Strong glutes are a candy for the eye. Functional glutes are even better—they keep our performance high and prevent possible future overuse injuries. You use your glutes in every step you take (when you push off and extend your leg behind your body). On the tennis court, you start, stop, change directions all the time, and in all those movements you use your glutes. Or, you SHOULD.
What can happen—and we see it more often than one would want to believe—is that the glutes don’t function correctly, either because they are too weak, or inhibited. Or often both. It can happen without you even noticing. If you sit a lot, your hipflexors get too tight and short and that can inhibit the glutes. When you exercise with weak/inhibited glutes, other muscle groups will have to compensate to create the desired movement and they will have to do more work than what their job is, and eventually get overused. They get tight, short and develop painful trigger points. All this can sneak on you without even noticing. Unless you have read my book and pay good attention.
When you start noticing that some muscles are getting tighter/shorter than normally, there’s something not too good going on. A warning light for you! In the case of weakened glutes, the muscles that may become overactive and tight are the adductors (inside of the thighs), lower back, hamstrings and calves.
Your immediate plan of action should be:
- Stretch the hip-flexors and quadriceps, calves and the adductors
- Do myofascial release for all of them
- Strengthen the glutes
In previous articles we mentioned great exercises for glutes: squats and jumps, lunges, stiff-legged deadlifts… They are great, however, if your glutes don’t fire correctly, they may not fire in those exercises either. You need to do something more concentrated just on the glutes.
Gluteus Medius – Monster Walk
For the gluteus medius, do the monster walk exercises with the rubber band. I carry a band in each bag or purse so I am always ready if I have a moment. You can do a few monster walk sets before your tennis practice to reconnect with your glutes, and then afterward you can do a bigger glute workout. Perform the moster walk with bend legs and just for fun try to have your legs completely straight—it will feel differently and hit more your TFL muscle.
Gluteus Maximus – Hip Extensions
For the gluteus maximus, perform prone (laying on your stomach) leg extensions. Make yourself comfortable laying down, bend one leg, relax your hamstring and lift your knee toward the sky. Hold the top position for 1 second and then slowly reverse the movement. Repeat 15-20 times, and change sides. It is very important to relax the hamstring and drive the movement from the glute. You can also do this exercise with straight legs as a variation, but if you don’t feel connected with your glutes, go back to the bent-knee version.
Another variation of this exercise is lifting the bent leg from the glute and hold it in the top position for 20 seconds. Yes, twenty… two-zero… it’s a long time if your glutes are not very functional. By training them this way, they will get stronger, and 20 seconds will feel easy eventually. Change sides and repeat 10-15 more times, or until you lose the connection with your glutes or get bored.
Kneeling Hip Extension
Get down on your hands and knees. Keep your back and hips parallel with the ground, bend your one leg 90 degrees in your knee and with relaxed hamstrings drive the heel and knee toward the sky. All movement should happen from the glutes. Do 15-20 repetitions and switch side. Once your glutes are strong, you may find this version too easy. Then it’s time to pull out the rubber band from your bag and hook it around your feet, close to your ankles. In similar way, push your foot upward, using your glutes to extend the hip. The other foot serves as an anchor for the band. Depending on how strong your band is, the movement may be very small. As long as you feel it in your glutes, you are fine. Perform 12-15 repetitions and switch sides.
This little routine is not too taxing physically and you can do it after your tennis practice even if you don’t feel very energized, or on your active off-days. If you find your glutes very disconnected, do these exercises more often, 3-4 per week.
It’s All About the Booty
You will notice that after training your glutes more often, your lower back will feel better and if you had other little aches in your body (knees, ankles, feet), they may disappear as well. It all starts in the hips. Like in life, even in training it is all about the booty. Even Aristotle pronounced the booty the most important thing in humanity. For us athletes, the glutes should be the number one priority, because they are the powerhouse and center of all the athletic activity.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. (Aristotle)
Simple… and of course, if you like meat, help yourself but choose the grass-fed ones, they are much better for you.