Cool New Glute Activation Drill: The Side-Lying Clam Raise

By April 22, 2012 Glute Training

Here’s a new exercise I just thought up. I didn’t know what to call it so I named it the side-lying clam raise. However, it’s not the same as a typical clam. In this version you’ll raise your entire body up via transverse hip abduction. Make sure that the hips are flexed forward and not straightened (that’s also a good exercise, I call it the side-lying hip raise, but it’s hip abduction and works mainly the glute medius and upper glute max, whereas the hips-flexed version shown in this video brings in different fibers including some lower glute max activity). Also make sure to raise both hips to get more bang for your buck.

Here’s why I like it so much. The side-lying clamshell exercise is incredibly easy. Sure, the point of “low-load glute activation” is to use low loads and focus on quality contractions, but this is more of a hip-strengthening exercise. I can only do 10 reps with these right now and my glutes are screaming. In the past I’ve needed bands to challenge the glutes from this direction (like Tony does them HERE), but now I finally have a bodyweight exercise that can be performed anywhere for glute strengthening in this movement pattern. You can bust these out when watching tv or staying at a hotel and require bodyweight workouts, and for more advanced athletes they’d serve well in the dynamic warm-up.

You can also post up from your hand if you want a slightly easier and more comfortable position

Get down on the floor and try it right now. How many high-quality reps can you get (no flailing, leaking, compensation, etc.)? Don’t feel bad if you can’t get any yet, as I already stated this is a challenging exercise.

54 Comments

  • Nick Nilsson says:

    Great exercise, Bret! Effective bodyweight stuff that provides substantial resistance for the glutes is really hard to find.

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Nick! But you didn’t tell me how many you could do…can you get 10? These are tough!

      • Nick Nilsson says:

        Got 19 on the left side and 20 on the right side. They really sneak up on you with the reps…once you hit that threshold you only get a few more reps, then you’re done. I could see adding a couple of ankle weights, strapping them around the thighs potentially for even more direct resistance on that one, or even elevating the forearm and lower leg on a couple of Step risers to sink down get some stretch at the bottom.

  • Melek says:

    Bret, screaming 20 😉

  • Greg lehman says:

    Clever. I like how it works both sides of the body. But…how do you think the downside glutes are activated differently than just “popping” your side bridge with the opposite leg lifted (e.g. A dynamic side bridge) Would having the leg base of support at the foot have greater activity than having the base of support at the knee? Or do you think the mechanism is having some hip flexion and this is easier to get with being supported at the side of knee.

    Regardless, its now in the rotation for patients.

    Greg

    • Bret says:

      Excellent question Greg. Something comes to mind that I heard from Gray Cook: “Think about patterns, not muscles.” I usually don’t follow this advice because I’m always concerned about muscles (being someone who cares about hypertrophy science/training), but in this case I confess to not knowing exactly how muscle activation (and muscle moment arms) would be affected.

      In the dynamic side bridge you mentioned, the longer lever would indeed increase hip torque requirements, and this would mainly be in the frontal plane (hip abduction torque). So you’d get increased glute medius and upper glute max activity.

      But performing the clam raise has you in hip flexion, which would bring in some of the lower glute max fibers, and would affect activation of other muscles too (glute med is an internal rotator in hip flexion I believe…and there are 3 subcompartments to the glute med and min). Not to mention the leverages for hip external rotation change as you move into hip flexion (so I think the same could be said for hip transverse abduction). So I’m not exactly sure which would lead to more activation in exactly which fibers in the glute max, glute med, glute min, tfl, hip ext rotators, etc.

      So instead I focus on the pattern. The side lying abduction, side plank, side-lying hip raise, standing band abduction, the upright x-band walk, etc., train the hip abduction pattern, whereas the side lying clam, side lying clam raise, crouched x-band walk, seated band abduction, etc. train the hip transverse abduction pattern (some of these contain a bit of an external rotation too them which is complicated to separate from hip transverse abduction). And if it’s challenging and isn’t inherently dangerous, then it’s probably worth-while.

      I’m sure you could tweak this exercise and make it harder via extending the knee of the top leg, wearing ankle weights, etc., but bodyweight works fine for me at the moment.

      Do you agree with what I’ve written?

  • Raptor says:

    Great stuff Bret, as always.

    I have been doing something similar to this but isometric for quite some time before my plyometrics and basketball – the side plank but with the non-supporting leg elevated (like in a clam) – also, with a straight leg.

    I use to hold that position for ~20 seconds and then I’d just walk “differently” (more glute involvement). Have you tried this clam isometrically?

