If you're not seeing booty gains in the gym, your muscles may not be activating at their full potential during your workouts. Before you begin busting out squats, start with some glute-activation exercises.
These moves help "switch on" on the muscles in your bum and "improve the conversation between your brain, nerves and muscular contractions," says Holly Perkins, CSCS, author of Lift To Get Lean and creator of The GLUTES Project ACTIVATE.
"In order to get the benefits from any exercise, your muscles must be firing," says Perkins, explaining, "The only real way to do that is to perform certain movement patterns that thoroughly activate the muscle group."
Why Glute Activation Is So Important
Waking up your butt and leg muscles pre-workout is especially essential since so many people spend most of the day sitting — at desks, on couches or in the car — which can make our glutes groggy, lazy and weak. After being inactive for hours on end, you can't expect your muscles to spring into action; your body needs time to prepare for strenuous strength exercises.
"Doing a pre-workout activation series helps make every rep of your strength-training routine effective, even during the first set," Perkins says. "Alternatively, if you begin your workout 'cold' (without activating), your first set becomes your warm-up, and, in essence, a waste."
Not only will you reap the maximal benefits during strength training, but "activation exercises also improve your mobility and body alignment, reducing the risk of injury," Perkins says.
Try This 5-Minute Glute-Activation Routine
Ready to get your backside burning? This 5-minute glute-activation routine features three of Perkins' favorites moves from her ACTIVATE series. Perform this sequence immediately prior to lower-body strength and conditioning workouts or as a stand-alone mini workout when you're pressed for time.
Set a timer for five minutes (or more if your body needs it) and repeat these three moves in sequence until time's up.
Move 1: Banded Lateral Walk
- Begin with a resistance band around your legs, placing it just above your knees.
- Start with your feet separated in order to keep tension on the band and maintain a long, tall spine by bracing your abs.
- Bend your knees in a quarter squat and keep your feet parallel to each other.
- Leading with your left heel, step to the side, stretching the band. Be sure to step with your whole leg without extending your lower leg below the knee.
- Remain in a partial squat as you step, then follow with your right foot, returning to the start position while keeping tension on the band.
Reps: 15 in each direction
Move 2: Hip Thrust
- Sit on the floor with your shoulder blades pressed into a bench (even a sturdy couch or chair will do).
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out slightly.
- Brace your core, drive into your heels and press your hips up. Rotate your pelvis under (posterior tilt) and squeeze your glutes, ending with your hips locked in a fully opened position. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
- Press your knees outward, then pause at the top for a few seconds before lowering back down to the starting position.
Reps: 15 to 20
For an added challenge, loop a resistance band just above your knees.
Move 3: Single-Leg Reach
- Stand with both feet together, a long tall spine and your core braced.
- Keep a slight bend in your left knee and focus your eyes on a spot in front of you. (This is called "spotting" and helps maintain balance.)
- Lift your right foot off the ground and settle into your balance for a few seconds. Using the strength of your left leg, bend forward from the hip allowing your right leg to extend backward.
- Reach your right hand forward and lightly touch a stable object (optional).
- Drive into your left heel, activating the left side of your glutes, and return to the standing position.
Reps: 15 on each side