Dorsiflexion and Glute Activation

Some questions regarding the link between dorsiflexion ability and glute activation…………..
I know clinically that there is a connection between an athlete’s ability to dorsiflex their ankle and utilize their glutes. I know that the research shows us that the vast majority of people who sustain an ankle sprain develop dysfunction in their glute medius if not properly trained.
While I know there is a direct connection, I’m struggling to place exactly what the connection is. I have a feeling it is related to a fascial line (ala Thomas Myers), or there is a direct connection in nerve innervation between the 2 areas.

So regarding the comments above,
1) I agree that there is a link between dorsiflexion and glute activation, but it is very circumstantial in terms of the movement being tested.
2) I agree that research has shown a down-regulation of glute medius after a lateral ankle sprain.
3) I do think Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains concepts often provide a rationale to why things work the way they do, and how distant body parts or physiologies are connected.

The 8th Screen

The 8th Screen

When we look at Mauntel et al’s and Macrum et al’s work, there’s clearly a relationship of dorsiflexion and glute activation.  However, this lends commentaries on such issues as biomechanical vs. musculoskeletal or how looking at research can be a very incomplete process.
Without a doubt, you will require glute activation as you drop into a squat.  However, I might suggest that these same subjects that did not have dorsiflexion capability may also have premiere glute activation.  They just can’t demonstrate it in this specific skill that was testing in the studies.  If we use the subjects with no dorsiflexion into a bridge, a plank, a machine, or a hinge, they may have excellent glute EMG, if that is what you’re looking for.
What if we tested the squat for this relationship, and the individual actually had the range of motion in the ankle to dorsiflex, but for whatever reason, they do a hindu squat to their toes every time?  They have dorsiflexion, don’t show dorsiflexion, and can not demonstrate glute EMG.  But again maybe they can it is was a different motion.

I think the best way to explain this is just with moment-arms and mechanics.
If you use dorsiflexion in a level change like a squat and lunge, as the ankle starts to run out of room, good freedom in the ankle allows for a posterior weight shift. If there is not fair ankle dorsiflexion, the weight shift can be anterior if the ankle comes off or more anteromedially if the person collapses into pronation more. How one chooses to adjudicate the dysfunction is based on a number of reasons, all of which are specific to that individual.

So when the person is “allowed” to continue to sit back, the glutes are in a line of pull to continue that natural level change or pattern. The quads are not up-regulated, but there is a wealth of evidence that suggests a posterior shift of load to the hips (and lumbar spine which may or may not be a bad thing depending on how those levers are controlled).

When there is an anterior weight shift, there is bony approximation and protective tone which leaves no “need” for the glutes to be as involved in stabilizing the pattern.


Your glutes aren't always the problem when the ankles don't move.

Your glutes aren’t always the problem when the ankles don’t move.

From an anatomy trains point of view, with dorsiflexion, the longitudinal stress from the calcaneus may link the motor pattern up the chain to the hips.  I don’t think the stretch reflex works like this, but I do believe for the weight shifts as suggested above are to be ideal, fascial layers need to slide on each other.  Treating distant areas of the fascia is a very reasonable approach to changing both joint mobility and motor control, in this case of the glutes.  Via the local attachments of the glutes, I would suggest the combination of Lateral Line and Deep Front Line though is where there’s more money in terms of the hips having the stable base in which to move against.

This may be where the ankle sprain to glute medius connection comes from.

This may be where the ankle sprain to glute medius connection comes from.

You will see in the attachments that it’s the Lateral Line that links the glues and heel cord, not the Superficial Front Line as may be conventionally thought. While that is a specific, there is no fault is simply suggesting everything is connected because when Thomas and I presented together, even he suggested that the Trains more a construct to help people understand fascia and muscles.  The contiguous nature of fascia is quite real though, and the principles of tensegrity are researched as well.

So to summarize……
1) Glute activation is critical, but I don’t think it can be appraised to correlate in different motor patterns.
2) When glute activation is not to standard, typically clearing mobility below and stability above may reveal a desirable change.
3) I believe fascial integrity is significant for all aspects of movement health and fitness.  It can answer many questions.
4) Activation as per EMG never lies, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story.


  • December 29, 2013

Leave a Reply 9 comments

Ambrose WB Reply

Hey Charlie, great read here. I’ve been wondering about this for year now as I’ve experimented with training myself. But, I’ve never found a resource like this to link my lack of dorsiflexion with my glute activation. Thanks for this…I’m definitely going to have to read this one a few more times before I put it into practice this week.

John D'Amico Reply

Good thoughts plus excellent use of “adjudicate”

Charlie Reply

We all must adjudicate at some point.

Brendan Murray Reply

I agree with your assessment of the squat. If the hips, and pelvis are the prime movers and drop down in the squat then the need for extreme dorsiflexion is decreased. I work with alot of Olympic weightlifters who go to full bottom positions but have average ankle dorsiflexion. The difference I see is there ability to get the glut, hip, pelvis and lumbar spine musculature to fire and maintain position through the movement and not go into a forward position. There is a large motor control piece of being able to get into this deep position consistently.

Rafael Pimenta Reply

BRENDAN MURRAY, i think the same way! But how to train people who don’t have the ability to get this position. The TIBIAL ANTERIOR is a very important muscle to maintain this position, and was not mentioned yet!

Brendan Murray Reply

Rafael I would recommend you look into a USAW level 1 coaching course. In this course they teach progression of movements. If I look at problems I see in many athletes who are taking on doing the lifts and squats to much deeper positions then they have done before is the control of the movement is deficient. As the efficiency of movement is decreased the need for increased strength grows exponentially and out of proportion. As with any new skill there is an adaptation process but many people are skipping this piece and an increase in injuries is being seen.

John D'Amico Reply

4 years post post:
Deeper appreciation as time marches forward.

“Treating distant areas of the fascia is a very reasonable approach to changing both joint mobility and motor control, in this case of the glutes.”

“When glute activation is not to standard, typically clearing mobility below and stability above may reveal a desirable change.”

Thoughts of a wildcard, (but not likely necessary to fix): neural output to spinal cord and brain from fascia as a component of normal or dysfunctional movement driver.

Or directly to surrounding tissue via neural and mechanical means.

Regarding measurable fascial neural afferent would be nice but likely not practically, easily parsed out.

See you in Orlando

Rich cohen Reply

Hi Charlie, while scrolling came across this post, I think its older. Regarding glut activation and tibialis anterior, and where the connection comes from. The Vojta people teach that during 4.5 months of development when in a tripod posture the support leg activation of the gluts are tied to dorsiflexion of the foot. In order to get the anti gravity function of the hip with adductor and gluteal (external rotator) firing the foot needs to be in dorsiflexion. This is not RL but movement development. You can feel it if you simulate it.

Michael Caisse Reply

Brilliant thinking again Cwagon! Thanks for helping bring some clarity to this issue.

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