[First published in 2010. Part of the Training for Warriors series, by Martin Rooney*]
One of the most important steps in man’s coming to rule the earth was going from being a quadruped to walking on two legs. Just think how much more energy your body would spend as a result of the increased muscle mass used to fight against gravity. Man solved this issue by eventually becoming upright and balancing on two legs. This decreased overall energy expenditure, but also changed the shape of the pelvis, the length of the legs and the angles of how certain muscles of the body were used. Even more importantly, some scientists hypothesize that this new reserve of energy allowed man to shunt blood and energy to develop the large and powerful brain that gave him the advantage over all the other creatures on the planet.
The gluteus maximus muscles are the largest muscles of the body. As a result, if they are activated and broken down with training, they will require the highest energy cost metabolically to use and rebuild. I believe that as a result of this fact, our genetic code predisposes these muscles to only be used at times of high stress when the trade-off for higher energy expenditure is worthwhile. To support my theory, sprinting has been found to be one of the best activators of the gluteal muscles versus activities like squatting or picking something up. This makes perfect sense since an early human that had to activate these muscles to run from a saber-toothed tiger made a great tradeoff: Expend more energy instead of death.
So what does this have to do with you? Let’s apply that same concept to the Jiu-Jitsu match. Jiu-Jitsu is also about efficiency and there are also certain muscles that you will only access at times of high stress. The gluteus maximus is again a great example of this. Since much of Jiu-Jitsu training is spent on the ground, the glutes are rarely activated or trained. This, however, does not mean this muscle is not important. For instance, when threatened, say in the mount or cross side, a powerful bridge can either buck an attacker off or create enough space to get back to a more equal position like half or full guard. The glutes are the critical muscle in this bridging motion and strong glutes are obviously an advantage for a “more evolved” Jiu-Jitsu player both on his back or his feet.
Now that you understand how your glutes are important, you should also recognize that they may not be getting activated. For an easy exercise to check your glute activation, perform the single leg bridge. Start on your back with one knee bent and that foot on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and keep the opposite leg in the air. Lift your hips into the air. Is it your glutes or hamstrings that do all the work? If the answer is hamstrings, your glutes are in need of retraining. Here are two great exercises to re-educate the glutes:
1. Prone Hip Extension
Begin lying on your stomach with one knee bent. With the bent leg, lift the sole of the foot toward the ceiling and hold for 5 seconds. Relax and repeat for 2 sets of 5 reps on each side.
2. Figure 4 Lift
Begin lying on your stomach with one leg crossed behind the other. Lift the outside of the thigh of the bent leg toward the ceiling. Relax and repeat for 2 sets of 5 reps on each side.
Strength Exercises for an Iron Backside
As previously mentioned, one of best exercises for Glute activation is sprints. When was the last time you sprinted all out? Because of the metabolic demand, the larger muscles like the glutes also need more time to recover. So they don’t need to be worked as often as the smaller muscles of the body. Sprinting twice a week and performing one day a week of lifts will be enough. Here are a couple of other great exercises for glute-specific strength for Jiu Jitsu.
3. Barbell Hip Raise
Begin seated with the barbell across your waist (padding is recommended) and your shoulders on a stable bench. While starting from bent knees, drive the feet into the floor and press the hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 2 seconds, lower and repeat for 4 sets of 8 reps.
4. Band Hyperextension
Begin bent over a hyper machine with the band held around the back of the neck. Extend to a straight position and hold for 3 seconds. Lower under control and repeat for 3 sets of 6 reps.
* Martin Rooney is the founder of the Training for Warriors system and has trained champion fighters for the UFC, Pride, ADCC and Olympics. His TFW fitness program is used in over 175 facilities in 25 countries around the world. Information about TFW certifications at trainingforwarriors.com.