The Most Common Weaknesses In Athletes. . . And How To Fix It!

The Most Common Weaknesses In Athletes. . . And How To Fix It!

Weak glutes are just way too common, and they could very well be holding you back from hitting PRs in nearly every lift, as well as metcon performance. Glutes are used in virtually every movement we do, and yet, for some unfortunate reason, they are the most common suspects for weaknesses, deficiencies or imbalances.

Glutes are pertinent to correct hip function. Keeping the hip and back stable, and moving correctly is a part of it’s role. You can imagine that a weak glute or dysfunctional glute would lead to a whole chain reaction of instabilities and pain development elsewhere, as a result.


If You Have Weak Glutes, You Might Be Experiencing Some Of These Signs

  • Painful knees: glute medius is responsible for keeping the femur in the correct position in internal/ external rotation

  • Bad mechanics in basic movements: if you have trouble maintaining correct hip alignment through a squat at sub-max intensities.

  • Weak or unstable ankles and knees: at the end of the chain of the lower limb mechanics, an unstable hip will cause instability in the knees and/ or ankles.

  • Back pain: if the glutes are unable to fire to maintain posture, the lower back ends up working a double shift, causing pain in a shorter than usual time span.

  • Chronically tight hip flexors: these are the antagonist muscles of the glutes. They work to flex the hip while the glutes extend and rotate the hip. If you are constantly experiencing


        How It Effects Performance

        Glutes should be working constantly to make sure the hip is functioning correctly.
        Glutes and Running

        As mentioned above, the glutes extend the hip. In running, the entire body is working as a mechanical unit to use as much momentum as possible to move the body forward. Within this, the role of the glutes is to extend the hip in order to propel the other foot forward. In a person with weak glutes, the hip extensors are not doing their job and so the hip flexors on the opposite leg have to do more work to draw the leg forward. Similarly, the same side lower back will often feel the strain as it adapts for the weakness.

        Running just a short distance with weak glutes can quickly lead to back and/ or knee pain. Consider how many repetitions are required when running just a few kilometers. A 5 km run without the proper muscles firing is 1000’s of steps and a short 30 minutes can lead to a great deal of pain.  

        Glutes and Strength Training

        The action of the hip is generated and stabilized by the glutes. Glute med extends and abducts the leg away from the body, glute max extendes the leg posteriorly and gluteus minimus stabilizes and performs internal rotation. These muscles are therefore the main agonists during deadlifts, squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, and others. The glute holds the posterior chain of muscles together. Without it, the muscles of the back are used to extend the body, or the hamstrings take the brunt of the work when knee flexion is also involved.

        If you tend to feel general muscle soreness in the quads and hamstrings or back but not as intense in the glutes, this is a good sign that they are not firing at all during workouts.  

        Glutes and Back Pain

        This comes from all those hip hinging exercises that require the glues and hamstrings to fire to extend the hip. If the back is working to extend the hip, you’ve got a problem. Back pain from overworking and adapting can only be alleviated by rest (boring!) or by correcting the problem.


        How To Test For Glute Strength or Weakness

        Try a few isolated glute exercises. You should be able to hit sets of 15 to 20 reps in a full range of motion before reaching fatigue. This is a simple test… I’ve listed a few glute isolation exercises to try.

        Other ways of testing include whether or not you can perform straight leg deadlifts with at least 50% of your squat for reps.

        Can you perform lunges of at least 50% of your 3rm squat?

        Are you able to perform good mornings at 55% of your deadlift?

        If any of these numbers are way off, you may have a problem with weak glutes!


        How To Improve Glute Strength

        Jane Fonda that butt for a badass performance…

        Start by doing isolation movements… yes, Jane Fonda. Side-lying leg raises to activate the glute medius. Perform 3 sets on each side of 10 to 20 repetitions. If you can perform 20 with no problem, then it’s probably not the problem. Be sure to feel that the correct muscle is working by keeping the abs very tight and drawing the heel upwards and posteriorly, with a 2-3 second pause.

        Next, isolate glute max by choosing 2 of any of the following:

        Single-leg glute-bridge: Starting off on the floor is the easiest version. You’ll be on your back with one leg pointed to the ceiling and the other at 90 degrees to eliminated the work of the hamstrings. Push through your heel and into your butt to lift your hips off the floor. Perform 20 on each side with a pause at the top! If it’s too easy, add in some stabilizing muscle work by placing the working foot on a swiss ball.

        GHD reverse-hypers with bent knees: Here, you’ll be backwards and facing down in the GHD machine. Keep your knees together and bent past 90 degrees to block the hamstrings from helping the movement. Extend your hip while keeping the knees together. Pause a the top for 2 seconds before repeating 12 to 20 repetitions.

        Kickbacks on all 4s: On the floor, on all 4’s start with no resistance at all. Simply kick (slowly) the leg back and upwards to the ceiling. Again, pause at the top to really feel it firing up before repeating 12 to 20 repetitions. This is a really basic one, so try using a resistance band and performing 8 to 12 reps on each side as a progression.

        Sitting is probably the worst thing for glutes. The more you sit on them, the less they do! In a world of chronically sedentary jobs, this is a tough one to avoid! Just keep in mind that standing when and where you can isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

        Whey-Pro 5

        Christie Leclair
        Christie Leclair - Author

        FD Bulsara, BSc is a competitive athlete in Olympic weightlifting and a student in Osteopathy. She coaches private and group fitness classes and freelance writing about her passions: fitness, health, sport, nutrition, weightlifting, CrossFit, injury prevention, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and the latest research on all these topics! She is a dog person and spends free time training at the lake. Find her at

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