We see a lot of athletes who are considered "quad-dominant" - that is, they have HUGE thighs that do a ton of work, but if you isolate the strength of their posterior chain (specifically glutes!), you'll often find that they have a lot of trouble using them!
"But I squat all the time!" we hear them say. All it takes is a weak core to cause your weight to shift a certain way (usually forward), then all the work of squatting goes to the quads instead. Over time, this movement pattern may lead to overuse injuries of the lower back, hip, or knee. The following are great core and hip activation exercises to wake these muscles up before squatting, running, jumping...basically any lower body activity!
1. Posterior Pelvic Tilt Progression
These exercises target your Transversus Abdominis (TA), your deep core muscle, that helps stabilize your lower back. Many times, we see athletes lock out their lower backs in hyperextension, which compresses your spine and may cause pressure on the nerves that supply your legs. In hyperextension, this muscle cannot work efficiently, so you end up using other muscles to compensate for your lack of stability. Over time, your muscles may give out, causing muscular strains or unwanted damage to the ligaments and discs in your back.
The progression moves from pelvic tilting on your back to pelvic tilting with your legs moving. It challenges your stability by making it harder to maintain a flat lower back as you are forced to support the weight of your legs.
2. Glute Bridge Progression
These exercises target - you guessed it - your glutes! They build on the pelvic tilt to make sure that you continue to engage that TA muscle as you use your glutes. Note that Rena in the video doesn't push her hips all the way up - she is avoiding hyperextension of her lower back, and keeping the work of the exercises in the glutes and core. The progression moves from a double-leg bridge, to a single-leg bridge, to a bridge hold with alternating leg lifts. The last exercise further challenges TA activation in a new position - the goal is to not let the hips drop or let your body fall over to one side. You are trying to remain centered with minimal weight shifting.
3. Lateral Band Walks
This exercise targets your hip abductors, which are also part of the gluteal group of muscles. Your hip abductors are responsible for maintaining your knee alignment in relationship to your hip. If your knees collapse inwards when you squat, deadlift, or land from a jump, you could use these exercises. That "knock-knees" position puts you at a high risk for knee injuries (think: ACL tear - yikes!). Again, you want to build on what the other exercises did - keep your TA engaged throughout, and maintain your alignment with minimal weight shifting. As the band moves farther away from the center of your body, the harder it becomes to maintain alignment. If having the band around the arches of your feet is too easy, you can always use a heavier resistance!
If your lower body pain persists after incorporating these exercises into your warm-up routine, you will highly benefit from a formal evaluation by one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy. Click here to schedule your appointment today!