Weak gluteal and hip muscles can trigger a series of undesirable events that you would not wish on your most formidable athletic competition. A process called reciprocal inhibition pairs weak gluteal muscles with overly tight hip flexors to distort your alignment and movement mechanics, while weak hip muscles make you susceptible to knee injury, says Matt Fitzgerald, author of "Triathlete Magazine’s Essential Week-by-Week Training Guide." Glute and hip activation exercises can enhance your appearance and athletic performance.
In the 1970s, the quadruped, also called the fire hydrant, was a popular hip and butt exercise. In 2006, the American Council on Exercise said it was with good reason. The council asked the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, to test gluteal muscle activity in various butt exercises. Researchers reported that the quadruped stimulated the highest level of gluteus maximus muscle recruitment. To perform the exercise, kneel on all fours and lift your shin so that your foot is perpendicular to the ceiling. Squeeze your right butt muscle and lift your leg to hip height.
Add challenge to the quadruped exercise by placing a hand weight or a small, weighted medicine ball in the groove of your knee. Contract your hamstring to keep the ball or weight in place. While the quadruped activates your gluteus maximus, which is responsible for hip extension in moving your leg behind your body, the fire hydrant activates your gluteus medius, which moves your leg away from your body's center. Begin in the same position as for the quadruped, but bring your leg out to the side as you lift it. Glute trainer Bret Contreras suggests a five-second hold at the top of each movement.
Cook Hip Lift
Physical therapist Gray Cook, author of "The Athletic Body in Balance," created a gluteal muscle activation exercise that functions as a precursor to the traditional supine gluteal bridge. The gluteal bridge should activate the hip and butt muscles, but many people compensate with their stronger back muscles. Cook provides a solution with the "Cook hip lift." Lie supine with your knees bent. Place a tennis ball on the lower left side of your pelvis, and lift your bent left knee to hold the ball in place. Place both hands on your left shin and lift your hips from the floor. The tennis ball forces your spine into a neutral position, which prevents you from using your back muscles to do the work of your glutes.
Your hips have external rotation capabilities, but they work on a "use it or lose it" principle. Limited external rotation causes your back and knees to compensate. The clam exercise provides an effective solution. Lie on your right side with your knees bent and your legs at a 45-degree angle. Place your left leg on top of your right. Keep your heels together, and lift your left knee so that it points toward the ceiling. Your pelvis and lower back should remain stable, even if you have to reduce the range of motion of your working leg.