It frequently amazes me how difficult it can be to get some individuals, even very athletic people, to recruit their glute muscles. Boren et al. published a study that included what I now believe to be one of the better glute activation exercises. The exercise, the front plank hip extension, produced a percent maximum voluntary contraction (%MVIC) of 106 for the glute max and 75 for the glute med. If you aren’t familiar with %MVIC I’ll make it simple for you…this exercise really makes the glutes work! In fact when compared to the other exercises Boren studied, one could argue that this exercise is better than many popular bodyweight exercises used to strengthen the glutes including single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, and glute bridges. (Obviously these exercises have the advantage of being easier to add external resistance let’s keep the argument simple by just comparing bodyweight only).
Performance of this bodyweight exercise isn’t terribly complicated. First, assume the standard front plank position. Bend the knee of one leg to 90 degrees and maintain this knee angle throughout the movement. Finally, extend the leg by bringing the foot towards the ceiling while keeping the lumbar spine positioned in neutral.
So what makes this exercise so good? Previous research has shown that performing a prone hip extension with the knees bent increases glute activation. This is due to the hamstrings being put in a position of active insufficiency due to their shortened position. Also, the performance of the plank and maintenance of a neutral spine prevents the movement from coming from lumbar spine hyperextension. This combination means that the glutes are forced to do the work themselves.
Give this exercise a try yourself and with your clients!
Boren, K., Conrey, C., LeCoguic, J., Paprocki, L., Voight, M., & Robinson, K. (2011). Electromyographic Analysis of Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus During Rehabilitation Exercises. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(3).