Due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and length of time spent sitting, many of us have forgotten how to use our Gluteus (Glute) or buttocks muscles. Add to this poor postural habits and the result is weakness and disuse of some of the most important muscles in our bodies.
What specifically are your Glutes? Why are they so important, and how can you “wake them up” again?
WHAT ARE YOUR GLUTES?
Your “Glute” muscles, or buttocks muscles, are comprised of three layers called the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus, and together these muscles play an important role in every movement you do in daily life.
The deepest muscle layer of your Glutes is known as the Gluteus Minimus. Due to this muscle’s strong attachment to the capsule of the hip joint, it plays the important role of helping to prevent impingement and wear & tear of the hip joint, while also helping to stabilize and distribute forces around the hips & pelvis.
The next layer on top of the Gluteus Mimimus is called the Gluteus Medius. This muscle is an “abductor” of the thigh (moves the leg outwards from the midline) and is responsible for the side-to-side stability within the pelvis and hips while upright and moving. When the Gluteus Medius is working properly it helps to prevent the opposite side pelvis and hip from dropping or the knee from collapsing inwards.
(A): Correctly working Gluteus Medius.
(B): Weak Gluteus Medius, causing dropping of the pelvis & hip
The outer and largest layer of the Glute muscles is called the Gluteus Maximus. The Glute Max is divided up into two portions, with the top half contributing to hip abduction (sideways movement of the leg), and the bottom half responsible for hip extension (backwards movement of the leg) and propulsion used when travelling forward. You will see sprinters with well-developed Gluteus Maximus muscles due to the use of this muscle for the powerful push-off and forceful forward motion required. In contrast “saggy” buttocks will occur if the lower portion of the Glute Max is not switching on or is weak.
WHY ARE WEAK OR “LAZY” GLUTES A PROBLEM?
The Glutes should all work together in synergy during any movement such as walking and running, and are essential for good posture and stability while standing and moving around. These muscles distribute load out of the joints of your back, hips, pelvis, knees and ankles, resulting in less likelihood of wear and tear & injury of these areas.
Marked weakness in the Gluteus muscles is becoming more and more common due to our lazy postural habits and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, with many of us sitting at a desk for 8+ hours per day.
In the seated position your hips are in flexion, placing the Glutes in a constant stretched position. Over time, this can change the length and force generation capacity of the muscles, as well as the resting tone. When you’re not moving for prolonged periods, the mantra “if you don’t use it you lose it” becomes applicable, and over time the Glutes get accustomed to not being used. They start to get plugged out of the brain’s neurological patterns and become a less favoured muscle. Consequently, when you then get up from the chair, your brain may start to make the decision to switch on more commonly used muscles such as your hip flexors, hamstrings or back muscles instead. This then becomes plugged into the brain as a normal way for the body to work and you start to develop bad patterns of moving and functioning.
Due to their important role in biomechanics and controlling lower limb motion while moving, weak or poorly activating Gluteal muscles can contribute to, or directly cause many issues such as lower back pain, hip pain and knee pain. Specifically, this can include hip impingement, tendinopathy, bursitis, osteoarthritis and Patellofemoral pain.
Even if pain or injury is not a result, poor biomechanics and efficiency of the muscle use around your pelvis and hips can significantly affect performance in any sport or activity you may participate in, whether it’s walking, running, surfing, cycling or playing golf.
HOW DO I “WAKE UP” MY GLUTES?
The first step to “waking up” and strengthening your Glutes is to get the neural connection firing to the muscles by learning how to connect to the muscles mentally and then by regaining normal movement in the body. Pilates exercises mixed with physiotherapy motor control training is one of the most successful ways to get the Gluteus muscles working again. Traditional exercises such as squats and lunges are often used as Glute strengthening exercises, however if your brain doesn’t know to send the signal to your Gluteus muscles to switch on, you may not actually use them & will just recruit other more commonly used muscles.
Pilates offers a large range of equipment exercises that very effectively isolate and target the Gluteal muscles, including Bridges on the Reformer, Scooter and Skating on the Reformer, and Forward and Sideways Step Ups or Lunges on the Wunda Chair.
Book in with one of our qualified physiotherapists at Fix and Flex Pilates & Physiotherapy and we can help you to “wake up” your Glutes!
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