Posted on 04 Aug 2009 20:25
By Eric Troy, Ground Up Strength
You may be familiar with a glute bridge, formally known as a "Supine Hip Extension" or "Supine Glute Bridge". But you probably haven't heard of the Cook Hip Lift. Named after Gray Cook, it is a great beginning gluteal activator and is meant to be used as a precursor to the glute bridge, because it solves a problem that the glute bridge does not address very well.
What is it for?
One of the main problems trainees encounter is not being able to tell the difference between lumbar range of motion and hip range of motion. So, when they try to target the glutes and hamstrings, say with a regular glute bridge, they mistakenly use a lot of lumbar extension rather than hip extension. The cook lift solves this by maintaining the lumbar in a neutral position and effectively isolating the glutes.
Stuart McGill calls this inability to use the glutes "gluteal amnesia". The brain has literally lost touch with the glutes, so to speak. It could be that the psoas are "tight" and so it is a case of reciprocal inhibition. Or, the glutes are weak and so the psoas are tight. Here's the thing: It doesn't matter. Turn on the glues and solve the problem.
However, the idea that the glutes do not fire at all, is not an idea that really makes a lot of sense and having a problem during the regular hip bridge should not lead you to diagnose yourself as having your glutes not firing. I assure you that they do, but that during this particular movement, you are not calling on them as you should. This exercise can help you hone in your ability to drive the hips forward during your strength training or exercising.
With the Cook Hip Lift, at first you may only be able to get a few inches of movement but as Mike Boyle points out in Functional Training for Sports, the Cook Hip Lift can also give you more flexibility in the psoas because the contraction of the glutes and hamstrings reciprocally inhibits the hip flexors.1
Once you have mastered the Cook Hip Lift you can move on to the Supine Glute Bridge and then the One Leg Supine Glute Bridge.
How many reps and sets depends on when you are doing it. If you are doing the Cook Hip Lift as part of your mobility and activation warm up then one set of 8 to 12 on each leg should suffice.
If you have back pain or really need an intensive over-haul you can do more sets as part of a low back rehabilitation program. It is difficult to say when "activation" becomes strength training. When we talk about activation we mean retraining the neuro-muscular system. But since most early strength gains ARE neuro-muscular in origin, to be followed by muscle hypertrophy, it can be a case of semantics.
The Cook Hip Lift can be combined with Quadruped Hip Extensions (to Bird Dogs) and X-Band Walks.
It's easy to substitute lumbar extension for hip extension
with this more advanced glute bridge.
Image by gio50000 via flickr
How to Perform:
1. Lie on back in hook-lying position2
2. Pull one knee tightly to the chest. To make sure that the knee stays tightly against the chest place a tennis ball just under the bottom rib so that the thigh must pin the tennis ball in place.
3. The opposite knee stays bent at 90 degrees and the foot stays planted on the floor.
4. Push that foot into the floor at the heel and extend the hips upward. Do not allow the tennis ball to fall out of place. You should feel a very good isolation and contraction of the glutes.
Keeping the hip flexed tightly by not allowing the tennis ball to fall ensures that the lumbar spine is not called on to achieve the range of motion.
It is very possible you may feel like the hamstring is doing most of the work and also that it is cramping up. The glutes should be the prime movers and initiate the movement. You should feel like most of the work is being done by the glutes, then.
You may have noticed the feeling that your hamstrings feel "tight" after most of your lower body lifting sessions. Especially deadlifting or posterior chain dominant workouts. Yet, your range of motion in the hamstrings is fine. This is a classic case of weak glutes and overactive hamstrings.
The hip flexors (hip flexors (psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae, rectus femorus) may be tight. As I stated before, this tightness, through reciprocal inhibition, could lead to the weak gluteals. Or weak gluteals may lead to tight hip flexors but it doesn't matter as we are focused on re-training the gluteals. Problem is, since the gluteals are weak, the hamstrings, their synergists have taken over. The adductor magnus is also another synergist that is likely involved.
Hamstrings are not in a position to be good at this and many cases of hamstring injuries are NOT due to weak hamstrings, but instead overworked and overactive hamstrings.
This is exactly the case in the postural distortion syndrome known as Lower Crossed Syndrome or **Pelvic Crossed Syndrome. Coined by Vladimir Janda, this results in a pattern of tight, facilitated and weak, inhibited muscles of the lumbo-pelvic hip complex. Illustrated in the table below:
If you feel the glutes firing normally but the hamstrings are cramping up then the first thing to try is to simply move the down foot further out, increasing the angle of knee flexion, as in the video given below. But remember, the goal is to have the glutes firing first and primarily, not just to have the hamstrings feel better about it. A more intensive procedure is as follows:
1. Foam roll the hamstrings, hip flexors, and hip adductors (you should have already done this anyway)
2. Perform a short static hip flexor stretch (10 to 15 seconds should suffice) and some lateral squat stretches. The idea here is that you are lengthening and inhibiting the antagonists which are the source of the problem, most likely. The rectus femoris should be sufficiently stretched during the hip flexor stretch. I doubt it is necessary to try to stretch it further.
3. Move on to the Cook Hip Lifts
4. If the hamstrings still feel overactive, repeat steps 1 through 3