Be careful as you do this to not collapse or rest your low ribs to the floor. You are trying to mimic standing throughout this series and ideally you wouldn't be standing with your ribs shifted to one side but rather with them floating in alignment over your pelvis. Now with the feet lifted and the femur of your bottom leg resting on the floor proceed to open your top leg, knee leading towards the ceiling, stopping at your range of motion. Close and repeat for 10-12 reps. Following Clam, bend both legs into a 90º angle where your shins are parallel with the front edge of your mat. Lift the top leg hip height, keeping the space between your low ribs and the floor, internally rotate the femur so that the knees touch each other then externally rotate the femur so the heels touch each other and repeat for 10 reps.
Lastly, stay laying on your side with your legs in table top position and your top leg lifted hip height, extend your top leg out and away from you so that your knee crosses the shin of the bent leg that is resting on the floor. Allow the inside of the knee of your extended top leg to lower and touch the shin of your resting leg. Then immediately lift it to hip height and repeat for 10 reps. Flip over and repeat those 3 exercises laying on the other side.
Now it's time to get the Gluteus Maximus firing.
One of the best exercises to awaken the Glute Max was described in this #moveit. Once completed move into quadruped (all-fours) for some more extensive Glute Max work. Once in quadruped make sure that you engage the abdominals inward towards the spine with every exhale (without rounding the back). Extend the right leg out behind you keeping it parallel to the ground and extend through the heel. Pulse the extended leg toward the ceiling. With every pulse make sure you exhale and engage the abdominals. You only need to bring the leg high enough to feel the Glute Max fire. Do 10-12 reps with each leg.
The second exercise while on all fours is meant to get the Glute Max firing in multiple directions. Start by exhaling while bringing your right knee toward your right elbow, letting the knee tough the elbow, if flexibility allows, while keeping straight arms. Inhale while you send the right knee to cross over the calf of the left leg, touching the floor outside of the left leg. Then repeat exhaling the knee toward the right elbow and perform this for 10 reps each leg. So now your whole hip and Glute complex should be warmed up and prepped for Squatting, one of the most functional movements we as humans were created to perform. If you look at small children they have no problem squatting with their hips flexed below their knees. This is something we should also be able to do with ease while maintaining a well-aligned squat with keep your knees, hips, and lower back mobile and ready for action.
The mechanics of your squat go as follows:
-Make sure your feet are slightly wider than hip distance apart and placed in your natural turned out position (somewhere between parallel and a "Pilates first" position).
-Interlace your fingers behind your head and keep your elbows wide.
-As you start to descend lead with your tailbone as though you are going to have a seat on an imaginary chair behind you, and most importantly make sure your knees are tractioning over your toes at all times.
-Bring your pelvis parallel or below your knees (this may take a few reps before you are able to get so low) while keeping your head and back in a neutral position.
-On the way back up make sure your weight is in your heels and you are driving through them with most of your force.
-Lastly once upright give a squeeze of the butt to finish a strong firing of the Glutes
-Repeat 10-12 reps, 3 times through.
As always at the end of any workout, STRETCH! End with a figure four stretch, hamstring stretch and piegon (a stretch taken from yoga). Good luck on your journey for a better, more toned butt!
And as a side note, "Baby's got Back" makes an excellent soundtrack for keeping a good tempo while doing your squats. Sir Mix-a-Lot was onto something there... trust me.