Analysing the one-leg jump, part VI: The importance of the glutes

We’ve covered so far pretty much the entire leg’s musculature that is involved in the one leg jump, only to find out the importance of these muscles in preventing a collapse from happening when we plant for a one-leg jump. And that’s fine, because we can use the momentum that we have accumulated during the run-up to provide the power for the actual vertical displacement – the muscles don’t really have to generate all that much voluntary power themselves. It’s a matter of taking an already generated power (your speed in the run-up) and transforming it from horizontal to vertical momentum.

And for that purpose we want to be able to manipulate the body’s center of mass and project it in the right direction, and for this to happen we have to have strong muscles that are able to “lock-up” and prevent us from collapsing and losing position and have power being leaked through an un-stiff, weak jumping leg.

So these are the main reasons we want strong calf, quad and hamstring muscles – to be able to maintain that stiff, responsive jumping leg.

Well, OK, but is that really all there is to it? Don’t we contribute at all voluntarily to the jump as well? Don’t we put out voluntary power that can be quantifiable by this or that gym exercise numbers?

As a matter fact, we do. This is where the glutes come in. And if you want to be a great one-leg jumper, you must make the glutes your best friends.

Let me start with a quote from Bret Contreras’ book, “Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximus Strengthening”:

As humans began walking upright and became more efficient at running, our glutei maximi enlarged and shifted in primary role from hip abductor to hip extensor. Biologist Dennis Bramble believes that our glutei maximi are a substitute for a tail, which is an important balancing mechanism for almost all fast land creatures. Proportionately, humans have the largest glutei maximi of all primates

That’s gotta mean something, right?

Here’s the deal: the glutes act the best when they hyperextend the hips. To quote Bret again:

The glutei maximi exert their strongest contraction between 0 and -20 degrees of hyperextension

This is the reason why I said the glute dominant one-leg jumpers don’t really need a long last step: being glute dominant, they get a good glute push at the very end of the hip extension and through the hip hyperextension. Doing so allows them to have a shorter last step, which means that the jumping leg’s knee will be closer to the body and easier to stabilize. A hamstring dominant guy would want to put the leg more forward and stretch the hamstrings, but besides getting the hamstrings as the dominant hip extensors (which you don’t want, because the glutes provide a much stronger push when they actually do their job), they also put their knee a lot more in front of them in a harder to stabilize position.

What I have just described has been my case since forever, because that’s how I learned to jump ever since I started playing ball.

Getting back to their roles, the glutei maximi act concentrically to accelerate hip extension, hip external rotation, hip abduction and even hip adduction.

Eccentrically, they decelerate hip flexion, hip internal rotation and hip adduction. Isometrically, they stabilize the knee through the iliotibial band (ITB) and the sacroiliac joint through the latissimus dorsi and sacrotuberous ligament.

The synergists for the glutes (muscles that help the glutes in their roles) are the hamstrings and the adductors. The antagonists are the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris (basically, the hip flexors). This is why it’s recommended to stretch the hip flexors before athletic activities – you put them to sleep, allowing the glutes to function better.

Finally, the glutes can actually do knee extension through the ITB. Hard to guess the glutes would work at the knee joint, right?

So as you can see, they do a ton of work. They act at both the hip and knee joint. They are hip anti-flexors (prevent the hip from flexing, meaning they allow you to have a vertical back which in turn translates into less weight moving forward and overloading the knee), they are hip hyperextensors (huge in one leg jumping), they protect the knee acting as knee anti-flexors (once again aiding in preventing knee collapse) and they do a handful of other good stuff.

THIS is the reason why the glutes are so well talked-about, and this is why they must be a one leg jumper’s priority. Furthermore, the taller you are, the more glute dominant you HAVE to be, for the reasons we’ve already talked about. Smaller guys can get away being more hamstring dominant in their one leg jumps, because they have shorter legs and the knee isn’t put so far in front of them even if they take a long last step. But as a tall guy, you will SUCK badly off one leg if you’re not glute dominant.

Also, the pelvic tilt of a person is heavily responsible for that person’s glute activation or lackthereof. You pretty much want to be in a neutral pelvic tilt with the ability of getting into posterior pelvic tilt. An anterior pelvic tilt position is detrimental to glute activity and promotes bad overall mechanics.

Another interesting thing about the glutes is that if a weight gets too heavy, or if the glutes are inhibited, you might display a valgus knee happening in a squat, especially if the squat is high bar. This is because the other hip extensors, besides the glutes, have to assist. And since in a high bar squat the knees travel forward a lot, putting the hamstrings in a bad position to produce force, the glutes and the adductors are the only hip extensors remaining to do the hip extending job.

This is the reason for that knee valgus (collapsing of the knees inwards) we sometimes see in heavy squats, especially high bar squats.

So, to conclude, it is imperative to get strong and functioning glutes for a one leg jump. Not only do they benefit you in preventing collapse, they also provide the greatest amount of voluntary power going up by hyperextending the hip, so they are the best tool in the arsenal for a one leg jumper. Prioritize glute strengthening in your training (more about this when we’ll reach the actual training part of this series).

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