Mini-band side stepping is a common physical therapy exercise, and one that I do with almost all of my athletes and patients. I believe that efficient sport power and agility are built on a strong foundation of inner core and gluteal strength. If you move weight greater than your body’s stabilizers can handle, your body will find a way to compensate and get the job done – but only for so long, and for so much.
[Photo: SD Chargers’ Gordon getting in on it! – Skillz.com]
Strong glutes can provide a very stable core/trunk/pelvic unit on which your extremities can be free to move – generating force and power. In addition, their contribution to lower extremity movement and alignment can alleviate stress on the knee from faulty quadricep dominant movement patterns. Think of the quads and the glutes as a team – they have to work together to carry the load of lower extremity movement. If one isn’t carrying quite so much, the other has to pick up the slack in order to get the job done (back to the idea of compensation, which I already mentioned). In this case we’re talking about the glutes not be strong, or at least not being used. The quads come in to pick up the slack and get the job done. However, it is the attachment of these muscles, through a common patellar tendon over the kneecap, that can cause increased stress at the knee. In fact, glute weakness has been associated with many common injuries such as low back pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome, ITB syndrome, ACL injuries, plantar fasciitis, and ankle sprains.
Okay, so now we know we want to strengthen the glutes (particularly the abductors), but how do we do it? Some of my favorite foundational glute exercises are included in an article published in JOSPT 2013 by Selkowitz, Beneck, and Powers. Based on EMG findings, the authors talk about exercises that best target the glute muscles and minimize activation of the TFL – a pesky little muscle on the side of your hip that often kicks in to help you to get the job done. (Hint: for those with tight IT bands, this muscle can contribute to that!). The exercises are listed below, with the best ratios indicated with a double asterisk. Other exercises that they looked at included: side lying leg raises, lunges, hip hikes, and step ups.
1. Bridging (double leg and single leg**)
2. Hip extension on hands and knees (knee bent and knee straight)**
It is also worth noting that side stepping exercises can be done either upright standing or in a squat. In an article from this month’s JOSPT, authors found that in a squat position increased gluteal activation and decreased TFL activating as compared with upright standing, particularly for the stance/trailing leg. Although both the glues and the TFL contribute to abduction (moving the leg away from the body), the TFL is also a hip flexor and the glutes are also hip extensors. Because of the more forward center of gravity during a squat, the TFL does not need to do as much stability work in its capacity as a hip flexor.
So join in with Melvin Gordon and get those buns of steel by adding these exercises to your routine!