Glute Activation & Warm-Up | Stephanie Sanzo aka StephFitMum

Powerbuilder and Primeval Labs athlete Stephanie Sanzo (StephFitMum) is renowned for intense, high-volume lower body workouts.

But, in order to perform to the best of your abilities during this demanding leg workouts, your muscles, joints, and connective tissue need to be properly warmed up. However, most people assume that walking, jogging, or performing a few reps of bodyweight squats constitutes a sufficient lower body warm up...which it doesn’t.

Fortunately for you, Stephanie’s here with some helpful warm up tips, particularly for those of you who struggle with gluteal amnesia -- otherwise known as the inability to properly recruit the glutes during training.

When your glutes don’t fire properly, you’re limited in the amount of strength and power you can exert during training, which means you won’t be able to move as much weight as you are truly capable of as the glutes are one of the most powerful muscle groups in the body.

Another problem with not being able to fully engage the glutes during leg exercises, such as the squat, deadlift, or hip thrust, is that you end up dumping a lot of the tension onto your lower back, which can lead to low back pain and increase the risk of injury.

Here, Stephanie present three exercises that you can incorporate into your warm-up sequence to help increase glute activation and build a stronger mind-muscle connection:

Stephanie Sanzo Lower Body Warm Up

This three exercise circuit is great to perform prior to any leg workout or glute workout, and only requires a light mini-band.

Perform 1-3 rounds, resting 1-2 minutes between each round.

  • Side-lying clam shells: 20 reps per side
  • Donkey Kickbacks: 10-20 reps per leg
  • Hip Thrusts: 20 reps

Glute Activation Exercise Tips

Clam Shells

Side-lying clam shells zero in on the unsung hero of the lower body -- the gluteus medius. 

The medial glutes serve as an important abductor that lies on the side of your hip, near the outside edge of your butt.

The glute med is also tasked with providing hip stabilization, balance, and power as well as protecting and protecting your knees and lower back from unnecessary strain. 

To perform the side-lying clamshell:

  • Lie on your right side with your feet and hips stacked on top of one another with your knees bent 90 degrees, and your head resting on your right arm.
  • Pull your knees upward until your feet are in line with your butt while still maintaining the 90-degree bend at the knee.
  • Place your left hand on your left hip to make sure it doesn’t rotate backward
  • Raise your left knee as far as you can without rotating your hip or lifting the bottom knee off the floor all while maintaining a tight core and keeping your feet together
  • Hold for 1 second at the top, squeezing your glutes at the top, before slowly lowering your left knee to the starting position and repeating for the desired number of reps.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

By working the clamshell into your warm up, you’ll strengthen the glute med, which in turn helps you to be able to turn out more, and thus, be able to sink lower into the bottom of the squat.

Donkey Kick-Backs

Whereas the focus of the side-lying clam shells was on the glute med, the main focus of the donkey kickbacks is on the glute max -- the main extensor of the hip. 

To perform the donkey kickback:

  • Get into a quadruped position on the floor with core engaged and a neutral spine
  • Contracting the glutes and extending one leg straight behind you leading with the heel.
  • Focus on only using the glutes to extend and elevate the leg and not the lower back.
  • When you perform the kickback, make sure you are kicking your heel straight back and not up into the air as this shifts the focus of the exercise more onto the hamstrings and glute/ham tie-in than purely the glutes.
  • Perform all reps on one leg before repeating on the other side

Hip Thrusts (Glute Bridge)

The hip thrust is all the rage these days for those looking to build a bigger, stronger backside. Not only is it a great exercise for building muscle and strength, but it’s also a fantastic warm up exercise ahead of any lower body workout to make sure the glutes are firing properly.

To perform the glute bridge (hip thrust):

  • Lay down on your back with your knees bent, feet on the ground hip-width apart, and arms extending by your sides.
  • Press your feet into the ground, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips off the ground. 
  • Squeeze your glutes together as hard as you can at the top and hold for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering your hips under control back to the ground.
  • Make sure to maintain a long spine and tight core as you raise and lower your hips.

For an added challenge, you can perform 1.5 reps on the hip thrusts to increase time under tension and solidify the mind muscle connection.