Check out this youtube video by Blake Bowman, a personal trainer in the United States, who explains the importance of the glutes and how to activate them in the gym. Your glutes are your bum muscles. They stabilize the pelvis, they protect your lower back from injury, and they provide power for squatting, climbing, and running. The problem with most people is that their hamstrings are over-active (and often too tight) and their glutes are under-active.
Blake demonstrates a great way to relieve tightness in the hamstrings (rolling them out seated on a bench using a tennis ball sized ball, looks like a cricket ball or baseball ball, I recommend a tennis ball to start as it is a bit softer). Then he shows the best way to activate the glutes: exaggerate the hip extension, and minimise hamstring activation, which isolates the glutes and really gets them working. The exercise he uses is the 'hip thrust' and he takes you through a series of progressions, a key skill of the best personal trainers. The word 'thrust'' might tempt you into making this movement quickly, but it's better to perform it slow and smooth to avoid injury and engage the glutes for longer.
Here's another really effective exercise for strengthening your glutes, particularly glute maximus (the most powerful glute muscle): the step-up with dumbbells. You can use a weights bench in the gym, or a park bench (but make sure it's dry and not slippery). If you've not done this exercise before, be careful and proceed through incremental progressions. Start off with step-ups without any dumbbells, and don't progress to weights until you've mastered this beginner version. Perform the movement slowly and smoothly, including on the way down. At the top of the movement, stand tall with both feet on the bench, don't bend forward, and squeeze your glutes for a couple of seconds before descending again.
I repeat: be careful with this exercise. One of my personal training clients came to me after she had been trained by a junior team member of one of the celebrity personal trainers in London. She had been given a step-up exercise onto a high bench with dummbells in her very first session and she injured a ligament in her knee. So let this be a cautionary lesson: don't start off with too high a step, and don't perform this exercise with any weights until you have mastered this movement without weights over several weeks.
Toned and muscular glutes aren't just aesthetically pleasing, they also improve your posture and biomechanical function. Strong glutes make you less prone to lower back problems, because they act as a shock absorber.
The glutes muscles comprise: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The importance of strong glute muscles is often underrated. These muscles take the strain off your lower back by acting as load-bearers and shock-absorbers, and they assist in good posture. If your glutes are weak, you risk injury when you lift a heavy object, and over time you risk lower-back pain. Get to work on your glutes! Nobody wants a sagging bum!
Here are two more great exercises: squats and lunges. Even better, the 'walking lunge' which you can perform in the park, or up and down the corridor. As a personal trainer in Wanstead, London E11, I use a really nice quiet park called George Green, just opposite Wanstead tube station on the central line, for walking lunges with my clients. And park benches are great for step-ups, which also work the glutes muscles. Just make sure the park bench is dry before stepping, to avoid slipping.
Glute Max are your most powerful glutes muscle. This large thick muscle originates deep in the pelvic region (sacrum and coccyx) and the rear of the ilium (the biggest bone of your pelvis, also called the hip bone). It inserts at the medial rear of the femur (gluteal tuberosity). This is not one of the postural muscles, rather it is a muscle of power. Whenever you run, jump, climb, or simply rise up from your chair, you are using your gluteus maximus.
Simply walking does not activate your gluteus maximus muscles, which is one reason why walking is not sufficient exercise on its own. You must perform more specific exercises to activate the gluteus maximus. This muscle extends the thigh, and extends the trunk. Ask any physiotherapist and they'll tell you that strong glutes are crucial to take strain off your lower back.
This stabilizing muscle originates at the outer surface of the ilium (hip bone). It inserts at the lateral surface of the greater trochanter, at the top of the femur (upper leg bone). This postural muscle keeps the pelvis stable when you walk and stand.
As the name suggests, this is the smallest of the glute muscles, and acts with gluteus medius to aid postural stability. Both the gluteus medius and minimus enable abduction of the femur at the hip joint - ie- enables you to move your leg out to the side.
Include these exercises for your glutes:
Squats (vary the width of your feet)
Lunges, walking lunge
Step-ups (with dumbbells for added resistance)
Running up steep hills
Seated Leg press machine
Seated abduction machine - move your legs apart under resistence.
Glute raise - on your hands and knees, raise one leg behind you until your foot is higher than your bum. Use ankle weights to increase resistence.
I'm always telling my personal training clients in London that the glutes are a vital muscle group to tone up, because they act as a shock-absorber when you're lifting heavy loads, by taking the strain off the lower back. If you have weak glutes, you're likely to develop lower-back problems sooner or later.
I had a personal trainer in north London, in a gym called Maximum Fitness, a real hard-core gym. He had me doing step-ups onto a bench with a pair of dumbbells. That got my glutes sore (in a good way!) more than any other exercise I've done. A word of warning: Don't try this exercise with any dumbbells at first, get used to the movement without any weights, and keep your back straight. Then build up gradually with light weights at first.
And don't step up to a surface that's too high off the ground, so for a short person a weights bench step-up might be too much strain on the knee joints and leg/glute muscles. Start with a shallow step and work your way up gradually.