In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.
Body Part: The Glutes
What they do: The biggest muscle in the body, the glutes are the primary movers of the legs when you walk, run, squat and climb.
“This muscle group provides the strength, speed, stability and power for nearly all forms of athletic motion,” says Joseph Potts, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of TopSpeed Strength and Conditioning in Kansas City, Mo. “Having weak glutes can greatly reduce your ability to run faster or farther, jump higher, throw a ball or even just stand up straight.”
But they’re not just helpful for your lower body; they also serve as a bridge for the power to move through your body and into the upper limbs, Potts says.
Used most commonly when you: Jump to block a shot in volleyball, push off the wall after a flip turn, rush the net in tennis, send off a 3-pointer in basketball, sprint to the finish line in cross-country, hit a home run in softball (Potts, a former strength and conditioning coach with the Kansas City Royals, notes that their best hitters had the strongest glutes) and otherwise engage your lower body.
Three exercises to strengthen your glutes
How to: Position yourself with your feet hip-width apart, and either a bar across your back or, if you’re a beginner, with just your body weight. (Another option: a weight plate held close to your chest.) Keeping your abs tight, gaze forward with a straight spine, bend your knees and pretend like you’re sitting back on a chair; your rear end should be sticking out. “Don’t let your chest or trunk fall forward, which shows you are bending at the waist instead of sitting back,” Potts says. “Doing so can be dangerous to your lower back.” Lower so that your quads are parallel to the floor, then stand back up. Do 4 sets of 8 reps.
How to: Find a bench, box or other sturdy object that hits you around your knees, and stand a few inches behind it. Holding a 10-25 pound dumbbell in each hand, place your right foot on top of the box. Pushing with your left heel while keeping your knee directly over your heel, step up. Don’t allow your left leg to touch the box or bench. Instead, raise the left knee to 90 degrees, then step back down to the ground. Alternate legs; do 3 sets of 12-16 reps total (6-8 reps on each leg).
Reverse Hyper Extensions
How to: Find an object that is at least hip-height, like a massage table or a bench. Place a light weight, about 10 pounds, between your ankles, then lay face-down on the table so that your hips are at the edge, your legs are hanging off the edge and your hands are anchoring you. Contract your glutes and raise your legs so that your body forms one straight line; do not arch your lower
back. Lower and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Let’s hear it for the glutes: “Having strong glutes is important as a rower because they contribute to the explosive power behind each stroke, as well as the necessary body control to recover in between strokes; they allow me to slide my body back toward the starting position in rhythm with the rest of the team. I also recently completed a half-marathon, and glute strength was a key factor in finishing 15 minutes faster than my goal time.” -- Kelsey Simpson, senior at Kansas