Monday, November 19, 2018

The Best Chest Workouts + Chest Exercises for Size & Strength

The serratus anterior? Huh? I know, I know, it sounds like a dinosaur or maybe one of the zombies from “The Walking Dead,” but this small muscle is a forgotten powerhouse. A vital stabilizer for healthy shoulder mobility, it deserves our attention.

Take a second to reach your arms straight above your head into a big “morning” stretch and you will activate the serratus anterior muscle. I’m reminded each morning of the crucial role these little guys play in our balance, strength and posture as I run through my morning stretch routine.

I’m going to walk you through what the serratus anterior is — such as how it even helps your breathe! — as well as how to strengthen and stretch this important area.
What Is the Serratus Anterior?

Projecting outward are finger-like tentacles that originate from the 1st through 8th rib, wrapping intercostally around the outside of the rib cage. The muscle then insert posteriorly into the anterior surface of the border of your scapula or “shoulder blades.” (1) The serratus anterior is broken down into three sections:  superior, intermediate or medial, and inferior. When properly strengthens, it gives the look of an extension of the abdominals and increase the strength of your core.

The serratus anterior has a very important job in the pectoral girdle, both protracting the shoulder and rotating the scapula so that the glenoid cavity moves “upward” superiorly and anchors the shoulder blade. When we protract our shoulder, we are abducting or moving away from the body. This works collaboratively with a more familiar muscle called the rhomboids on the posterior or dorsal side of the body.

The rhomboids are large muscles on each side of the upper back. If you raise your arms up in a “touchdown” motion and squeeze your shoulder blades (scalpulae) together, you will fire up and contract the rhomboids, which act as an antagonist to the serratus anterior muscle.

Another important function of this muscle is lifting the ribs as an accessory inspiratory muscle. Working hand and hand with the intercostal muscles, the serratus anterior helps open the chest and allow for deep breathing. Stop for a moment and take a big breath in and think of all of the amazing muscles that are at work to make that happen each time you inhale.

The intercostal and core abdominal muscles act to reduce the thoracic volume, while the serratus anterior and other muscles in the thoracic cavity help to increase thoracic volume. If we flip the body over onto the posterior side, the superior serratus posterior muscles assist in increasing thoracic volume while the inferior assist in thoracic volume reduction. Wow!  That’s a lot going on every time we breathe. (2)

The long thoracic nerve supplies the serratus anterior muscle via three spinal nerve roots, which cut through the clavicle area to the right of the brachial plexus.  This innervation supplies from your 5th through 7th cervical spine and is important for the mobility of your neck. (3) Due the length of this nerve, it’s susceptible to injury via direct trauma such as contact sports or blows to the upper torso.

In the case of this type of upper extremity injury and because of the limited pain management options for this type of injury along, with the rise of opioid usage, physicians are utilizing a new ultrasound procedure. It’s called Ultrasound-Guided Serratus Anterior pain block and is a promising single injection procedure that is decreasing the need for opioids, while relieving the pain of the trauma to the rib cage. (4) This is a promising alternative for traumatic posterior rib fracture pain and is being utilized in emergency departments. (5)

The serratus anterior protects against neck pain and is sometimes called the “boxer” muscle. In reality, we use it in swimming, holding handstands or yoga poses, throwing a football and even doing a push-up. In Latin, serrare means to saw and the serratus anterior muscle looks serrated against the ribs projecting across the upper torso. Its movement within the shoulder joint enables the arm to move above ninety degrees.

Injury can occur due to overuse and repetitive movements such as in swimming, heavy lifting or throwing a baseball. When overused, the muscle is subjected to mini-muscle traumas that over time lead to strains, pain and tears.  The significance of this? Our arm’s movement relies on a series of muscles to anchor our shoulder blade to our body.

Injury prevention tips:

Warming up your muscles for just a few minutes before any activity is important as it increases the muscle temperature and allows for an increase in muscle pliability. Follow this with a stretch, holding for about 10 seconds, will allow for improved muscle performance.

Finally, making sure to cool down your muscles by slowing down the exercises before completely stopping. This helps to prevent dizziness, fainting or nausea and also helps remove the lactic acid from the muscles, allowing the blood that pools in the lower extremity time to reach the brain.

