Exercise Basics

It’s Fantastic! It’s Stupendous! It’s Your Butt!

OK, maybe I got a little carried away there, but the truth is that our large backside muscles are very cool. For future reference, these are called the glute muscles.

Here’s what they do:

In addition to providing something for you to sit on besides your pelvic bone, they help you move. Specifically, these muscles extend your leg backwards every time you take a step. Without this, obviously, walking would be very difficult or very limited. As you take a step forward and then your leg swings behind you, it is your butt muscles that should be doing most of the work. Then some of the muscles in your low back help to stabilize your spine, and your hamstrings (back of your thigh) will kick in to add to the movement.

Your glutes stabilize your hips while you walk. That may not sound very important, but think of it this way. If your hips are moving excessively while you walk, it puts more pressure on your low back muscles to jump in to stop that area from moving around too much. When they work too hard like that, you eventually get a tight, sore low back. Your hamstrings will also work extra hard to keep you in motion, as will the muscles and bands of fascia that run down the outside of your leg. When all this happens, you run the risk of having knees that hurt for one reason or another.

In addition to walking, a major move that you do throughout your day is to squat. Any time you get up and down from a chair or from the toilet you need to squat. If you don’t use your butt for this, it means you will use something else less well suited. Mostly your hamstrings, front and back of your shins, and low back muscles will work extra hard. This could be another potential source of back and knee pain.

An eminent PhD scientist by the name of Stuart McGill who specializes in spine research has given butt dysfunction the catchy name of “glute amnesia.” His research has shown that a bunch of us have this, mostly caused by our sitting-induced society and/or getting older.

What to do? There are two things that work really well.

Correct Squat
Incorrect Squat

The first thing is to check out how you Squat. As you head on down to the seat, two key things need to happen. Your butt needs to be the first thing that starts the move. It needs to start to move behind you, and continue that way so that you can squat without having your knees pull forward ahead of your toes (as you look down on them). That way, your glutes are the prime movers in the squat, thereby letting your back and legs fall into line the way they are supposed to.

The other thing is a specific exercise called the Bridge. Bridging is done by laying on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Then you lift your midsection (your pelvis) off the floor. Seems easy, right? But, unless you activate (squeeze) your butt FIRST before lifting, the exercise is not going to help you with glute amnesia. Many people will almost naturally use their hamstrings to pull off this move. In this case, glute amnesia will continue.

Correct Bridge_edited-1
Bridge

Making sure your glutes are on board for both of these activities will go a long way toward letting your butt work for you as you walk, get up and down from a chair, or do many other actions like going up stairs, lunging down to pick something up off the floor, bend over at the kitchen counter to chop vegetables, set up to hit a golf ball, or play many other sports.

Bottom line (pun): Butts are very good, and multidimensional. And if you keep your movements and exercises mindful of how they are meant to work for you, they will indeed be fantastic and stupendous.

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.


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