Walkin’ Like A Monster

I’ve find that on a regular basis I’ll learn a fun new piece of trivia within a few days of somebody asking about it.  Some times it’s as simple as a Jeopardy question that becomes a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle a few days later, and my mom is baffled by how I know the northernmost point of the US territories, which happens to be Point Barrow, Alaska.  Other times, I’ll get an e-mail from a reader with a question or suggestion about exercises or related content.  I’ve been suggesting Monster Walks to folks recently, and experimenting with some variations of them, so I was excited to recieve an e-mail that included this:

“…Lately I have interest in monster walks.  Again, there is a lot of videos or articles out there but the info seems to be all over the map.  Some say it works the hamstrings while others say it only works the glutes.  (I am hoping it is a good hamstring exercise.)  Some do it walking backwards and some forwards.  Some say to use large bands in a criss cross fashion, and some say to use ones that only go around the ankles.  Maybe all of it is true but I just don’t know which to believe…”

With all of the variations on the Monster Walk that exist, I think this is a case of “All of the above”, or simply, “Yes.”  Each variation offers some specific benefits, and in the end it’s more import to select a variation that’s appropriate for your body and goals.  In this post, I’ll attempt to take care of all of your monster walk questions, so that John and his fellow readers can do their Walken the right way.

While each banded walking variation is a little bit different, they started with one goal in mind:  To wake up your glutes!  The ‘original’ banded walk seems to use a mini band around the knees or ankles to help teach the glutes and hip stabilizers to resist adduction, and help teach you how to keep your knees out.  In our chair-based culture, most people have glutes that are sleepier than a sloth, and most training forgets to address the needs of the minimus and medius along with those of the maximus:

The ‘Original’ version of the banded walk seems to involve looping a mini-band around the ankles or near the knee.  The band placement changes the length of the lever arm, and can be used to adjust how difficult the exercise seems, even with the same band.  In terms of anti-adduction strength, the closer the band placement is to the hip, the easier the walk will be.  Many beginners find that banding at the knees is more comfortable and allows them to own the position of the pelvis, helping avoid teetering back and forth as they walk; You ain’t no Weeble-Wobble!  When considering mini-band placement, a position at the knee would contribute more to a caving of the knee, and resisting this force would put more of an emphasis on the external rotators.  The glutes are responsible for extension, abduction, and  external rotation at the hip, so added emphasis on these movements wouldn’t be a bad thing.  I tend to prefer the band around my ankles, as I think it lets you walk a little more naturally, and is slightly more comfortable.  Guys, unless you’re wearing pants or shave your legs, the band at the knee can be a little uncomfortable.   In the video below, you’ll see me with a mini-band at the ankles performing a box walk:

Before we discuss which direction you’re walking in, let’s discuss the mini-band walks’ big brother, the X-Band Walk.  From my research on the interwebz, it seems that the X-Band walk was made popular by Mike Boyle and Mike Robertson.  The following is an exercerpt from Coach Boyle’s T-Nation article Essential 8 Mobility Drills.

The Big X Band is an improvement on the original idea. The original idea was to add an upper body component to mini-band walks. The only problem was that many people didn’t retract the scapulae; instead they shrugged, and activated the wrong stuff.

Physical therapist Alex McEchnie, who has become the sports hernia rehab expert, uses Theraband to create the fascial slinging effect of the body. I borrowed and simplified this by cutting a 3/4″ Superband (you can also use Theratube) and creating a big X. Now I get a great simple total body activation.

The Big X-Band activates the gluteus medius, as well as the entire posterior chain. It does it in an anatomically correct manner by using the diagonal relationship of opposite to shoulder. Once again, it’s a heck of a good bang for your buck.

In the video below, you’ll see strength wizard Tony Gentilcore demonstrating a box walk with the X-Band position:

Now I’m sure you’re wondering: Why the box?  Why not just walk forwards, or backwards, or side-to-side?  It’s certainly not necessary to complete an entire box walk, and you can simply use lateral steps or forwards/backwards steps.  I find that the box walk helps to fire up the glutes better than a lateral step or forwards/backwards walk, and completing the walk in all four directions can help you see if you have any imbalances in your hips.  As a personal example, I used to have a hard time activating my glutes on the left side, and as a result the muscles on my right side would get tired awfully quickly.  After taking it down a notch (or up, from my ankles to knees) and really focusing on feeling my glutes turn on, I’ve found that the problem has gone away.  One could argue that a lateral walk would increase the need for abduction strength, and be better for the glute medius and glute minimus as stabilizers of the hip when we’re on a single foot.  We could make the point that when walking forward, when the hip is flexed and the minimus/medius are external rotators,  we can ‘focus’ on external rotation strength (and band at the knees.)  To make the case for walking backwards, we could also consider the glutes, specifically the maximus, as the primary hip extensor, and say that walking backwards helps to target hip extension more than other movements.  What’s the bottom line?

Make your walks box walks.

In John’s email, he noted the use of the banded walk as a hamstring exercise.  So far, we’ve focused on the role of the banded walk for glute activation and hip stabilization, and haven’t covered the role of the hamstrings.  When it comes to higher volume walking, you’ll definitely find your hamstrings getting in on the action, but the above variations are certainly focused on the glutes.

The glute maximus functions as an end-range hip extensor; it helps you lock out your deadlift, or hyper extend your hip when sprinting.  At mid-range levels of hip flexion, the hamstrings are doing a lot more work.  Increasing the roll of the hamstrings in the walk can be done by considering what the muscle is doing.  In this video from Coach Nick Tumminello, you’ll see a variation on the monster walk that’s sure to fry your hamstrings:

Alright folks there you have it; some thoughts on how each variation on the banded walk can be used, either with mini-bands or an X-Band position, how each direction can be used to your advantage, and how to add some training stress to your hamstrings.  When you’re using banded walks, I’d suggest finding a set and rep range that allows you to comfortably activate your glutes and get some blood flow into those sleepy muscles, without making them so tired that you can’t squat, deadlift, or lunge.  For those of you with glute amnesia, this could be 3-4 sets, but you may only need a single set if your buns are ready for action.  As always, it’s about what works best for you.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, leave them in the comments below!

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