"[Your glutes are] one of the workhorses of the body," says Jordan Metzl, M.D., an exercise physician and author of The Exercise Cure. "You use them all the time." Your glutes help support your body when you stand, help you push off the ground, and give you better balance in general, he says. So when your glutes are strong, every activity you do—from running to golfing to just walking—is positively impacted.
After all, you’ve probably seen the countless workouts, diets, supplements, programs, products and people claiming that super fast muscle growth is possible. You’ve probably also seen the click-bait headlines (“How To Build 20lbs Of Muscle In Just 6 Weeks!”) and the unbelievable transformations of supposedly “natural” people (bodybuilders, celebrities, athletes, fitness gurus on social media, etc.) that clearly prove it can happen faster than this.
I know this goes against the recommendations you often see in stereotypical bodybuilding routines (i.e. the ones that involve having a single “chest day” or “arm day” or “shoulder day” once a week), but that’s just one of the many reasons why those types of routines suck for us natural, genetically-average people, and work best for steroid users with great genetics.
Now, if you are somebody that is more of the “do-it-yourself” type, check out our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy. The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles so you know when you to level up your routine, meal plans, a questing system, and supportive community.
How to do it: Stand with feet just outside the shoulders and hands behind your head. Squat, keeping your knees behind your toes and squeezing your glutes. After holding this position for two seconds, jump vertically. Pull the toes to your shins in midair to prepare for landing. Land in the starting squat position, hold three seconds and repeat for 10 reps. Be sure to land softly, with the hips back and down.
Just because your hip flexor region feels sore doesn’t necessarily mean the muscles there are tight — in fact, they might need strengthening. This is where that sports science debate we mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s important to identify whether you’re tight or if the muscles are weak. Again, the Thomas Test will help you identify if you’re maybe stretching something that actually needs strengthening.
When it comes to building muscle, there are numerous theories, methods, and preferences. Whether the goal is improved health, aesthetics, performance, or a combination of all three, there is no shortage of advice to help you get there. So much so that it can sometimes become overly complicated and you forget about the basic facts. But, it’s simpler than it seems.
Hip flexors. These hardworking muscles are crucial in foundational movements such as sitting, standing, walking and running — they act as a bridge connecting your torso to your lower body. Some muscles in this group can be notoriously weak or tight and those of you who have ever had issues with this part of your body will know the uncomfortable pain of either all too well. There’s a lot of debate in the world of sports science over how much you should strengthen and stretch your hip flexors — we’ll explain.
Pick a few key exercises that together train the whole body. Presses, chinups, rows, and squat and deadlift variations are the best choices (more on these in Rules #2 and #3). Write down how much weight you can currently do for 5–10 reps on each of them, and, over the next few months, work your way up to where you can either add 10–20 pounds to each of those lifts or do 3–5 more reps with the same weight. That’s how you force your body to grow.
Are you sitting right now? Squeeze your buttocks, then release them: You should feel them tighten, then slacken. While slack muscles aren’t necessarily a bad thing—all of our muscles shouldn’t be firing at all times, after all—resting all of your body weight on your slack glute muscles (as you do when you sit) creates a lengthening of the fascial tissues within and surrounding the glutes, which weakens the gluteals’ natural tension. When the buttocks are excessively weak, the quadriceps and hip flexors have to work harder to compensate, and these muscular imbalances often sneakily follow us onto our mats to cause problems and pain. Want help? Try these poses:
2. What's your training like? Are you crushing 25 sets for chest like the average juiced out bodybuilder? If so, there's a pretty good chance you might be working above your MRV (maximal recoverable volume) and as such any physiological adaptation which could have taken place is going to be minimal given the cellular environment which occurs in a state of functional overreaching.
4. Just swing it. For the front-to-back hip swing stretch, lie on the left side with hips stacked, propped up on the left elbow. Bend the left leg to a 90-degree angle and raise the right leg to hip level with toes pointed. Keep abs tight and swing the right leg all the way in front, then swing it all the way to the back, squeezing the booty along the way. Switch sides.
We’ll define the “bigger muscle groups” as being chest, back, quads and hamstrings, and the “smaller muscle groups” as being biceps, triceps and maybe abs. Shoulders are really somewhere in the middle, though I tend to lean more toward the “smaller” guidelines. Calves, while technically small, are another muscle group that is somewhere in the middle, and I can really go either way depending on the needs of the person.
To make that motion more natural, glute-building exercises are key. Ones that require hip motion or balancing on one leg, like these from John Henwood, running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, are best: They fire the glutes to help you stabilize and stay upright. Do one set of 15 to 20 reps, two or three days per week, and say hello to a stronger stride.
I HATE that the resistance training community can be so tribal. I have been preaching to bodybuilders for years about the benefits of powerlifting, or Olympic lifting or kettlebells or even Crossfit style conditioning and many have been receptive. Learn from each other and achieve levels of fitness you simply could not have otherwise. Don’t brush off bodybuilding wisdom…it could be the missing factor in your program.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.
By that logic, a 160-pound man should consume around 160 grams of protein a day—the amount he'd get from an 8-ounce chicken breast, 1 cup of cottage cheese, a roast-beef sandwich, two eggs, a glass of milk, and 2 ounces of peanuts.) If you don't eat meat for ethical or religious reasons, don't worry — you can count on other sources, too. Soy, almonds, lentils, spinach, peas, and beans are packed with protein.
If you are standing, the hip flexors lift your leg when you step up on a stool. If you are lying flat on your back, the hip flexors can either lift your leg or lift your torso into a sit-up. In yoga, Navasana (Boat Pose) is especially good at strengthening the iliopsoas because it demands that the muscle isometrically contract to hold up the weight of the legs and torso.
The iliopsoas is another powerful hip flexor that begins in two distinct regions proximally. The iliacus has a broad origin, arising from the inner table of the iliac wing, the sacral alae, and the iliolumbar and sacroiliac ligaments. The psoas originates at the lumbar transverse processes, the intervertebral discs, and the adjacent bodies from T12 to L5, in addition to the tendinous arches between these points. Distally, the two large muscular bodies converge to become one distinct structure—the iliopsoas—and subsequently jointly insert at the lesser trochanter of the proximal femur. The nerve to the iliopsoas (i.e., the anterior division of L1 to L3) supplies the iliopsoas muscle.
The iliopsoas muscle is the prime hip flexor and shortening may affect the lower back, pelvis, and/or hip joint. Caution should be taken during this release due to the sensitive area in which the therapist's hand pushes, i.e. proximity to the appendix, possible abdominal aortic abnormalities, potential tissue weaknesses predisposing to inguinal hernias, ovarian conditions, or general irritation/inflammation of the gastrointestinal system; hence, this release may occasionally be replaced by the regular therapeutic stretch presented in Chapter 7 (see Fig. 7.14).
The sartorius originates at the ASIS and proceeds to traverse obliquely and laterally down the thigh to eventually insert at the anterior surface of the tibia, just inferomedial to the tibial tuberosity, as part of the pes anserinus. In addition to flexing the hip and knee, the sartorius aids in the abduction of the hip. It is innervated by the femoral nerve (i.e., the posterior division of L2 and L3).