Glute bridges – they’re one of my most recommended exercises for anyone who wants to target their butt – and perfect for both beginners and advanced. But today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at how to use them specifically for activating your glutes and creating/enhancing your mind-muscle connection.
This post is written especially for anyone who has ever struggled to feel their glutes working (you most likely suffer from glute inactivation) when exercising. We’ll look at why glutes get inactive, how to reactivate them using glute bridges and I’ll give you my best tips on how to adapt glute bridges to actually get your glutes firing!
We’ll take a very detailed look at how to get your booty working using the glute bridge exercise if you don’t know how to activate this muscle properly yet.
Why You Should Want To Get Your Glutes Working
If you read my post about the mind-muscle connection with your glutes, hopefully I’ve convinced you that you simply can’t get good booty gains if you can’t focus on and activate your glute muscles strongly.
In my personal opinon, this is absolutely essential to master if you want to create a truly enviable butt through exercise – I can’t stress this enough!
If you can’t squeeze and contract your glutes really strongly on command (go on – have a go and do it right now as you’re reading this – if you have good glute control, your body should literally lift up a quarter inch or more in height when you contract your glutes strongly while sitting down), then you can benefit from the information I’m going to share with you in this post.
Why Do Glutes Become Inactive?
If you weren’t able to notice any difference when you tried contracting your glutes earlier, then your butt muscles are probably not fully activated. By that I mean you probably don’t have good control of how to use them at will.
In a previous post on how to activate your glutes, we talked about why it is so common for people’s glutes to become inactive.
Basically, the muscles in your rear end tend to act a little differently than the muscles in the rest of your body – in that the glutes are super lazy. They don’t want to work, and will do as little as possible if they can get away with it!
The problem is though, if you don’t specifically use your glute muscles, they tend to forget how to work properly. It’s very similar to how not everyone can wiggle their ears – some of us simply don’t know how to use those muscles anymore because we seldom need to in everyday life.
‘But how can you not use your glute muscles, if they’re supposed to be the biggest muscles in the body?’ I can hear some of you asking.
While they are large muscles, what usually happens for most people is that other muscles take over instead. Hamstrings, quadriceps and your low back muscles are all capable of interacting so that they do the brunt of the work in compound movements like getting up out of a chair – and if you don’t specifically focus on using your glutes to help with a movement like this (one it’s designed to do), what can happen over time is that you literally forget how to do it using the correct muscle.
The muscle is there, sure, but what goes missing is the neural connection from your brain that is able to tell the muscle to work on demand (your mind-muscle connection).
That’s what we’re going to work on strengthening now, and I’m going to teach you how you can gain full control of your glutes by doing activation drills using the glute bridge exercise.
The good news is that once you’ve gained control and know how to activate your glutes, it’s for life. Unless you spend months bedridden or in some other couch-potato state, I feel like it’s kind of hard to lose it again.
How To Reactivate Your Glutes
In my previous guide for glute activation, I gave a few suggestions in a staged process for how to start connecting your mind with your muscles and getting them to fire properly. We started out with just feeling the muscle and doing a few very simple isolation movements, then moved on to glute bridges.
However, for those who want to jump straight into doing something that feels like you’re actually making a difference/moving, then you may be able to skip straight to the glute bridges if you feel like the other exercises aren’t doing anything for you.
Everyone’s Different – So Do What Works For You!
While I’m giving lots of advice for how to activate your glutes, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, so what has worked for me might not work so well for you.
The take home message here is, try it and see, and adapt it to suit you best! If you need to adjust your foot placement slightly so that you feel the exercise more in your butt, then do it!
How To Get The Glutes Firing
I tested this exercise and cues on my boyfriend, who literally has zero to no control of his glute muscles at will. I also used this exercise myself to gain control of my glute muscles (years ago, I previously couldn’t feel my glutes working at all).
The basic fundamentals are these:
- You need to strengthen the nerve signal pathways that connect your brain to your target muscle (the gluteal muscles).
- The more you use something (i.e. a certain nerve pathway, a certain muscle), the stronger/bigger it becomes.
- Repetition is the mother of skill. The more you do something, the more natural it will become.
- Focus on feeling the target muscle working. Do whatever you need to to get to this stage. Visualizing is very important (brush up on your glute anatomy if you have trouble)!
The Best Exercise To Work Your Glutes
The exercise I chose to help my boyfriend with his inactive glutes was the glute bridge. Why? Becuase it somewhat isolates the glutes (other muscles that are used in the move are the hamstrings and back, but if done correctly, it primarily targets the glutes).
The glute bridge can be done without equipment, and can be loaded up with resistance later to keep it challenging even for advanced trainers (although don’t even thing about adding weight until you’ve absolutely mastered the bodyweight version).
Here’s what it looks like:
How To Do The Move
- Start lying on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat at shoulder with apart about a foot or so away from your butt.
