New Research: Targeted Glute Activation Training Makes the CNS More Efficient at Recruiting the Glutes

Low load glute activation drills during the general warm-up have become increasingly popular in strength & conditioning, and they’re heavily used in the physical therapy setting as well. Some researchers and coaches have questioned their legitimacy, claiming that the glutes function optimally without any targeted training.

A new study was just published showing that only six days of intensive targeted glute training elicited some exciting corticomotor adaptations. It’s the first study of its kind. Here’s the PubMed link:

Evidence of altered corticomotor excitability following targeted activation of gluteus maximus training in healthy individuals

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Some of you may notice that popular hip/glute/knee researcher Dr. Chris Powers is named on this study. The other researchers listed on the study appear quite impressive as well.

Here’s the gist of the study. The researchers had healthy subjects perform a quadruped band glute isometric exercise (sort of a combined hip extension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation drill) for one minute at a time for an hour per day (three 20 minute sessions) for six days. Here’s the exercise:

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Yes, that’s indeed a boatload of targeted glute training in a short period of time. But this was needed to show whether adaptations can quickly take place with an aggressive protocol. The researchers went with an isometric as opposed to a dynamic exercise as they felt it would lead to greater mental concentration and thus potentially greater neuroplastic adaptations.

At the end of the week, they found that the training led to significant increases in corticomotor excitability and efficiency. They had subjects glute bridge against an anchored bar before and after the training period while utilizing transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the head and electromyography (EMG) on the gluteus maximus. Here’s the set up:

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I won’t go into detail about the methods used by the researchers to determine changes in neuroplasticity, but they looked at the input-output curves and maximum stimulator outputs of motor evoked potentials and cortical silent periods, in addition to their slopes at different intensities of contraction. Here were the results:

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Since the exercise used during the training period (band quadruped hip ext/abd/ext rot) was more isolating of the glute than the exercise used during testing (glute bridge uses glutes and hamstrings), the changes in corticomotor excitability and inhibition suggest that targeted glute training enhances gluteal recruitment efficiency during tasks that are more integrative in nature. This could be especially beneficial in athletes who may experience less stress on the patellofemoral joint, the ACL, the ITB, the SIJ, the anterior hip, the hamstrings, and the adductors by better recruiting the gluteals during forceful and explosive sporting actions.

The next step is to determine if this enhanced gluteal recruitment efficiency improves outcomes involving hypertrophy, strength, mechanics, and injuries.

I will leave you with some quotes from the authors:

“Interestingly, greater excitability as shown by the slope change was observed in a task that did not isolate the GM (i.e. bridging). This suggests that the neuroplastic changes following specific GM activation training may be generalized to movements involving other hip muscles (i.e. hamstrings). Although an increase in system efficiency was most likely because of changes in synaptic strength, it is not possible to determine the mechanism of this increase from the current study. It could potentially have been driven by a change in neurotransmitter release at the synapse, enhanced strength of inhibitor neurotransmission (gamma aminobutyric acid) or decline in excitatory neurotransmission (glutamate), changes in receptor density, or other potential causes.”

“To the best of our knowledge, the current study is the first to report changes in corticomotor excitability of the GM after a short-duration activation training program. As noted above, an increase in corticomotor excitability of the GM implies better efficiency of the GM corticospinal motor system, which, in theory, would allow for better recruitment of the GM during more advanced, skillbased hip strengthening exercises. The increase in CSP duration may reflect a refined inhibitory mechanism to ensure muscle recruitment specificity. Thus, this GM activation exercise may be considered a method to prime the brain for subsequent GM strengthening by enabling an individual to target GM activation more precisely.”

“As recruiting the GM agonists such as the hamstrings and/or adductor magnus may have an undesired influence on lower limb kinematics as both muscles act as hip adductors, adequate GM muscle activation would appear to be critical for injury prevention. Further study is needed to determine whether the observed changes in corticomotor excitability of the GM results in greater muscle activation during hip-strengthening exercises. Moreover, such plastic change in M1 can be considered an initial central adaptation before a peripheral adaption such as increased muscle strength or muscle hypertrophy. A long-term follow-up to investigate the persistence of this plastic change with a self-driven home program is warranted.”

“Our findings show that short-term activation training increased corticomotor excitability of the GM, with prolonged CSP. The increase in corticomotor excitability as evidenced by increased MEP amplitude and active inhibitory processes (as evidenced by an increase in CSP duration) reflects a more efficient GM corticospinal motor system with ability to modulate muscle activation specificity. We propose that the changes in corticomotor excitability following activation training would make the GM more available in advanced stages of training programs such as specific strengthening and skill training.”

8 Comments

  • Question says:

    And it took tax payers money to work this out? lmao! The human body adapts to what it does most. I thought this was very clear in the twenty first century.

  • Rich says:

    Curious to know if and where you might take this? Is it a validation of some kind in terms of frequency and/or volume? Does it get you thinking differently in some way moving forward?

  • Frank says:

    Suppose somebody is already doing Backsquats and Deadlifts, does the study imply any guideline that this somebody should target the glutes with low load assistance work. The goal is general strength development.

  • Laura says:

    Hi Bret! I’m a huge fan of your articles – keep up the good work! I wonder if you could shed some light on my current predicament…

    I can feel my glutes firing hard during activation exercises yet when performing weighted exercises (hip thrusts, hip external rotations, hip extensions etc) I find that my lower back and hamstrings overshadow my glutes, particularly on the left side. My left side does not fire quite as hard during activation exercises either. Strangely, this is not the case when performing deadlifts and good mornings.

    I have been foam rolling and stretching my hamstrings, lower back and hip flexors prior to activation exercises in an effort to inhibit them but I have noticed little benefit. I’m a bit lost as to where to go next!

    Thanks!

    P.s. When are you next in the UK?

  • Laura, you may have a control issue around your pelvis. Ensuring you posteriorly rotate your pelvis will typically help reduce activity within both your lumbar extensors and hamstrings and therefore improve your changes of further exciting your gluteals. In your position, firstly, I would try ‘drawing up’ more through your left pelvic floor/lower abdominals in order to posteriorly rotate your pelvis and determine what effect that has.

  • […] Activating a muscle simply creates the connection from your brain to your muscle and gets the muscle fired up and ready to do some work (a lot of research has been done on this) […]

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