Hip weakness is a common area of focus in both the rehabilitation and fitness fields. Combine our excessive sitting postures and the majority of activities during the day that occur in the sagittal plane of motion, and hip weakness in the frontal and transverse planes is common.
There are many exercises designed to address glute medius and glute maximus strength in the transverse plane. But a simple tweak to your posture during one of the most common exercises can have a big impact on glute activity and the balance between your glutes and TFL.
The Effect of Body Position on Lateral Band Walking
A recent study in JOSPT analyzed EMG activity of the glute max, glute medius, and TFL muscles during two variations of the lateral band walking exercises.
The subjects performed the lateral band walk in a standing straight up posture and a more flexed squat position.
I’ve personally used both variations in the past but tend to perform the exercise more often in the slightly flexed position, which we consider a more “athletic posture,” as we don’t really walk laterally with our hips and knees straight very often.
Results showed that EMG of both the glute max and glute medius was enhanced by performing lateral band walks in the partial squat position, and that TFL activity was actually reduced. Glute activity almost doubled.
A Simple Tweak to Enhance Glute and Reduce TFL Activity
The finding of reduced TFL activity is just as important as enhanced glute EMG activity, as the ratio of glute medius to TFL is greatly enhanced by performing the lateral band walk in this athletic position.
Sometimes it’s the simplest studies that make the most impact.
The TFL also acts as a secondary hip flexor and internal rotator of the hip. In those with glute medius weakness, which is fairly common, the TFL tends to be overactive to produce abduction of the hip.
Considering how our chronic seated posture can cause shortening of the hip flexors and we know many knee issues can arise from too much dynamic hip internal rotation and glute medius weakness, we often try to focus on developing the glute medius ability to become more of the primary muscle involved with abduction, instead of the TFL.
Another interesting finding of the study was that the stance limb, not the moving limb, had higher EMG activity for every muscle in both positions. This shows the importance of the stance abductors in providing both a closed kinetic chain driving force as well as a lumbopelvic stabilizing force when the moving limb transitions to nonweightbearing.
We focus a lot on abduction based exercises to strengthen the glute medius, but closed kinetic chain exercises in single leg stance may be just as important to train the hip to stabilize the lower extremity.
One thing I would add is that I rarely perform this exercise with the band at the ankles as the authors did. I much prefer to put the band around the knee and feel it helps develop better hip control.
Based on this study, I’m not sure I see why I would perform a lateral band walk in a tall upright posture. I’m going to maximize glute activity and reduce TFL activity by doing the exercise in a more flexed athletic position.