Gluteal-muscle strength has been identified as an important component of injury prevention and rehabilitation in several common knee injuries. However, many conventionally prescribed gluteal-strengthening exercises are not performed during dynamic weight-bearing activities, which is when most injuries occur.
To compare lower-limb muscle-activation patterns between conventional gluteal-strengthening exercises and off-axis elliptical exercises with motorized foot-plate perturbations designed to activate gluteal muscles during dynamic exercise.
Twelve healthy volunteers (26.1 ± 4.7 y) participated in the study. They performed 3 conventional exercises (single-leg squat, forward lunge, and clamshell) and 3 elliptical exercises (regular, while resisting an adduction force, and while resisting an internal-rotation torque). Gluteus medius (GMed) and maximus (GMax), quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius muscle activations during each exercise were recorded using surface electromyography (EMG) and normalized to maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC).
Normalized GMed EMG was the highest during the adduction-resistance elliptical exercise (22.4% ± 14.8% MVIC), significantly greater than forward lunge (8.2% ± 3.8% MVIC) and regular elliptical (6.4% ± 2.5% MVIC) and similar to clamshell (19.1% ± 8.8% MVIC) and single-leg squat (18.4% ± 7.9% MVIC). Normalized GMax EMG during adduction-resistance (11.1% ± 7.6% MVIC) and internal-rotation-resistance elliptical (7.4% ± 3.8% MVIC) was significantly greater than regular elliptical (4.4% ± 2.4% MVIC) and was similar to conventional exercises. The single-leg squat required more muscle activation from the quadriceps and gastrocnemius than the elliptical exercises.
Off-axis elliptical exercise while resisting an adduction force or internal-rotation torque activates gluteal muscles dynamically while avoiding excessive quadriceps activation during a functional weight-bearing activity compared with conventional gluteal-strengthening exercises.