Best Exercises to Strengthen Serratus Anterior
1. Scapular Push-Ups

To execute this properly, place your arms just outside of shoulder-width and lock arms firmly. If you need a modification or have weak wrists, you can do this exact exercise on your forearms. From here, you’ll want to tighten your abdominals and glutes, keeping your body in the plank position.

To execute fully, pull your shoulders back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and then extending your shoulders forward by pulling your shoulder blades apart. Try adding 3 sets of 10–15 repetitions into your next core workout.
2. Dip shrugs or Reverse Shrug on Dip Machine

This exercise increases the range of motion versus just using dumbbells for shoulder shrugs. On the dip machine, you will begin with arms fully extended and supporting your body weight with shoulder and arms. Be sure to check your spinal form for any arching and correct by tucking the pelvis forward. This is important to keep your posterior spinal muscles safe.

Slow and controlled, lower your body by allowing the shoulders to climb towards your ears. Follow this by reversing the motion and pushing the shoulders downward away from the ears back to the starting dip position. You can easily build these into your workout regimen to gain strength and tone the serratus anterior.
3. Downward-Facing Tree Pose – “Handstand”

This is challenging but can be done against a wall or with a partner’s assistance.  A concentric contraction is occurring as your scapula is rotating onto the rib cage. As you kick up into the handstand, engage the core and lift your toes upwards.    It’s important to maintain form because collapsing into the wrist is dangerous to the carpal tunnel and the nerves moving through it.

This pose utilizes the serratus anterior, rotator cuff, deltoids, abdominals and hamstrings to stabilize the position. This muscle is a true powerhouse stabilizer and helps the chest from collapsing through the scapula.
Best Serratus Anterior Stretches
1. Downward Dog Yoga

This pose strengthens and stretches the serratus anterior muscle. Further moving from plank position to downward dog and back to plank position adds activation of the core abdominal muscles. So you can stretch and strength by adding some movement through downward dog (inverted V) pose.  This creates a concentric contraction to upwardly rotate and abduct the scapula on the rib cage.

As in other yoga poses, the breath is vital during this inversion and naturally moves the diaphragm cranially (upwards) creating deep inhalation and exhalation for the body. As you move your shoulders away from the ears, the scapula starts a downward movement and it protracts and activates the serratus anterior muscle.

According to a study from the Mayo Clinic, prone planking exercises activate the serratus anterior along with nine other muscles at levels conducive to high electromyographic (EMG) muscle strengthening levels. (6)
2. Cobra Pose

This pose is done in the prone position with a slight backwards bend contracting the spine, upper and lower limbs. With toes tucked beneath, legs fully extended, arms pressing against the floor, you will gently you’re your chin and chest upwards.

The serratus anterior muscle is active as the body maintains a neutral position of the scapula against the press of the arms. It’s important to lift the spine upward as your shoulders press away from your ears to correctly execute the cobra pose.
3. Seated Spinal Twist or Half Lord of the Fishes Pose

This twist engages all parts of the torso and works on different layers of muscles. When rotating the spine, it’s important to remember to keep the spine in a neutral position as you move into the twist. Flexion on the spine can compromise the safety and stability of the pose injuring the lumbar vertebrae or disc.

It’s important to listen to your body and stop when you feel a comfortable stretch. Once you find that “sweet” spot, breathe through the stretch allowing the muscles to relax and release. Think of it like you are ringing out a dirty rag, releasing the excess lactic acid that gets stuck in your spinal canal from everyday usage and exposure to free radicals. This pose exhibits a concentric contraction of the serratus anterior, spinal extensors, and adductors longus and brevis.

In any fitness or bodybuilding program, it’s important to look deep into the accessory muscles and not just focus on the larger more common muscles. These intricate details will amplify your performance and get you the physique you are looking for.

The serratus anterior is a small powerhouse in the chest that when given proper attention, can create stability in the shoulder girdle, allow deeper breathing, and create a extension to your already rockin’ six pack abs!
There’s a reason Superman has an “S” on his chest. A large well-developed chest sends a message of supreme confidence and power. So, how do you increase your chest size? What exercises will grant you those superhero proportions?

The best chest workout takes several factors into account: exercise selection, number of reps, how long you rest and even the speed of the bar. When you understand these variables, it’s easier than you think to build a chest that is big, strong and injury-proof.
Anatomy of the Chest

Three muscles make up the chest but are truly dominated by one: the pectoralis major. Commonly called “the pecs,” the pectoralis major are the large twin muscles on either side of the sternum and one of the most sought after vanity muscles. When people talk about how to get a bigger chest, they are invariably referring to the pectoralis major.

