Is the glute max the only muscle activated during the pigeon hip extension?

Physical Fitness Asked by Tyrell on January 2, 2022

So I have trouble activating the glute max on the left hip. For example when I do the donkey kick exercise with the right hip I can feel the glute max activating, and I also can squeeze it. But on the left hip I feel more the hamstrings are doing all the work and I can’t squeeze glute max on the left hip during this exercise.

I know that the problem can be in hamstring dominance or tight hip flexors, so certain things like foam rolling the hamstrings, and stretching hip flexors might help. But for now I want to concentrate on another exercise which (according to the book by Jonathan Beverly "Your best stride") promises to activate only glute max.

In this book I found this exercise called pigeon hip extension:

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Quote from the book: Get on your hands and knees. Reach one leg straight back, then lower that knee to the ground while dropping your upper body to your elbows over the other leg tucked beneath you. Clench your butt cheeks together, then raise the back knee to straighten the leg without lifting your toes. The only muscle that can do this is the glute max. Feel it activate. Now lower the leg while keeping it contracted. This begins the work of learning to isolate the glute from surrounding muscles. Don’t be discouraged if it isn’t easy at first. Dicharry says people tell him “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not from a physical aspect but mental aspect.”

When I do this exercise I don’t feel like any particular muscle is working at all. I don’t feel the glute max in this exercise, even on the right hip where my glute max is more or less active.

Question: What might be the problem here? Maybe I’m not doing the exercise correctly? Is it really true that only glute max can accomplish hip extension in this position?

I need this for running with proper form and at this stage more concerned with establishing neural pathways to activate glute max. It is one of the most important muscles for runners to get hip extension. When I can learn to activate it then will focus on strengthening them doing exercises for glute max with correct form.

One Answer

To answer your question plainly: no, the gluteus maximus is not the only muscle that can accomplish hip extension in this position.

All three hamstrings muscles—semitendinosis, semimembranosis, and biceps femoris—are bi-articular, originating on the ischial tuberosity of the hip bone, and inserting on the medial surface of the tibia or lateral surface of the fibula, respectively. (Only the short head of the biceps femoris is uni-articular, inserting on the femur.) Consequently, simultaneous extension of the hip and knee tend to limit the shortening of the hamstrings group, delaying their active insufficiency and allowing them to continue to produce significant tension.

So whilst it is certainly more biomechanically efficient for the gluteus maximus to perform hip extension from this position, if the hamstrings are overactive, they will still be entirely capable of dominating the movement.

In order to remove (or more precisely, minimise the involvement of) the hamstrings from the chain, the knee must be bent such that the three bi-articular hamstrings muscles are shortened to too great a degree to be able to develop significant tension—that is, to their point of active insufficiency. The ‘pigeon’ hip extension simply doesn't do this.

Hence, better choices of exercise to guarantee the activation of the gluteus maximus would be a (unilateral) supine bridge or bent-knee donkey kick. In both cases, it is imperative to bend the knee to 90° or greater.

I hope that helps.

Answered by POD on January 2, 2022

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