Leg day. You either love it or hate it. As a reader of this site, we’ll assume you do the right thing, and train legs regardless of your feelings. There are many ways to set up your workout, whether you use the leg press and various machines, or you squat and deadlift. Regardless of your exercise of choice, you can always benefit from better glute and hamstring activation.
Before we get into how you can properly activate your glutes, let’s talk about why this matters. A lot of us spend way too much time sitting down, whether it’s working, driving, watching TV, or sitting on the bench press texting between sets. We sit a lot.
As a side effect of this sitting, it’s very common to develop tight hip flexors and glutes that don’t fire correctly. After all, you’re sitting on them all day. Saving the whole “sitting causes back pain” argument for another day, tight hips can definitely have a negative impact on your leg training, causing your hip flexors and quads to do most of the work.
Why Do You Need Glute Activation?
When you squat, deadlift, use a leg press, lunge, or any other compound movement, you want to be using your quads, hamstrings, and glutes together. Every muscle has its role. However, if you’ve been sitting all day, and your glutes and hamstrings, which are your main hip extensors, aren’t working properly, chances are your quads will pick up the slack and handle most of the work.
This is the lower body equivalent of having a huge chest and no back. You want balance, especially in your lower body. By properly warming up your hip extension muscles before a leg day, they will do their job in compound movements. You’ll be stronger, feel better, and have an easier time performing the movement properly, without hurting yourself.
Before any leg day, doing the following exercises will allow you to properly warm-up your glutes and hamstrings. Activated glutes will make you stronger, and can protect your lower back, and fired up hamstrings can help protect your knees through your movements. You can do all of the exercises, or just pick one or two, but be sure to spend some time doing something for your hips before your leg day.
And no, walking on the treadmill does not count as an adequate warm-up.
The Best Glute Activation Exercises
Lying glute bridges: 3 sets of 15
Lying flat on your back, with your knees bent and feet about hip width apart, push your heels into the ground and lock your hips out by squeezing your glutes as tight as you can.
Bodyweight Squats: 3 sets of 10
Keep your heels flat, squat as low as you can, and be sure to squeeze your glutes hard at the top of each rep. This will get your quads, hamstrings, and glutes working together properly.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10/leg
Romanian deadlifts are a very glute and hamstring dominant version of the deadlift, and doing these on one leg will greatly challenge your hip stabilizer muscles. Do these slow, with perfect form, and your hip strength and stability will greatly improve over time.
Lying Leg Curls: 3 sets of 15
Do this with a light weight; the goal is to pump blood into your hamstrings, not exhaust them completely. Legendary coach and bodybuilder John Meadows uses these to warm up for squats in his Mountain Dog programs, and they really will make your knees feel much better when squatting or leg pressing. It’s like doing a bunch of push ups before you bench press. You’ll feel much better.
I’d suggest doing exercises 1-3 as a mini-circuit, 3 times through, and then start your leg workout with number 4, the lying leg curls. Try this out, train harder and more efficiently, and enjoy the gains!