Most people feel like their lives are an over-scheduled, choreographed dance of balancing too many responsibilities these days. When it comes to working out, our available time can be limited; it’s often a win to sneak in even 20 minutes a day to exercise.
So if you’re looking to streamline your workout time to get the most bang for your buck, it can be a smart idea to focus on exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once, giving you an efficient way to strengthen your body. A bonus? By working different muscle groups simultaneously, these exercises better mimic how we use our muscles in everyday life, which is why they are referred to as “functional training.”
Two of the most important areas to strengthen are the core and glutes. Together, these two major muscle groups form most of the entire trunk, and provide a stable base for the limbs for optimal movement efficiency.
Why is it important to strengthen the core and glutes?
We often hear about the importance of core strength, but many people aren’t entirely sure what the core entails. Often, many think of it as synonymous with “abs.” But the core refers to all the muscles in the trunk in a 360-degree perspective, including:
- Rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles)
- Internal and external obliques (on the sides of the trunk)
- Transverse abdominis (a deep core muscle that is heavily involved in stability)
- Psoas major and minor (muscles that connect from the inside of the spine and pelvis to the hip)
- Erector spinae (spinal extensors)
- Pelvic floor muscles
Gene Schafer, an NSCA-certified strength & conditioning specialist and owner of ARC Athletics in New York City, says the core is the main anchor for the body. “These muscles help keep us stable as we move our limbs through space,” he explains. “Living in New York, I sometimes ride the subway, and when the train makes a sudden stop, I notice it is my core muscles that work to keep me stable.”
Although the glutes are technically part of the core, they are so essential that they deserve their own focus. For instance, Schafer believes that the underutilization of the glutes can contribute to chronic low back pain. Strengthening them is crucial for not only athletic performance, but daily function as well.
“Many times, I have seen clients and athletes with general low back pain, and their low back pain decreases when they work on strengthening their glutes,” he says. “Doing something as simple as engaging your glutes when standing may actually take the stress from your low back and decrease back fatigue and low back pain.”
4 best exercises that target the core and glutes simultaneously
This is an anti-rotational exercise, which means it trains your core to be a stable anchor while your arms move in space. You can increase the intensity by choosing a thicker band.
- Attach a resistance band to a pole or other stationary object. You can perform the exercise kneeling or standing, but the band should be held just in front of your chest with elbows bent, and your body perpendicular to where the band is anchored. Your starting position should be far enough away from the anchor point that there’s decent tension on the band.
- Bracing your core and glutes, straighten your arms by pushing them out away from your chest against the tension of the band.
- Hold the extended position for a full breath and then return.
- Perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Plank with leg extension
Planks are one of the best exercises to strengthen your core. By including the single-leg raise, you’ll further activate your glutes. You can even add a small loop resistance band around your ankles for a bigger challenge.
- Get in a forearm plank position. Contract your glutes and engage your abs by drawing your belly button up to your spine. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Breathe slowly and evenly.
- While maintaining proper form, lift your right leg straight up about four to six inches off the floor without bending your knee.
- Return to the starting position with control.
- Complete 15 slow reps, and then switch sides.
Schafer says this is a great exercise for the core and glutes: Pushing the heel into the ground engages the glutes, and keeping the hips from dropping to the side works the core.
- Rest your head and shoulders on top of a rounded dome of a BOSU ball with your hips up in the air, your knees bent to 90 degrees, and your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest.
- Inhale, engaging your core and glutes to lift one knee up, and then bringing it back down.
- Alternate sides, marching in place for 30-45 seconds.
According to Schafer, “Bird dog is a great way to actively engage the glutes with the hip extension, and the core muscles work to keep you stable while you move the limbs away from the body.”
- Get in a tabletop position by kneeling on all fours with a flat back and wrists under your shoulders.
- Engage your abs. Keep your neck and spine in a neutral position.
- Extend your right arm and left leg away from the body simultaneously and keep your balance steady. Your arm should be straight forward and your leg should be straight back. Both should be parallel to the floor.
- Hold the position for a few seconds before returning.
- Repeat on the other side. Continue switching sides until you’ve done a total of 30 reps.
Schafer suggests doing these exercises two to three times per week. Remember to go slow, focus on your form, and feel your muscles working together for not only a more efficient workout but a more effective and functional one, too.