What I really mean is your butt. Asana is the Sanskrit term for yoga poses. And our butt is the largest muscle group in our bodies.
Anyways, I’ve been hearing a lot lately about weak glutes (our butt muscles) and their contribution to low back, hip, and knee pain. My niece is a talented gymnast and she apparently hurt her back because of weak glutes but her core is super strong. She’s a beast on the floor so who would have ever thought she’d have this situation. I have a periformus muscle that loves to flair it’s anger at me all to often; even when I’m a few miles into my hike. Lots of people suffer from sciatica and IT band syndrome. It’s frustrating for all of us.
When you hear about weak glutes, our natural response is that you’ll just do more butt exercises to strengthen that whole area. So you’ll Google phrases like “the best butt exercises” and discover a list backed by medical research and of course some program that you have to purchase to discover the secret magical formula. Nothing wrong with purchasing a program, but sometimes that just isn’t in your budget or you don’t get a whole lot out of it because it really isn’t explained well. I’ve certainly have discovered the latter!
Butt Exercises (with or without resistance)
Squats (split, single leg, plies, jump, wall squats, chair pose) – but only at the bottom of the squat…so go deep.
Deadlifts (Forward Fold Pose)
Lunges (forward, back, lateral, curtesy)
Hip Adduction (Standing and Seated)
Hip Abduction (Standing and Seated)
Hip Thrusts AKA Bridge Lifts
Single Leg Standing Balance (Yoga)
In my opinion, it helps to start with a list of exercises thus the list. As you get familiar with the list, keep in mind that your glute muscles help to perform a variety of movements such as hip extension, hyperextension, abduction, external rotation, and posterior pelvic tilt. Glutes also help stabilize our lower back, hips, SI joint, and knees. Because of all of these different joint actions and functions, this is why you want to perhaps explore several of the above exercises. Think of all the different ways you can move as you choose your routine and don’t always do the same old thing.
The majority of us do have under active glutes (weak glutes) or “sleeping glutes.” We can blame our sedentary modern lifestyle that encourages way to much sitting (at your desk with your job, sitting in your car driving everywhere, on the couch as you binge watch TV…) which causes our muscles to be overstretched and underused. While you now have your exercise list, it isn’t as simple as including a few in your daily routine. Chances are you aren’t experiencing what is known as “glute activation” while you pursue those countless squats because of our modern lifestyle (see above) or you aren’t doing them exactly right. So yes, you are using your glutes, but not to their full potential. Instead, our bodies compensate so you discover your legs are changing instead of your butt. And it’s frustrating if your goal is to work your butt. For instance, one interesting tip I’ve learned is that hamstrings work more than glutes when you do hip extension based moves, but if the knee is bent, then glutes work more. Food for thought…
What exactly is glute activation? It is a collection of more isolated movements that are targeted at the glutes. The reps are higher and there may be low to no resistance so you can focus on that glute contraction. (It can be a play on tempo, depth, leg positions, knees bent or not…). Here’s the yogic influence: being mindful or present as you pursue the exercise and discover your own mind-body connection. By doing this, you discover sensation of feeling the right muscle, your glutes working. To do this, I find it helps if you know where the muscles are and their function.
Three Main Muscles and Smaller Muscles Known as the Deep Six:
Gluteus Maximus – largest muscle in the body. Role: thigh extension
Gluteus Medius – Role: Thigh abduction and rotation. Externally rotates leg when it’s extended behind you. Internally rotate your hip leg is flexed in front of you.
Gluteus Minimus – Role: abduct, flex, and internally rotate the hip
Deep Six lie under the “glutes.”
The benefit of stronger glutes are less pain, running, hiking, cycling faster and farther, being able to lift heavier, and of course loving how your back side feels and looks.
In addition to the above list, here are some moves I’m using in my yoga and barre classes:
~ Warrior 3 Squats – Settle into Warrior 3 then with Standing leg purse tiny controlled squats.
~ Falling Tree – Warrior 3 into Standing Splits Flow
~ Backbends with a block between knees (Standing, Camel, Locust…)
~ Bridge Flow then keep hips lifted and add bent leg lifts or straight legs
~ Bridge Butterflies – use a band around thighs, feet together and hips lifted flutter knees in and out
~ Bridge Sway
~ Chair Flow and isometric hold (I try to get them to think of sitting in a kindergarten chair)
~ Squatting Tendu
In my classes, I’ve added small hand weights, squishy balls, bands, and gliding disks for added resistance. On my own, I also use these tools plus heavier weights and machines.
However; while it’s important to strengthen, its also important to stretch, and do some fascia work too. (Explore holding poses like Pigeon, yin yoga classes, and foam rolling).
If you’re a group fitness, yoga, barre, or Pilates instructor think about adding some “glute activation” and love to all the butt muscles into your classes to wake up those sleeping glutes. Variety is key! If you aren’t an instructor, the same advice applies to your fitness regime. Maybe talk to your favorite personal trainer and see if they look at your form and tweak it as you pursue some moves. Additionally, you might consider purchasing a Fitbit or Garmin device that encourages you to get up off your seat.
I find this to be a fascinating subject that I certainly don’t know enough about. Who else is researching ways to wake up our glutes for yourself and your clients? The more we know and apply, the better off we all are.