The pectoralis major is a massive contributor in pushing motions that involve the arm and the shoulder. Whether you are moving furniture or on the defensive line of a football team, the pectoralis major will be doing most of the work. These muscles control many of the motions of the arms and shoulders, including:

    transverse flexion — the hugging motion of bringing the hands together in the middle of the body with your elbows pointed out; internal rotation, bringing the forearm across the center of the body
    transverse adduction — moving the upper arms toward the center of the body while the back of the arm is facing downward
    extension — moving the upper arms down and to the rear; and adduction, bringing the upper arms down and to the side of the body (1)

The pectoralis minor is a much smaller muscle that runs above the pectoralis major and inserts at the clavicle. Along with the serratus anterior (the shark tooth-shaped muscles that run along the outside of the rib cage, and make you look incredibly fit when your body fat levels are low enough to see them), the pectoralis minor controls the movement of the scapula.

Collectively, the muscles of the chest complex are short and can provide a platform for generating a large amount of force. Some strength athletes have bench pressed upwards of 1,000 pounds in recent years. However, these muscles maintain an intricate relationship with the generally delicate makeup of the shoulder girdle.

Anyone who has spent years in the gym will most likely experience some shoulder pain from years of abuse that heavy chest exercises heap on the much smaller muscles of the shoulders. The chest workouts we describe here can circumvent that fate, however, by using modern warm-up strategies, proper lifting technique and a more sophisticated approach to sets and reps.
Multiple Nerve Innervations Boost Chest Muscles

The pectoral muscles have a specific feature that makes training them slightly different than your biceps or deltoids. The chest muscles have five different nerve innervations, points where the nerve branches out and addresses the muscle fibers via the motor units.

“Nerve innervations are the basis for muscle action,” says strength coach and kinesiologist, Brian Richardson, MS, CPL2, NASM-PES, co-owner of Dynamic Fitness in Temecula, California. “Nerves run down that motor unit to the motor end plates and attach to muscle fibers. Then, whatever the motor unit is addressing those fibers will contract. The beauty of having more nerve innervations within a muscle is that you can generate different contraction spectrums.”

Multiple nerve innervations allow you to stimulate different aspects of the chest muscles. To take advantage of this physiology, you’ll want to choose chest exercises that will hit the pecs from multiple angles in a myriad of ways.
How Do You Increase Your Chest Size?

When it comes to choosing chest exercises, what kind of chest workout is right for you? If you want to look strong and fill out a t-shirt with dense, hard muscle, then you need to train like a bodybuilder. The phrase “bodybuilder” often conjures up images of oily, juiced-up guys in bikini briefs posing on a stage.

However, bodybuilders are masters at increasing the size of a muscle. Unlike athletics or first-responders who train for “functional strength,” the No. 1 priority for a bodybuilder is to improve how a muscle looks — its size, its symmetry, and how it appears in relation to the rest of the body. And if we are being honest, that’s what most folks in the gym are interested in as well.

To coax your chest to grow, you want to direct as much stimulus as possible on the pectoralis muscles. You want a chest workout that allows you to isolate the pecs while taking the other muscles out of the equation.

“Scientifically, you want less emphasis on the core and more on the pec major. That means you want to be on a stable platform, such as the flat bench press, dumbbell bench press and incline bench press,” says Richardson.

A study published in the journal The Physician and Sports Medicine found that the best chest exercises for stimulating the pectorals are stable movements, such as the bench press and push-ups performed on the floor. (2a) Exercises performed on an unstable surface, such as an exercise ball, recruited more muscle fibers in the core but fewer in the chest.

Additionally, using an electromyography (EMG) device to measure minuscule amounts of electricity generated by muscles below the surface of the skin, one can determine which chest exercises recruit the most chest muscle. The EMG shows that while the flat bench is valuable for chest development, the incline (and decline) bench press actually activates more muscle tissue. (2b)

A bodybuilding-style workout that isolates the muscles, calls for a strong stable base, and utilizes a relatively high rep scheme (more on that later,) is also the perfect workout for anyone who is relatively new to weight training. And this chest workout is not just for looks. Many bodybuilders are incredibly strong, and this selection of chest exercises will make anyone much stronger, especially newcomers to the gym.
How Do You Get a Wide Chest?

