By Brian Schiff
It is always preferable to include exercises that activate the gluteus maximus and medius in training programs. Research has shown that poor hip activation/control leads to frontal plane knee collapse and may lead to excessive strain on the knee.
In a previous column, I discussed the side plank with hip abduction as an excellent choice for the gluteus medius based on EMG activation. Here, I am covering the front plank with hip extension based on muscle activation findings by Boren et al in the
same study that referenced the side plank with hip abduction.
In original research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (September 2011) researchers looked at various rehab exercises and activation of the gluteus medius and maximus muscles. Surface EMG was used in the study.
Note: The percentages of MVIC (maximal voluntary muscle contraction) recorded for top exercises were 106% for the front plank with hip extension followed by the gluteal squeeze at 81% (a distant second). Side plank with dominant leg and non-dominant leg were 3rd and 4th, with a single leg squat rounding out the top five.
Begin in prone plank position with the trunk, hips, and knees in neutral alignment. Next, lift the left leg off of the ground, flex the knee of the left leg, and extend the hip past neutral hip alignment by bringing the heel toward the ceiling. Hold for one second at the top and then return to parallel for one second. Repeat 5-10 times on each side and then repeat on the other side.
This exercise is designed to strengthen the gluteus maximus. Improving hip extensor strength will improve dynamic hip stability and reduce unwanted strain on the knee. This has particular relevance for female endurance runners who tend to experience patellofemoral pain as studies indicate thy have decreased hip extension strength. Additionally, clients will improve core stability and strength performing this exercise.
For those clients who struggle with form and endurance, you may opt for a quadruped version. The cadence in the study references 2 beats (as opposed to one in the front plank). MVIC is 60% so this is still a good way to elicit moderate muscle activity until the client can advance to the front plank with hip extension.
Boren K, Conrey C, Le Coguic J, et al. Electromyographic Analysis of Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus During Rehabilitation Exercises. International J Sports Phys Ther. 2011; 6: 206-223.
Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS, is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. Currently, he serves as the supervisor at the Athletic Performance Center in Raleigh, NC. Brian presents nationally at several professional conferences and seminars on injury prevention, rehab and sport-specific training. For more cutting edge training information, subscribe to his monthly Training & Sports Medicine Update at www.BrianSchiff.com.