Back in March 2016, I wrote a blog called, “It’s Fantastic!! It’s Stupendous!!! It’s Your Butt!” In that blog I talked about all the great things that our backsides do for us if they are on board and doing their job.
Feel free to check out what I wrote back then. I would like to add a few things to the concept that I was going for in that blog, and bring you a few more insights and ideas.
It seems that many people don’t like to think about what their butts are doing (or not doing, as the case may be), and that is a big part of the problem!
The Simple Truth
The simple truth is that your backside is designed to be a key player for you in squatting, walking, running, going up and down stairs, leaning forward to pick up something, or playing a sport.
But, as we get older and/or more sedentary, our butts forget to work for us. That makes all of the above activities that much harder, AND more risky in terms of getting an injury or developing pain.
If you were to go for an evaluation of what your muscles are doing back there, here’s what could happen. You would lie on your stomach, and a professional would be checking for muscle activity as you lift one of your legs straight up off the table by extending from your hips. Ideally, your largest butt muscle (glute maximus) contracts first, followed immediately by the opposite side low back muscle (erector spinae), and then your same side erector spinae and your hamstrings (back of your thigh).
If this sounds too complicated, just realize this: your butt should be the first muscle to contract. That is because it is supposed to be the prime mover with this and many other moves that involve your hips. The other muscles mentioned are either supposed to be there for stabilization (your low back muscles), or as a helper (the hamstrings).
Many times low back pain results from an inactive glute maximus. A very common scenario for many of us is that, when the glute does not fire, the low back stabilizer muscles will kick in to help the hamstrings move the leg. The job gets done, but there is too much strain placed on the low back. Eventually, back pain can happen, along with other things like tight hamstrings, tight hip flexors (muscles at the front of your hip), and even knee pain.
One more thing. Often when our glutes get forgetful, so do our abdominal muscles. As an example, take stock of what your butt and abdominal muscles are doing right now, as you sit reading this. Not much, right? Little wonder that they both need a bit of prodding to get back into action.
So, Let’s Get Going
As I tried to explain above with regard to the order in which things fire up, it’s important to get that order working again. To do that, you have to pay attention, make sure your glute maximus does its job, and your abdominals are also there to support your spine and low back.
Here’s a series of exercises that will help you feel the way things are meant to be. A good idea would be to do these before you start doing other exercises or activity so that you can get the right pattern set up before going forward. (see graphics)
- Hip extension in quadruped position. Get on your all 4’s on a mat. Activate your abdominal muscles so that you feel they are keeping your back from sinking toward the floor, and are keeping your spine in a neutral position. Take one leg out to the back, keeping it straight. Lift that leg up so that it ends up parallel to the floor. Use your glute muscle to raise the leg, not your thigh or back muscles. Keep a solid quadruped position with your abs as you do the leg raise 10 times. Do the other leg.
- Leg circles. Lie on your side, with your body in a straight line, and not tipped to the front or back. Bring the top leg slightly to the back, and keep it straight (no knee bend). Brace with your abdominal muscles to help you stay in alignment and to support the leg movement. Keeping the leg slightly behind, make 10 small circles to the front, and 10 to the back. Initiate all of the leg movement from your glutes and hip area. Turn over and do the other side. Notice that abdominal bracing is needed here in order to keep you in alignment and from tipping forward or back as you move your leg.
- Bridge with leg crossed. Lie on your back. Cross one leg over the opposite one by placing your ankle just above your knee. Place both hands on the floor. Activate your abdominal muscles to keep your torso solid as you do this exercise. Initiating with your glute muscle, raise your butt off the floor. Come back down, and repeat 10 times. Do the opposite side in the same manner. Doing the bridge using one side only helps you focus on that glute muscle. Doing a bridge with both feet on the floor can make it easy to cheat, using hamstrings and back muscles instead.
Keeping mindful of this pattern going forward can help you stay strong and injury free no matter what you are doing.
As always, if you have any questions about the exercises or other concepts, feel free to contact me here.
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