A wide chest helps create the Holy Grail of fitness: the v-taper. A narrow waist to a wide chest topped with pronounced shoulder caps has been celebrated since man first began to paint and sculpt. To ensure that your chest muscles grow both thick and wide, use a wide variety of exercises with a full range of movement. Regularly mix up the hand placement of where you grab the bar or place your hands.

Lastly, don’t neglect training your back. The width of your chest can be improved by fixing your posture. Too many chest workouts for men lead to a closed-in crab-like posture called kyphosis. Training your back with row variations (such as ring rows, inverted rows and TRX rows) as well as deadlifts and other spinal extensor exercises can improve your posture and stave off back pain while giving you the appearance of a wider chest and a more dramatic v-taper. (3)

Similarly, some might covet the striations in the chest of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and ask “How do you tone your chest?” The answer is “a toned muscle is a big muscle.” A muscle simply gets bigger or smaller. It’s body fat that obscures the lines and cuts that makes a muscle look so good. Use the workout strategies here to force the chest muscles to grow. After consistent training and size gains, you can begin to work on lowering your body fat to see the beautiful detail of the muscle you built.
How Many Chest Exercises Should You Do?

One of the most important questions about an effective chest workout routine is, “How much is enough?” While the upper threshold can vary widely depending on the individual, the minimum amount of work has been clearly established.

A recent study published in The Journal of Sports Sciences found that 10 or more sets per week for a given body part produced the most muscle growth in trained subjects. (4) You might get even more growth out of 20 or 25 sets (as long as you can recover), but 10 or more sets per week should be your minimum.

Dr. Chris Zaino, DC, is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and former Mr. America. In his workout, Dr. Zaino suggests 12 to 16 sets per workout. You can spread this volume out over three to five different pectoral exercises.
Chest Exercises for Women

The most effective chest exercises for men are also the best ones for women. However, women should approach certain exercises with caution.

“Women have less cervical extensor muscle mass than men, therefore the position of the head and neck is critical during pressing exercises,” says Richardson.

When performing chest exercises where the head and neck are not supported, such as the Swiss ball dumbbell bench press, the extensor muscles in the neck can quickly become fatigued in women. During those sets, Richardson recommends pressing the tongue firmly to the roof of the mouth, which recruits more muscle fibers in the extensor muscles, increasing stability and overall comfort.

How to Have a Safe Chest Workout

Heavy chest workouts have caused innumerable shoulder problems. A proper warm-up can dramatically decrease your risk of injury.

Before every chest workout, go over your soft tissue with a foam roller. To get to the pectoral muscles, you can use a lacrosse ball or softball placed on the floor. Roll it across the muscle fibers at a speed of one inch per second. When you find a particularly painful spot, hold the pressure on it for 30 seconds. Next, grab an elastic exercise band and make some X and T shapes with your arms, using the band for resistance. Perform five to 10 minutes of cardio and be sure to do some warm-up sets of each exercise with a very light weight or empty bar. (These do not count as part of your work sets.)

When using a barbell during the workout, do not feel like it needs to touch your chest. This habit was created by massive bodybuilders and powerlifters who had giant chests. Instead, stop the bar two to three inches (about the height of your fist) above the chest before pressing it back up.
Chest Workout No. 1

Here, Dr. Zaino recommends a chest workout designed to promote rapid muscle growth, that is appropriate for any level.

Chest workout No. 1 training protocol:

No matter what your training session is like — whether you are doing a strict dumbbell chest workout or a chest workout without weights —  a few variables are going to stay the same.

Tempo: This is the speed you will move the weights, and is one of the most important factors for building muscle. While athletes may want to practice using fast and explosive movements, a slow tempo increases the amount of time under tension the muscles experience, ultimately leading to more growth.

For a stable exercise, like you find in Workout No. 1 demonstrated by Dr. Zaino, perform a 3-1-3 tempo. That means you take three seconds to lower the load, pause for one second at the bottom, and then take three seconds to bring the weight back up. This delivers constant tension to the chest muscles.

For many of the exercises in Workout No. 2 and Workout No. 3, a 2-0-2 tempo will be more appropriate.

