Lets talk about your glutes. This major muscle is commonly taken for granted and can over time lose its ability to function in the way it was designed. The problem with this is if your experiencing back pain, taking pain meds and getting acupuncture isn’t going to change the fact that your glutes are weak. What yI want to teach you in this article is to test for potentially “dormant” glutes, find out how to change your poor glute habits and how to re-wire and strengthen the glutes to do their job!
There are a lot of different reasons why people have glute imbalances along with these muscles being underdeveloped. I want to talk briefly on 2 of the most common causes that I see repeated.
The more and more I study the human body and today’s issues especially when it comes to back pain, I am discovering that it’s more about proper movement than it is about how mobile you are. Of course, there is a time and place for stretching and mobility work but you can do all the work in the world but if your movement patterns are garbage what is stretching going to do? Our daily habits are what cause deterioration and imbalances over time. An example of this would be someone standing for long periods of time. We tend to shift our weight back and forth or stay on one hip more often than the other. This causes imbalances in both muscle awareness and strength.
Another great example of this is being left or right side dominant. This develops muscle control and strength in ways the other side doesn’t get. In some situations this can lead to underdeveloped muscles that cause pain and irritation later in life. I say all this not to start a ambidextrous movement. Instead, I want people to be aware of how they move when going about their day. Play your sports and do your hobbies but when it comes to what you do 85% of the time (living your daily life) it’s these proper movements that need to be mastered.
Life is hard. between raising kids, being a husband, a father, a friend, employee and business owner, sometimes I just want to do nothing. I want to eat the comfort foods and vegg on the couch and watch my favorite show series. I finally get what people were telling me 6+ years ago when I would be working through their workout programs and habits as a full time trainer. It didn’t make sense to me that they couldn’t just get up and go workout or always eat healthy foods. The problem with most people is that when they are younger they are active, in shape and well balanced (for the most part). As the seasons of life change our habits change. Providing for your family by working 3 jobs becomes more important then making sure your daily workout covered all the muscles groups properly.
What happens during these off seasons is we get lazy, we sit a lot, we stop moving, we start paying people to do the things we don’t want to do any more. We don’t cut our own grass or wash our own cars. We get tired of walking up and down the stairs to clean our homes so we hire someone to do it for us. It’s a great thing to finally make more money right?! Not always. As life goes on the neural connections we have with our muscles get fuzzy. We don’t have the control or balance that we used to. 95% of people can flex their biceps, contract their quads or flex their stomachs all day because these are still some of the basic muscles we use daily just to survive. The problem is there are other muscles in the body that can take the place others. Take the glutes for example. If I told you to flex your calves I bet you could do it with no problem. What if I asked you to flex your glutes? Sitting right there at your desk, kitchen table or wherever your sitting. Squeeze your glutes. Can you do it? A lot of people can’t. This leads to inactivity in the muscles in all aspects of movement even when doing something as basic as walking. Did you know you’re supposed to have sufficient glute contraction when walking? There are a lot of people who suffer from butt amnesia and I am here today to make a dent in this epidemic.
Getting to know your butt
I want to introduce you to 3 very powerful muscles. They are called your glutes. Sure, there are 3 individual parts to this lovely group but lets not complicate the relationship. This is what I want you to do. While sitting, I want you to take your hands and slide them under your cheeks, palms facing up. You feel that squishy goodness? That’s your butt. What your going to do is practice contracting your glutes. Your going to use your hands as sensors to grade how you’re doing.
Without moving anything else on your body really think about squeezing each butt cheek as hard as you can. Do this a couple times while holding each contraction for 8 seconds. Practice contracting individual cheeks along with both at the same time. After a couple times of that practice going into a slow contraction that starts off small and only incorporates a small percentage of the glutes all the way to a full on contraction involving 100% of the muscles. Do this 3-4 times. This is an easy way to remind yourself what your sitting on is important and not just some extra cushion for that bench. Do this every day until you can do it without having to sit on your hands.
Training your glutes.
Okay, now that you know the basics to glute contraction lets start looking at rewiring the glutes and making them work the way they should. I want to take you through some of my most basic go-to exercises to use when trying to develop the glutes to help with back pain. When doing these exercises it’s important to really pay close attention to your pain level. You don’t want this to become something that makes your back pain worse.
Check out these 4 progressive exercises you can start doing today to develop glute strength for back pain relief.
In the video below you will see how I use my hands to palpate my hamstrings while doing the glute bridge. I am looking for my hamstrings to take a back seat to my glutes. Often times we over use our hamstrings to the point where the glutes are non existent. This technique is better with someone else sitting at your feet using their hands on your hamstrings but you gotta work with what you got!
This may take a few times to really get the feel of relaxing the glutes but keep at it and keep your focus on your glutes.
Belly Leg Raises
This next exercise below can be done anywhere. If your working through back pain work in small movements. Don’t try to rush improvement or progression. Start small and listen to your back. Do 6-10 raises holding 3-6 seconds each. If you start noticing your surrounding muscles are starting to work harder then stop and rest before starting again. Stick to working in pyramids, similar to what we do with the McGill Crunch. I would rather see you only raise your knee off the ground a half inch and have full control of your glute with zero pain than seeing 6 inches with your entire posterior chain fired up and in pain.
If your back is at a point where body weight squats with proper hip hinge is not painful you can start to target the glutes with this exercise. This is super simple is simple. Use the bands around your knees to provide resistance to your legs as you push out to perform a proper squat. When doing these (like you see in the video below) try to really think about what you’re doing. Don’t just push your knees out and squat. Try to be consistent with your knee position and angle of the hip. The more you do these over and over both pain free and with correct form, the less you will have to think about it when your in the gym. You want it to become second nature to you.
Side Step With Bands
The side step (seen below) is another one of those exercises I would refuse to do with clients. Not that it wasn’t a good exercise, it’s just back then this wasn’t a priority (when it should have been). Side steps are another great dynamic glute activation exercise that does not require a load on the spine. Align your spine in a pain free neutral position. Keep your weight on your heels and side step for 8-10 steps one way. Break for 30 seconds then side step the other way 8-10 steps.
In closing I want to leave you with a sample workout I would put myself through while rehabbing my back. Again, you only progress when you are pain free and only do the exercise if you can do it without making your pain worse.
Complete this workout after you have completed your McGill Big 3 and Founder
Booty Work Breakdown
Glute Bridge: 2 sets of 10-15 slow lifts
Belly Leg Lifts: 2 sets of 6-10 slow controlled and pain free raises
Side Step with Band 2 sets of 10-12 steps both sides with a 30 second rest between each leg.
Stationary Squats with Band: 2 sets of 8-10 slow squats.
Thanks for reading guys!
Oh were you able to activate your glutes while sitting on your hands? Let me know in the comments below with how you did!