Well-designed derriers are all the rage, but a good looking booty doesn’t mean it works correctly. Inactive glutes lead to back pain, knee pain, and more. How do you keep your glutes active so they do their job? (P.S.: Hip bridges aren’t enough.)
What Are The Glutes?
Your glutes are a group of three muscles located on your backside. They are, for the most part, responsible for hip joint movement.
Gluteus Maximus: This large muscle is responsible for powerful movements like pushing up a step or running but, consequently, is not used as much during walking. The muscle extends down into the side of the leg and the Iliotibial Band (IT Band), working with the hamstrings to pull the body upright for a forward-leaning position. Your posture depends on the gluteus maximus as it provides stability in the pelvis.
Gluteus Medius: Most of the gluteus medius sits underneath the gluteus maximus except for the upper third part of the muscle. It lifts the leg to the side (hip joint abduction) plus other hip movements like rotation. It is extremely important in maintaining frontal plane stability of the pelvis (forward/back positioning). Lastly, your gluteus medius keeps your pelvis level when you lift one leg; otherwise, the hip would drop and buckle the entire leg, making walking extremely painful let alone impossible.
Gluteus Minimus: The gluteus minimus lies deep under the medius. The two muscles work together to abduct the hip joint and keeping the pelvis stable during walking.
Bottom line: your glutes keep you upright! You can’t afford to ignore them.
What happens with weak glutes?
Low Back Pain: When any muscle is weak, your brain uses its assisting muscles to get the job done. So, when your glutes are weak, your brain engages the lower back to stabilize your hips and move your legs, causing overuse and, subsequently, pain.
Knee Pain: Because it is attached to your IT Band, the gluteus maximus helps to deceleratethe leg and the knee as it steps forward in walking, reducing stress to the knee joint. Weak glutes mean you have less power over your legs, putting more stress on your knees.
The glutes also keep your legs facing forward by externally rotating the femurs. If they internally rotate from weak glutes, the knee can torque and also cause hip pain.
Posture Problems: Anterior tilt in the pelvis is common due to all the sitting we do — quads and hip flexors shorten and without a counterbalance from strong glutes, our booty pulls back and sticks out. Anterior pelvic tilt leads to a sore lower back, overworked hip flexors and quads, and generally poor posture.
Okay. But what is Gluteal Amnesia??
Constant sitting causes many of these issues through “gluteal amnesia”: As your hip flexors shorten from sitting all day, the glutes lengthen, inhibiting muscle fibers from responding to our brain’s neurons trying to “fire” them, or engage them. Also, prolonged sitting can create a “laminating effect” to the muscle fibers, essentially squishing them together and losing elasticity. This adds to the lack of communication with neurons.
Here’s the thing: running to the gym for a workout doesn’t help matters. Your hip flexors and quads are still tight from sitting, your glutes still aren’t firing…and then you try to exercise! This only exacerbates the problems and leads to more pain. Here are some ways to get your glutes back in action:Fire ’Em Up
If you exercise, you likely know lots of glute strength workouts, like hip bridges, donkey kicks, and clamshell (seen this post on Popsugar.com for lots of examples). BUT…do them slowly. Focus your brain on tightening the glute muscles. If you are having trouble firing them, gently poke the muscle with your finger until they react. (My physical therapist did this when I had to recondition my glutes and it works!)
If you rush through a glute workout, you will use secondary muscles and not the glutes, contributing to the problems.
How Can Pilates Help?
I do a LOT of glute exercises in Pilates and I tackle them differently than other formats:
1. I prepare for each move: If the exercise is performed on our stomach, I cue to press the pubic bone into the floor before executing the move. This tightens the glutes immediately and helps keep them active.
2. I don’t overwork the glutes: Pilates moves are meant to be done only a handful of times and I stick to that. We work on good form and precision, not repetitions.
3. I train you to think about your glutes: You will be surprised to learn how many moves we do that activate our glute muscles. I point out the ones that are less obvious so you can focus on them and make sure they are working.
No matter how you strengthen them, your glutes should not be ignored. Keep them strong not only to make them look good but, more importantly, to give your entire body the benefits of glutes that work.
Linda Magid has taught group fitness classes for over 7 years. She is certified with AFAA and AEA, with special certifications in Pilates, TRX, and more. You can find her Pilates studio at https://pilatesforrealbodies.com. Contact her at @LindaMagidFitness on Facebook and Instagram or at firstname.lastname@example.org.