Reps: Studies have shown that the best range of reps for muscle hypertrophy is roughly 8 to 12. May experts now feel that even going up to 20 or 25 can elicit profound gains. Using relatively high reps, and thus lighter weight, also decreases risk of injury. But wait: When do you test your one-rep max and see how strong you are?

“You never do a one-rep max,” says Richardson. “Instead, do a five-rep max and calculate it. I understand that people like to do it, but don’t do it too often. For instance, you can test it, and then test it again eight weeks later.”

Rest: For your best chest workout, rest at least 60 seconds between each set, and as long as two minutes. This gives your muscles enough time to recover and perform some quality contractions during the next set.
More Advanced Chest Workouts

As your body get stronger and your neuromuscular system gets accustomed to the exercises in Workout No. 1, you can start to introduce new exercises that present novel challenges. Some of these multi-joint exercises will call for greater core muscle activation and slightly less stimulus to the pectoral muscles. Introducing a fresh stimulus and ultimately creating a stronger kinetic chain, will help boost the results of your chest workout over the long haul.
Chest Workout No. 2

Incline Barbell Press: Lay on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Unrack the bar, take a deep breath and slowly lower the weight until it’s about three inches from your clavicles. Contract your pectorals and focus on pushing through the meaty part of the thumb and index finger as you press the bar back to the top.

Flat Barbell Bench Press: Lay on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Unrack the bar and slowly lower it until it’s about three inches from your chest. At the bottom of the rep, your elbows should from a 90-degree angle. Squeeze the muscles in your chest and press the bar back to the top, pushing with the web of your hand.

Slight Incline Dumbbell Press: Set a bench to about a 30-degree incline. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just outside your shoulders. Press the dumbbells up, but don’t let them touch each other, which releases the tension on the muscles. Slowly return and repeat.

Cable Flye to Cable Chest Press: With pulleys set to just higher than shoulder height, grasp a D-handle in each hand. Bend your elbows slightly bent slightly — you’ll want to lock them in this position— and flex your pecs to pull the handles together in front of you. Keep your chest up and think about touching the inside of your elbows together. Pause a moment for a peak contraction, then slowly allow the handles to return to the start position. When you hit failure after a set of flyes, turn the move into a standing chest press until you can no longer continue.

T Push-Up: Perform a traditional push-up. As you come to the top, bring your left hand off the ground and bring it to your chest. Place it back on the ground and repeat, this time bringing your right hand off the ground.

Swiss Ball Dumbbell Press: With a dumbbell in each hand, sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on floor. Walk your feet forward and allow the ball to travel up your body until it is under your upper back and your torso is parallel to the floor. Contract your car and press the dumbbells upward. Pause at the top and then slowly lower the weights until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Press back to the top and repeat.

Hammer Strength Incline Press: Adjust the machine so your back rests against the pad and your feet are flat on the floor. The handles should be aligned at about shoulder level when you sit down. Press the handles away from you until your arms are fully extended, but without locking out your elbows. Slowly bring the handles back down, but don’t let the weight touch down between reps.

Three-Way Pulley Flye: In a cable crossover station, set both pulleys to their highest point. Grasp a handle in each hand and place your feet in a staggered stance with the back heel off the ground (switch the forward foot every set). Contract your core, tilt your torso forward and forcefully bring your hands together in an arc until they are within one inch of each other, keeping the palms facing in. Keep a slight bend in your elbows at all times. After 10 reps, slide the pulleys down to about sternum height and repeat for 10 more flyes. Lastly, drop the pulleys to their lowest point and perform 10 more reps with the palms facing up. Rest only for as long as it takes you to change the height of the pulley.

Dips: Get into the starting position on a set of parallel bars, with your arms locked out and supporting your weight above the bars. Slowly lower yourself down with your upper body leaning forward and your elbows flared out slightly. Descend until you feel a stretch in your chest, but don’t go farther than a 90-degree bend in your elbows. Slowly return to the starting position.

Spider-Man Crawl: Get into the top of a push-up position and then drop down to about four inches above the floor. Your elbows should be close to forming a right angle. Push with one arm as you reach with the other arm. When you reach forward, bring the opposite knee as close to its same-side elbow as possible. Repeat this pattern until you travel 20 yards. Keep your hips at the same distance from ground for the entire length of the crawl. Don’t let them get sloppy and rotate back and forth.

