Many of our athletes perform what we call “gluteal activation exercises” as part of their warm-up routine. The purpose of these exercises is not necessarily to strengthen the glutes, but to get them firing properly before we go into our exercises for the day.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that performing glute activation exercises enhanced power output on a vertical jump test, giving support to this kind of warm-up protocol.
The study examined a group of 30 professional Australian Rules Football players, who were divided into three different groups, each performing a different warm-up protocol.
- The gluteal activation protocol (GM-P) consisted of one set of 7 different exercises targeting the glutes.
- A whole body vibration protocol (WBV-P) consisted of standing statically with 10-30 degrees of knee flexion on a vibration platform for 45-seconds.
- A control protocol did no specific warm-up (CON).
Within 5 minutes of the warm-up, each subject performed 5 consecutive counter-movement jumps on a Smith machine to assess their peak power output. The highest peak power achieved during the 5 jumps was used for analysis.
Results and Discussion
The GM-P group demonstrated a higher peak power output compared to the other two groups. Why did this occur? In muscle physiology, there is a phenomenon known as post-activation potentiation (PAP), where the power of a muscle’s contraction can be enhanced following a voluntary contraction of the same muscle. However that’s probably not what is going on here since PAP involves performing maximal-level contractions. In this study, we instead have an example of power enhancement following a low-level contraction. There is no definite explanation for this, however the authors suggest that changes may occur at the cortical level (in your brain) after executing low-level contractions, which has been seen when looking at contraction of the transverse abdominus (an abdominal muscle).
There was no pre-test of the athletes’ peak power output. Instead the authors inferred that there were no differences between groups by comparing previously measured vertical jump heights, although it does not say when these measures were taken. However, I assume that these vertical jump heights were done free-standing, while the post-test for the study was done in a Smith machine. Without a pre-test using the same post-test procedures, it is difficult to be certain that all groups started at the same level.
The total warm-up time that for the two testing groups was very different. The gluteal activation group had to perform ten repetitions of seven different exercises before they were tested. In my experience, a warm-up like that would take at least 3-5 minutes if done properly. The vibration group stood on their platform for just 45-seconds. The authors explained that 45-seconds was chosen for practical reasons, as they wanted to know what they could implement into their team’s actual pre-game warm-up routine. While I understand this reasoning, this completely changes the intent of the study. If the purpose is to see what warm-up protocol is most practical in a real-world setting, then that’s fine. But if the purpose is to examine what warm-up protocol improves peak power the most, as many variables as possible need to be controlled so you understand what is causing the effect. However, this limitation does not take away from the most important finding of the study, which is that the activation exercises are better than doing nothing.
Gluteal activation exercises are easy to do and require no fancy equipment. If you’re trying to decide what should be included in your warm-up prior to training or competition, these should absolutely be on your list.
Crow, J. F., Buttifant, D., Kearny, S. G., & Hrysomallis, C. (2012, Jan). Low Load Exercises Targeting the Gluteal Muscle Group Acutely Enhance Explosive Power Output in Elite Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research .