Why You Can’t Fire Your Most POWERFUL Muscle.
by: Brian Klepacki
Athletes should always be focusing on improving the health of their hips, but fixing the issues of weakness, tightness or imbalance isn’t just as simple as standing up or doing a few exercises. That will definitely help but you need to do more than that so keep reading.
As you now know, the psoas is a major muscle located deep in the pelvic area and is largely responsible for many of our daily movements. The hip flexors (primarily the psoas) are the most important muscle for hip flexion (moving your leg forward). The most important muscle for extending your hip (moving your leg back) is the gluteus maximus. Both of these muscles obviously attach high on the hip and control the femur bone (upper thigh). When they are in balance with the proper mobility you inherently have good glute activation patterns.
Occasionally, people will have weak hip flexors, thus, when they flex their hip, the muscles that attach lower down on the hip and thigh (such as the tensor fascia lata and rectus femoris), end up doing what the hip flexors should be doing. This also often leads to a posterior pelvic posture (old-guy butt syndrome) that negates good glute and hip flexor activation in favor of hamstring and TFL activation and allows the head of the femur to slide slightly out of the socket, often causing hip pain.
Yes that’s quite a bit of anatomy and physiology talk but that’s what takes place in nearly everyone who sits for long periods of time. Furthermore, excessively tight hip flexors with an anterior rotated pelvis (or a posture where the butt sticks out) can also restrict glute function, but in our experience the majority of athletes with tight hip flexors rarely have glute activation issues near to the extent as someone with weak hip flexors and a swayback posture. People with tight hip flexors may have issues with hamstring strains and back pain, due to the excessive curve in the lower back, but from a glute activation standpoint it’s definitely better to have tight hip flexors than weak hip flexors and it’s rather simple to correct the tightness issue.
To have your glute activation patterns maximized you need the muscles that attach your thigh higher up on the hip controlling movement of your thighs rather than muscles that attach lower on your hip. You want the muscles that attach your thighbone to your hip keeping the head of your femur bone “tight” in the hip socket. When you don’t have this snug fit (don’t be confused by compressed) you have glute activation issues.
Too many people have non-existent glutes from sitting too much and also not training their glutes hard enough. From a strength perspective, if you were to consciously go in the weight room and do nothing but attack your glutes like a bodybuilder attacks his biceps you wouldn’t be that far off the mark.
There are 2 main problems that occur with regard to the glutes:
Inhibited glutes: In this situation the glutes are shutdown indefinitely. For a variety of reasons, they don’t contract in your daily life when you walk, stand, get up off the toilet, or when you move in sport. This situation is more common in those who sit on their butts all day but it can exist even in elite level athletes.
Overshadowed glutes: Here the glutes DO fire properly, but are not as strong as other lower body muscles (like the quadriceps, and adductors) When this weakness is present the body will use other muscles to do what the glutes SHOULD be doing. This creates inefficiency in performance and usually results in some type of pain or injury. Whenever you perform an explosive compound movement such as a squat jump, deadlift, sprint, etc., the majority of work tends to be done by the strongest of those muscle groups. Technique will also have a substantial impact on all of this, but one problem many athletes have is they naturally have proportionately more strength and natural muscle cells in muscles other than their glutes, like their thighs.
Retracing our steps a little bit we need to focus on how poor glute activation affects our psoas. In reality it’s the psoas that affects our glute activation. It’s another one of those vicious cycles that will screw us up if not fixed. In short, when our iliopsoas group is tight the glutes are unable to properly fire due to changes in muscle length, joint angles and efficiency of natural movement and here lies the problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
In order to loosened the iliopsoas, myofascial release techniques need to be applied and this can be done by foam rolling these three muscle groups as seen here (insert picture) When foam rolling these areas, spend 60-120s on each muscle group making quick passes applying enough pressure covering every square inch before moving on to the next area. You’ll see great improvements in your hips in no time if you foam roll consistently before and after exercise and also on your days of rest.
About the Author
Brian Klepacki is the official Performance Expert for Ultima Replenisher and writes in-depth training articles on a monthly basis. Brian earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Science with a focus in Strength & Conditioning. He also holds many highly recognized certifications that set him apart from others. Brian owns Optimax Performance Training and has a strong following in St. Petersburg, Florida where he resides with his wife and 2 sons.