Incline Swiss Ball Dumbbell Press: Hold a pair of dumbbells and sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on floor. Walk your feet forward and drop your hips so the ball is on your mid-back so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Tighten your torso and press the dumbbells upward. Pause at the top and then slowly lower the weights until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Press back to the top and repeat.

Decline Bench Press: Grasp the bar with your hands just wider than your shoulders. Unrack the bar and slowly bring it down to our lower chest. Do not let the bar drift too far forward over your face. Extend the elbows and bring the bar back to the top.

Machine Press: Set the height of the machine so the handles are about shoulder-height. Tighten your core, squeeze your pecs and slowly press the handle forward. Concentrate on contracting your pecs at the top of the movement. Slowly return and repeat.

One-Arm Pec-Deck: Sit on a pec-deck machine and set the height of the seat so the handles are about shoulder-height. Grasp the right handle, placing your left hand on your hip. Maintaining a slight bend in your right elbow, bring your hand just past the centerline of your chest. Slowly and with control, being the hand back to the start. Keep tension on the arm for the whole set. When all reps are completed, switch hands.

The muscles of the legs, including the gluteus maximus, span across three joints: those of the hips, knees and ankles. The large muscles of the legs have the primary role of supporting the hips and core— including the pelvis region and muscles of the lower back, some of the most susceptible to aches and pains.

Strong glutes also allow for movements such as bending over, squatting down, standing up straight, pushing off the ground (such as to run) and for maintaining other aspects related to proper posture. A 2005 report published in the Journal of Experimental Biology states that “The human gluteus maximus is a distinctive muscle in terms of size, anatomy and function compared to apes and other non-human primates …. Enlargement of the gluteus maximus was likely important in the evolution of hominid running capabilities.” (1)

If your lower body is feeling weak or tight, perhaps placing too much stress on your back when you’re trying to exercise, regularly doing hip and butt exercises and strengthen your glutes. A dynamic workout that targets all muscles of the legs will improve range of motion and and increase stability, helping to prevent compensations and injuries.
What Is the Gluteus Maximus?

The gluteus maximus is one of three muscles of the glutes, and one of the largest muscles in the whole body. While many people think of the the “glutes” as one muscle (i.e, the butt muscle), they are actually a group of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles. The gluteus maximus is the biggest of the gluteals and supports the other two glute muscles in various ways.

In people who are fairly active, the glutes are usually one of the strongest muscle groups in the entire body, due to the need to support the sacrum and femur, areas of the lower and mid body where the glute muscles attach to. Together the glute muscles help with exercises or activities such as: lifting and lowering when sitting, thrusting, climbing stairs, jumping, and balancing the lower body. For the overall most functional lower body strength, the glutes are exercised in proportion to other muscles of the legs, including the quadriceps and calves.
What Do the Glutes Do?

The primary role of the glutes (gluteus maximus) is supporting stability of the pelvis and extending or rotating the hips. They also help the knee extend by lifting the iliotibial tract in the legs, help with lowering and lifting the body towards the ground, support upright posture through the spine, and reduce pressure placed on the lower back.

Some of the benefits of having stable, strong gluteus maximus muscles include:

    Helping with running and other higher intensity activities that involve lift off — Some research has found that while the gluteus maximus supports lower levels of activity (like walking uphill or on an even surface) in certain ways, it’s strength is required much more for activities that require speed, such as jumping or running. In fact, some researchers believe that growth of the glutes in humans and other primates is tied to the evolution of running capabilities.
    Stabilizing the pelvis & supporting the hips — In order for weight and force to be properly balanced in the body, moving up from the lower legs to the upper body, the hips must be stable. Strong glutes help prevent muscular compensations and address weak hip muscles that can contribute to injury or poor performance.
    Supporting the muscles of the back — In patients who complain of lower back pain, many experts recommend strengthening the glutes to improve posture and take pressure off of the lower body. Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints among middle-aged and older adults, often tied to lots of sitting, too little movement of the lower body and not enough stretching. (02)
    Stabilizing your femur (thighbone) — Your femur connects to your hip socket, which is supported from the back by your glute muscles. The glute muscles help to rotate the femur, both internally and externally. This helps with movements like lifting your leg out to the side or back.

The Gluteal Region

The glutes, what most people think of as the “butt muscles,” are located behind the pelvis region, attaching to fascia tissue of the lumbar region (the lower back). (3) They sit below the gluteus medius (the top of the buttocks) and above the biceps femoris (the muscles in the back of the thighs). They also connect to the sacrum, sacrotuberous ligament and coccyx bones (the tailbone).

