Gear up those Glutes !
With Denise LeBlanc
Weak glutes can wreak havoc on your back, hips and knees, so building a strong bottom should be a top fitness priority.
As a personal trainer and group fitness/Pilates instructor, I get a lot of questions from clients suffering from pain in their hips, backs and knees, and a lot of these problems stem from one source, weak gluteal muscles. Even when you think you are working your glutes, you may be overcompensating with other muscles, setting yourself up for injury.
Three muscles--the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus-- make up the buttocks. The biggest of the three (and in fact the largest muscle of the 639 in the human body) is the gluteus maximus, which works to extend and rotate the hip and leg. The gluteus medius is a broad muscle that sheaths and stabilizes the pelvis and core; while the underlying, fan-shaped minimus helps support the hip area. When you run, the maximus propels you forward; while the smaller medius and minimus muscles provide balance and control for your femurs which keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned. That's the way the glutes should work. But while they are some of the most important muscles in the body, they can also be some of the most troublesome. Sitting for long periods of time often makes the hip flexors tight and overactive, which deactivates the glutes. And even when we are on our feet, many of our activities don't get our glutes going. When the glutes are inhibited, a domino effect occurs in the body. Without the glutes, the psoas muscle which links the lumbar spine to the legs jumps in to act as the stabilizer of the body's core. Unfortunately, an over-active psoas can cause a multitude of dysfunctions, especially by compressing the the lower lumbar vertebrae in the spine---one of the most common causes of back pain. Weak glutes can also cause the hamstring and quadriceps muscles to overcompensate, which can lead to strains. Without a strong working medius to align the femur, knee and ankle, you are also more likely to over-pronate your feet, which can cause heel pain, tendonitis and shin splints. Inhibited gluteal muscles can also lead to tight iliotibial bands, and knee pain.
The good news? By learning how to activate your glutes, you can not only help prevent such chronic pain or injury, you can also boost your fitness performance. Choosing the right exercises will help you rewire your glutes. Below are 3 simple exercises to get you started !
The Bird Dog: This is a great core stabilizer exercise. It activates everything from your shoulders to your knees. To do the basic bird dog, place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips, in an all fours position. Flex your feet. Press one leg straight back as if pressing into the wall behind you, while you reach the opposite arm straight out to the wall in front of you. Align your spine, leg and arm in one long line. Firm the abdominals and squeeze your glutes. Hold for 10 seconds, and switch sides. Repeat 3-5 times. You can advance the bird dog by doing this in a forward plank position.
The Glute Bridge: The glute bridge is a versatile move that can be used for activation, as well as developing great glute strength and opening up the hips. Do it with your body weight, or add weight. Lie on your back with arms by your sides, knees bent to 90 degrees, feet flat. Align your shoulders, hips, knees and feet, and hold a neutral posture in your spine. Squeeze your glutes and roll your pelvis up off the mat, lifting the spine one vertebrae at a time until you feel your weight on your shoulder blades. Pausing at the top, try and imagine a straight line from your shoulder to your hips and knees. Squeezing the glutes, lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times.
The Hamstring Glute Press: Start on your hands and knees, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Flex your feet. Keeping the knee bent to 90 degrees and the foot flexed, press one leg back, and drive the heel up toward the ceiling. Firm the abdominals to prevent the back from arching. Hold at the top point, and squeeze the glute. Lower and repeat.