    • Bret says:

      I have not Raptor; I just thought of them the other day so I’m sure I’ll think up more variations over time. Thanks for the tip my friend!

      • Raptor says:

        I did 8 and 8 today before squatting 330 (my usual max is 340) and was EXTREMELY close to failing the rep… never been this close. Not sure if the glutes were tired or I have just overtrained myself these last few days. Nevertheless, felt like sharing that with you.

  • Linda says:

    That’s a good one Bret! Really got the heart rate up! Started to lose quality in reps after 30 each side, was burning! 🙂 Thanks!

    • Bret says:

      30! I suppose I’m a weakling.

      • Derrick Blanton says:

        Nah Bret, of course you’re not a weakling..

        You are just taller, heavier than us. Trying to externally rotate 225-lbs. with a longer moment arm is a lot harder than trying to externally rotate 180-lbs. I remember when you wrote that bird dogs were harder for you than many other external load glute exrcs., I never found this to be so, but I’m only 5’9″, not 6’4″.

        2-days later, and I am SORE. Glute max, med, and obliques. You came up with a real winner on this one. I think EMG numbers for clam-ups would be sky high, rivaling barbell hip thrusts. Love it!

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    How ’bout this name: “Clam-ups” .

    Just did 30 on each leg..Pretty sure I could have gotten 10-15 more, but let’s don’t turn this into a “Sexy Challenge” lactic acid pain tolerance test..ha ha.. Running out the door, but i can put up the vid later if you be skeptical..:)

    MacGyver Contrereas is back..

    .

  • Andy... says:

    That is what I like to see, people thinking about & developing new idea’s. I’m currently developing 3 landmine exercises using different materials, one with a vibratory quality at the end ranges. It’s costing me a lot of money but that’s what it’s all about. Good stuff Bret.

  • DebbyK says:

    HI Bret
    Where are we supposed to feel this primarily-On the top or bottom leg.
    What are some cues to lining up our body position? Is it like being in a side planK? I find that getting the knee position relative to the torso is important, and I’m never quite sure where the knees should be ideally.

    Thanks for all your help

    Debby

    • Bret says:

      Hi DebbyK – bottom leg. The top leg will get worked a bit but the bottom leg will require more torque production as it’s raising more load than the free leg. It’s not like a side plank because the hips will be bent forward (flexed). Maybe at a 135 degree angle or even more bent than that. Hope that helps!

      • DebbyK says:

        Thanks BRET, Once again, for such a great post and explanation. Now the challenge is to find ways to continue with my hip/glute rehab while going through my shoulder rehab. QUITE a challenge ahead of me but I’ll find a way!
        Thanks again for your attention…

  • Will says:

    Hi Brett, just to report 16 quality reps per side (no momentum or bouncing, but controlling and squeezing at the top). In order to maintain strict form, I found it useful keeping a vertical alignment between the supporting elbow and the shoulders, while the free arm raises straight up pointing to the ceiling. I reckon, it might look not just more aesthetic but indeed helps to remind a good posture to individuals with thoracic mobility issues (rather than keeping the free hand resting on the hip, which it might disengage the retraction of the scapula. Otherwise the upper might collapse before the burning gets into the gluteus medius). I tried a similar version before and i called the “lateral Sumo raises” as the movements mimics some how femoral retroversion while keeping hips and knee flexed in isometrical fashion. Brett, I highly appreciate the way you share your knowledge. Unselfishly, your scientific and practical approach provides education and methodology. As cheesy as it might sound, thanks a lot for enhancing my own principles of training. Cheers!

  • Stephletic says:

    Great! Love new gluteus exercise, personally to me by keeping the heels together / toes apart (frog style) as you raise, it took the exercise to a higher level 🙂 Greta work!

  • Nice one Bret.

    Took a break from some computer work to bust a few out. No doubt those are HARD.

    To keep my form in check I tried positioning against a wall, with the soles of my feet, tailbone/sacrum, shoulders and head against the wall (i.e. in straight line)…really tough!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Travis

    • Bret says:

      Hmmm I’ll have to give that a try. I’m sure that would make things much harder as it would require much stricter performance. Thanks Trav.

  • Kelly says:

    Nice! And yes, referencing an earlier comment, where is the focus…top leg or bottom? I’d did about 15 reps each side and felt it in the lower leg mostly glute min and med like you said. I used to teach Pilates ages ago and we did the regular clamshell you mentioned,this kicks that clamshell outta the water, lol! Sorry that was lame,couldn’t resist!