The gluteus maximus attaches to the front of the legs by inserting into the gluteal tuberosity of the femur. Another insertion point is the iliotibial tract connecting to the tibia. The nerve supply that reaches the glutes are called “inferior gluteal nerves” (L5, S1,2).
Common Injuries of the Glutes

The glutes are one of the major muscles in the body that tend to be involved in improper training or injuries due to poor form. The glutes can sometimes contribute to imbalances in the body or overuse injuries when they are engaged and strengthened too much in proportion to other muscles, such as the quads (the muscles in the front of the thighs).

All muscles of the legs are more likely to become overused when repetitive movements are performed; this can be one behavior tied to overtraining, especially without proper rest or when not enough stretching is performed between workouts. Injuries of the gluteus maximus are most commonly due to repetitive movements of the legs that require motion in only one direction or plane.

On the other hand, the gluteus maximus (and other muscles of the glutes) can also become weak and unstable when someone doesn’t get enough physical activity, for example if they sit for many hours per day at a desk and live a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Some experts call this phenomenon “gluteal amnesia,” which occurs when the muscles near the buttocks become overstretched and underused, resulting in weakness and stiffness. Some common aches, pains and injuries tied to weak gluteus maximus muscles can include:

    Lower extremity injuries — Some research shows that weak glutes can increase the likeliness of injuring other parts of the legs, due to instability. (4) This can include rolling the ankle or hurting the knees for example.
    Hip pain — The gluteus maximus plays an important role in stabilizing the pelvis, so when the muscle is weak or injured poor balance can develop. This can result in hip tightness or hip flexor pain, especially if you’re also skipping stretching. The hips may not be able to rotate properly, which can compromise proper form in other muscles.
    Decreased stabilization of the pelvis — This can increase the risk for running injuries, lower back pains and aches in the lower legs (such as the hamstrings). One side of the body may become stronger or more balanced than the other, increasing the likelihood of injury.
    Low back pain — The glutes help the body properly perform multiplanar movements that can stress the back, such as bending over or squatting down. By helping the torso, pelvis, hips and legs remain evenly balanced and stable, the body can move in dynamic ways without over-straining or rounding one specific area of the spine due to the pull of gravity. (5)
    Trouble walking, running or doing other activities — Any physical movement that involves stability, flexibility and strength in the legs and hips can be compromised. For example, yoga, dancing, horseback riding, cycling, hiking, burst training, sprinting, plyometrics or tabata workouts, and other activities will be more difficult with underdeveloped glutes.
    Reduced range of motion during normal activities and overall tightness

Best Glute Exercises and Stretches

For the best results, do the glute exercises and stretches listed below about three to four times per week. You can either aim for a specific number of reps (such as 10–20 reps per set, depending on your fitness level) or do the exercises in a circuit, performing each exercise for 45–60 seconds with a 15-second break between. For beginners, perform two sets or two rounds in total. And for advanced exercisers aim, for three to four sets/rounds in total.

Between each round of exercises give your muscles a break by resting for about 1–2 minutes. In order to evenly build strength and prevent overuse, give yourself enough rest throughout the week and also incorporate other exercises for your core, back and upper body.
1. Weighted or Barbell Squats

Standing with your feet hips distance apart, hold a barbell or free weights at shoulder height (either the barbell resting above your shoulder blades on your back, or free weights resting on top of your shoulder muscles held in front of you). Keeping your spine in a neutral position move into the squat by retracting your hips and pulling them backward. Hinging at your hips, bend your knees until your thighs come almost parallel to the ground (knees should be directly over your feet). Then push back up until your back is straight and repeat 5–10 times depending on the weight you’re using.

    There are also many other variations of squats you can try. Squats can be done with weights held in the front of your body or behind your back, using dumbbells or a stability ball, with your arms held overhead or parallel to the floor, using a chair or wall for support if you’re more limited, held in place while you focus on breathing (as is done in yoga during “chair pose”), and in other ways. Pistol squats are also a great workout for the entire legs and hips. Pistols are one-legged squats with one relaxed hamstring and calf and the other leg straight out in front of you as you lower down.

