How to Activate the Glutes Instead of the Hip Flexors in Squats

Your glutes are the primary strength generator.

Your glutes are the primary strength generator.

Too much sitting can get your hip flexors to become as tight as dried leather, causing your hips to feel like a creaky door hinge. When you do squats, these strips of muscles get fired first instead of the glutes, decreasing your range of motion and causing your lower back to spasm. To get your glutes activated again, there are a few drills you need to practice before you starting squatting. These exercises improve your belly breathing, weight shifting and movement sequencing, which are important in the squatting pattern, physical therapist Gray Cook says, author of "Athletic Body in Balance."

Toe Touch Sequencing

Stand with your feet together on top of a 3-foot-long half foam roller. Put the balls of your feet and toes on top of the roller and your heels on the floor. Inhale as you raise your hands over your head.

Exhale as you bend your torso forward to reach for your toes. Hold this position for two deep breaths to relax your lower back. Bend your knees as much as you need to touch your toes. Inhale as you roll up slowly to the starting position. Do five to eight reps.

Stand on the foam roll with your feet together. Put the balls of your feet and your toes on the floor and your heels on the roller. Inhale as you raise your arms overhead.

Exhale as you bend your torso forward to reach for your toes. Hold this position for two deep breaths. Inhale as you roll your body up to the starting position. Do five to eight reps.

Deep Squat Sequencing

Stand with your feet on top of a 3-foot-long foam roller about shoulder-distance apart. Put your toes and the balls of your feet on the ground and your heels on the roller. Put a yoga block between your feet. Inhale as you raise your arms overhead.

Exhale as you bend your torso forward and put your palms or fingers on top of the yoga block. Hold this position for two deep breaths.

Exhale slowly as you lower your buttocks toward the floor, bringing your torso upright and keeping your hands on the block. Shift your weight to your heels as you hold in the deep squat position for three to five deep breaths. Extend your spine and keep your shoulders away from your ears.

Exhale as you raise both arms overhead. Take a deep breath and exhale again as you stand straight up without leaning your body forward, squeezing your buttocks as you move. Do the entire exercise again for two sets of four to six reps.

Dumbbell Squats

Stand with your feet about shoulder-distance apart. Hold a 15-pound dumbbell in each hand over and near your shoulders. Keep your elbows close to your ribs.

Inhale as you squat down as low as you can, preferably with your buttocks moving below your knee level. Keep your torso upright and your heels on the floor. Do not flex your spine.

Exhale as you stand straight up, squeezing your buttocks as you move. Do two to three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Items you will need

  • 30-pound barbell
  • Two 15-pound dumbbells
  • 3-foot-long half foam roller
  • Yoga block

Tip

  • Stretching your hip flexors can decrease their tightness. It decreases neural stimulation to these muscles and activates your glutes more. You can do the kneeling or standing hip flexor stretches. Hold each stretch for five to six deep breaths. Regardless of what type of squats you do, keep your feet and knees facing forward or slightly turned out, but never turn them inward, says strength coach Jim Reeves. Minimally, your upper thigh must be parallel to the floor or lower and your back extended at all times.

Warning

  • Squatting can be challenging for those who are sedentary or just recovering from physical therapy. Check with your health care provider if you have pain or any medical conditions that can worsen with exercise. Work with a qualified exercise professional to learn to squat properly and do any preparatory work before doing squats.
 

About the Author

Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.

Photo Credits

  • Photodisc/Valueline/Getty Images