I’ve become fascinated by glute bridges. It’s not that the exercise itself is particularly interesting; it’s how people accomplish them. I first started thinking about this when I took the Titleist Performance Institute Golf Fitness Instructor course back in 2010. They include a single-leg glute bridge test as part of their assessment. I liked it so much that I have since started using a version of it when I meet with new people at Custom Strength. Want to play?
Did you feel your glutes? Something else? Nothing?
For the strength coaches and personal trainers out there, do you ever ask your clients where they feel exercises? Since I started doing that, I’ve often been surprised at the replies. If you don’t ask, I’d suggest you start. There’s no downside really. If it turns out all of your clients are doing the exercise the way you think they are, then you just got some validation; and if they aren’t, well, now you know.
For those of you who like to play, I’ve got another game for you. I call it Guess What’s Driving the Glute Bridge. Have a look:
What do you think? How did they look to you? Want the answers? I’d like to tell you, but here’s the funny thing: I’m not actually sure. I know the first three were actually glute bridges, and I know the other nine weren’t, and I know I did three in a row of each version. But I didn’t write down the order, and since I waited a couple of weeks between filming and writing this post, I don’t actually remember the order I did them. And I can’t see the difference. Can you?
How is it possible to do a glute bridge with something other than glutes?
This all makes sense because the human body is an example of a brilliantly designed system. Any engineer will tell you that good design includes backup options. The human is designed such that more than one muscle (or muscle group) can accomplish a task.
In the case of hip extension:
- the glutes can do it, but the hamstrings are also hip extensors.
- The back muscles don’t actively extend the hips, but they do extend the back, and because the hip bone’s connected to the back bone (you sang along, right?), once you achieve full back extension, if your back muscles keep working, they can pull the hips up.
- The quads are knee extensors, but if you try to extend your knees while your back is on the floor and your feet are firmly planted, the quads will be unable to fully extend the knee, but the force exerted on the floor in their attempt, can pull the hips up.
I know those last two sound a bit far-fetched, but if you don’t believe me, give them a try. I only learned that these two options existed because when asking clients where they felt glute bridges, a semi-regular answer I heard was “in the front of the legs”. It confused me at first, but it was not just one person, and it wasn’t that I asked a multiple-choice question where they picked quads. I just asked “where do you feel that most?”
Does it matter where they feel it?
The notion of glute bridges being performed differently by different people suggests that the use of a single cue to coach glute bridges may not be effective for everyone.
For example, the cue to push through the heel(s) and lift the toes can be effective, but if a person is using their hamstrings as their primary hip extensors, then this cue will further encourage that.
Or at least it’s been my experience that there is no single cue that works for everyone. I suspect I haven’t tried all of the glute bridge cues though, so it is possible there is a universally-effective glute bridge cue. If you know of one, I’d love to hear it.
Until someone is able to share with me a universal glute bridge cue, I’d like to share the three that we use most often, and when we use them.
Three cues we find to be very effective for glute bridges
- If the person feels the glute bridge in their back, we cue them to reduce the height of their glute bridge. “Go about an inch less high”, or “go up 90% as high.” It’s amazing how often this converts a back bridge into a glute bridge.
- If the person feels the glute bridge in their hamstrings, we cue them to press their heel into the floor and press their toes through the front of their shoes. I know it sounds a bit odd, but give it a try. It’s something I learned at a Dr. Stuart McGill seminar, and is based on the concept of reciprocal inhibition.
- If the person feels the glute bridge mostly in their quads, we cue them to drive their heel into the floor and pull their toes off the floor. I think this is the most common cue I’ve heard from other coaches and personal trainers. I noted above that it isn’t universally effective, but it is effective in this situation.
Interested in reading and seeing more of the cues we use for glute bridges, along with when and why, as well as how we program and progress glute bridges? You’re in luck! You can get the Custom Strength Glute Exercise Coaching Guide for only $4.99.
I think you’ll find the guide is the right blend of comprehensive, but also readable. So if you struggle with glute bridges, or if you struggle with coaching glute bridges, pick up a copy of the guide above.