2. Lunges

Starting with your spine neutral and head up, place your hands on your hips and step forward with one foot until the thigh is parallel to the ground. Drop your back knee down and balance on your back toes, keeping your back straight so it’s in line with your back thigh and knee. Return to start by pushing off your front foot and stepping the legs together, then repeat.

    Other ways to practice lunges include lateral lunges or step back lunges. For more difficult variations, you can hold free weights in your hands while you lunge or a stability ball.

3. Romanian Deadlifts

Start with hand weights in your hands just outside your thighs, or a barbell on the ground. Keep your feet hip distance apart and your tailbone/hips slightly tucked. Lower the upper body while keeping the chest upright and butt sticking back. Keep your back flat (try not to hunch or round). Drive your back upright and your hips forward so you end up standing up straight, drawing the weights in your hands until they are about the height of your mid-shin or just below the knees. Lower back down as you started and repeat.
4. Step-Ups

Using a block or some type of bench placed in front of you, place one foot forward with the knee bent. Try make sure your chest is upright and your front knee is right over your ankle once bent. Lean forward and step off your front leg, bending your back leg and bringing it near your stomach, or keeping it straight and trying not to use it for thrust. Step back in the same direction and repeat. If you’d like to hold a weight in your hands near your hips as you step, keep them swinging downward to add resistance.
5. Sprints

Any type of running will help strengthen your glutes, but sprinting at a very fast speed is even more effective. You can perform sprints as part of a HIIT workout or simply increase your speed while running or briskly walking for a short distance. Start out with about 15–20 minutes of HIIT intervals and work your way up to 25–30 minutes if you’d like.  To perform intervals alternate slower running or resting for 1–2 minutes with 30–90 seconds of sprinting as fast as you can. Most experts recommend practicing HIIT workouts 2–3 times per week.
6. Glute Bridges

Laying down on your back, bend your knees and bring them parallel while hip distance apart. Push off the bottom of your feet and drive through with your heels, extending your hips vertically up as you round your back. You should feel your core engaged and weight supported by your glutes, thighs, back and heels. Extend while you keep your chin tucked to your chest and core engaged, then reverse to lower your hips down. You can also increase the difficulty by raising one leg in the air at a time as you hold your hips up, or using a barbell held over your hips.
7. Yoga Postures

Many yoga postures involve variations of squats and lunges. These include the asanas (poses) called: Warrior II, Warrior 2, Chair, Bridge or Wheel Pose. These poses are best performed with a straight pine and tucked tailbone.
8. Glute Stretches

Following a glute workout, try to stretch the the lower body for 5–15 minutes in some of the following ways: (7)

    Forward fold — Standing up with your legs straight or slightly bent, bend over to bring your fingers near your toes and hold for 15–30 seconds.
    Foam rolling — If you experience pain in the butt muscles (a side effect of glute injury) use a foam roll placed directly on the back of the hip while you keep one leg crossed over the other. (8) With your food placed over the opposite, roll back and forth gently on the back of the hip as you apply light pressure for about 30 seconds at a time.
    Cross-legged gluteal stretch — Stand upright with one leg bent and your ankle placed over the opposite knee. Move your hips back as you squat and bring your arms forward to help you balance. Your standing leg should try to come parallel to the floor, and your crossed knee should be bent with your knee moving out to the side to help stretch the hips.
    Hip flexor “crescent” lunge — Kneel down on one knee, with the front knee bent and thigh parallel to the ground. Lift your hands overhead and form a straight line between your head, spine and pelvis. Alternate about five times between straightening your front leg and bringing your hands down to frame the front foot, then bending your front knee again and lifting your arms back up. Hold each position for about 10 seconds at a time.

Precautions When Exercising the Gluteus Maximus

One thing to be careful of when exercising the glutes is to resist clenching the butt during backbends or other movements, since this can aggravate the lower back and sacroiliac (SI) joint. To help activate your glutes, try to squeeze the butt in first (before doing any movements) in order to know that you’re using the right muscles, but then release before moving into other postures. Your spine should remain upright, your core engaged and your tailbone tucked as much as possible during yoga or other exercises. The hips should also not be externally rotated, which is easier if you use a block between your thighs in many poses for assistance. (8)

To help strengthen your body evenly all over, try to include other exercises in your routine that target the quads, hamstrings, calves and core. Keep increasing the number of reps you do, or weight you incorporate, over time to keep building strength in the legs.

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