- With your knees apart and without actually moving them, imagine squeezing an imaginary ball between your knees. Hold this for the entire exercise, as this can help activate your glutes.
- Clench your butt cheeks tightly together, and squeeze hard for the whole exercise.
- Keeping your core tight, drive strongly though the heels of your feet to drive your hips up in the air.
- When your hips are as high as they will go, push them just that little bit higher by giving a strong squeeze of your glutes.
- Lower back down to the starting position, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Form Tips To Help Feel The Glute Bridge In Your Butt
Start small, and only practice with a form where you feel this in your glutes (as opposed to your hamstrings and back). If you start to feel the other muscles working more, but not your glutes, then stop because this is a sign that you’re not getting the muscle that you want to target (and would only be practicing in bad habits).
One your glutes start feeling a little sore or fatigued, it becomes much easier to feel this exercise and focus on using your glutes to do the movement. To get to this stage, you can try doing 1 rep, and holding it at the top – this should quickly fatigue the glute muscles if you are doing it correctly. (Cues: squeezing yout butt cheeks together strongly the whole time, and push the hips up, up, up – don’t let them drop!)
I like to do this with a hand on each butt cheek. By pressing on the muscle with my fingers, I can (a) feel if it’s tensing or not, and (b) the extra pressure helps my brain to think of that muscle and therefore activate it more.
Here are the cues that I found really help with getting the gluteal muscles to fire too:
- Imagine clenching your butt cheeks together.
If you were standing up, imagine that someone has put a bus ticket in your butt crack, and you need to squeeze your cheeks together hard, to hold it there and stop it from falling down. (Don’t ask where I got the whacky example from – heard it from my aerobics instructor years ago and it’s stayed with me ever since!)
- Hands on your butt.
Press firmly with your hands on each butt cheek. This helps your brain link what you are doing with your butt as you can feel the muscle moving with your hands, as well as bringing your awareness to the muscle (sometimes I press quite firmly with a pointy finger so that the muscle starts to hurt, to get my awareness to focus on that specific muscle).
- Drive through the heels.
Don’t think so much about lifting the hips up, as driving your heels through the ground (doing this should cause your hips to lift automatically). I also sometimes lift my toes off the ground to really emphasize that I’m only pushing through my heels.
- Squeeze an imaginary ball between your knees.
Before you begin and also during the movement, if you imagine squeezing an imaginary ball between your knees, then I have found that this tends to cause your glutes to activate. Don’t actually move your knees though, it’s more of a mental prop you can use which may help. This works because to tense muscles in the area and not have anything actually move, you need to tense all muscles. It’s a visualization cue only.
- Pelvic Tilt.
Play around with this one. I like to do glute bridges with a neutral pelvis position, but if you have trouble activating your glutes, then using a posterior pelvic tilt (where your butt is scooped under and forward), can help you activate the muscles. Use this just to get yourself to feel the glutes working initially, so try to work up to a neutral pelvis position eventually.
- Foot positioning.
Play around to find what works for you (the correct position for your feet is wherever they need to be for you to feel the glutes working the most). Generally though, the further away your feet are from your butt, the more your hamstrings will be brought into play, so if you are feeling the movement a little too much in the back of your legs, then try shuffling your feet a little closer to your butt.
- Pre-fatigue the glutes.
A sore muscle naturally draws the brain’s attention, so it can really help those who are still building their mind-muscle connection if the target muscle is fatigued. You should also find that this helps you fell the muscle working.
Finally, if you’re still struggling then try a variation like Frog Pumps – these work for some people who may feel them more strongly in the glutes than regular glute bridges.
How Much? How Often?
With the end goal of trying to get good, active control of your glute muscles, I would recommend a beginner to focus on just doing glute bridges initially until you gain the control you want.
How many? Well, patience is a virtue here. It’s more about consistency than anything.
This can definitely be difficult at first! You might feel like it’s not doing anything, or you don’t feel it in your glutes like you’re supposed to. If this is you, then don’t give up – keep with it, and keep visualizing when you do the moves. It will eventually come, trust me.
So how many reps? Aim for around 10 good quality reps, and do them slow and controlled, with a pause and good squeeze at the top. You can repeat this for 3 sets if you like.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to feel your glutes working. Remember, that’s the main goal.
Do this every day, or even twice a day for best results. After a week or two, you should find that you have a much greater control of your glute muscles and you can activate them at will.
In this article we covered a practical method specifically for beginners who are having trouble with glute inactivity.
The method involves using the glute bridge exercise to drill glute activation, and we looked in detail at some specific exercise cues that you can use to really connect with the target muscles and build your mind-muscle connection.
Aim for 10 reps a day of this glute bridge activation exercise with good form and making sure that you feel it in your gluteal muscles. If you continue this for at least a week, you’ll be well on your way to re-awakening those glutes!
Do you struggle with glute activation? If you can’t actively use your glutes then let me know by leaving a comment below! I’d love to hear if the form cues for the glute bridges help you to target your glute muscles!