  • Cindy Gomez says:

    This exercise looks like a great glute exercise. I will do it today. Thank yoou so much and show us more bodyweight exercises

  • andy says:

    great stuff bret. glute med and upper glute are two areas really hard to single out for me,this exerise reallytargets them more than anything else ive done.

  • Echo says:

    Great one! I am adding these to my hip/glute warm-up and mobility drills before a heavy workout. Was able to bust out 9 super-slow quality ones in my church clothes before form got a tad shaky. I like commenter Will’s idea because it was my upper body that started to cave first. Thumbs up for stuff that can be done anywhere!

  • Echo says:

    PS: Didn’t leave a comment but listened to all of, and really enjoyed, your interview with Nick Horton.

  • Cindy Gomez says:

    I did 6 rounds of 15 rep. each side. I love it because it works your core too.

  • PJN says:

    Can someone explain what he means with “Make sure that the hips are flexed forward and not straightened”? I saw both videos but do not understand the difference.

    • Bret says:

      PJN – hip flexion involves bringing the knee closer to the chest. See how in one video (side lying hip raise) the torso and legs for a straight line (hips are extended) whereas in the other video (side lying clam raise) the torso and legs form an angle (hips are flexed)? Let me know if this makes sense.

  • Beady says:

    Looks great! Will definitely try this one at home!

  • Ed says:

    What exactly do you mean by “post up from your hand” in the following pic?

    • Bret says:

      What I meant was that you can have the hand of your bottom arm as the base of support rather than your elbow. This makes it a bit easier as you’ll be lifting a lower percentage of your bodyweight.

  • Deb says:

    Just got down and busted out some reps of this! Seriously harder than it looks. Can feel it more on one side than the other – figure this is an imbalance in strength from one side to the other. Thanks for this, I’ll keep working on it.

    • Bret says:

      I agree, definitely harder than it looks. Could also just be some residual fatigue from your first side (since both sides get worked a bit…with the lower leg doing more than the upper leg).

  • Beady says:

    Just finished this exercise, I made 3 times 7 reps each, I can really feel it in my outer glutes! 🙂

  • Heather says:

    Would love to add this to the home workout you posted on you tube as I’m out of the country with no access to a gym http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK7zIUBH6Z0&feature=relmfu
    Speaking of which, what’s the appropriate way to manage sets/reps in a home workout if your trying to increase in glute size as well as get a more beautiful shape? Do you just do the exercises to failure each set? Wouldn’t that take for-eh-ver?

  • Cindy Gomez says:

    Whst is the difference between one leg deadlift and one leg squat? Both exercises look the same. I am sorry off topic
    Thanks!

  • D.J. says:

    Evan Osar of Fitness Seminars promoted this move long before you claim to have thought of it. Give credit where it’s due instead of taking praise from your readership.

    • Bret says:

      DJ, how in the hell would I know that Evan Osar promoted this at a fitness seminar? Do you think that I’m supposed to psychically know what every fitness pro has discussed at every seminar without attending them? If Evan has an article, blogpost, or Youtube clip showing the video I’ll be happy to link it. But if he’s just teaching it at a seminar without putting it out there to the general public, how would anyone who doesn’t attend the seminars know of it?

      For the record I thought of this exercise all on my own when I was on the ground fooling around with glute activation drills. I’m sure that somewhere, sometime, any movement in existence has been performed. But it’s the person who teaches it to the public who usually gets credited for something. I’m not trying to get false praise from my readership and that’s an incredibly rude assumption on your part. Post the link from Evan and I’ll be happy to give him credit on my next random thoughts post. But if he never filmed a vid or wrote anything up on it, then he can’t possibly be annoyed that I wasn’t aware of his exercise. At any rate, quit making assumptions.

  • Sara says:

    I did 20 – my butt is still burning! I will definitely be handing this over the my clients. Thanks!

  • PaulB says:

    I think the fact that you, Bret, could get 10 reps might have to do with the fact that you’re form is so strict. If there’s an exercise one can do 50 reps, a very experienced lifter can find a way to do that same exercise for only 10 reps – close attention to form is everything. I can’t do many reps at all – maybe 10, MAYBE – but I think I might be compensating with lumbar lateral-flexion a bit.

    This move has been great. I’ve suffered from piriformis syndrome for the past several months on and off, and doing this exercise has helped tremendously, since it allows my glutes to do the work. I picked this up in your Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy book, a terrific read. So thank you for sharing this with us.

    Any idea on how to progress this further after the top leg is already fully extended? Could the bottom leg be extended, or would there be too much instability?

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