If you have ever taken a class with me or trained with me at all, you have heard me say ‘Squeeze Your Butt!’ a bunch of times. Whether you were in a plank, push-up, bird-dog, or a knee-hang, or you were about to perform a salto on silks or just about any other position or skill, I have probably told you to squeeze your butt.
And then I’ve probably told you to squeeze your butt harder, as if I was going to poke your butt cheek with my finger and you wanted to shatter my finger like Valyrian steel shatters a White Walker.
And while I was telling you to ‘squeeze your butt,’ you probably made the effort to squeeze harder, you might have even thought ‘but I was squeezing my butt!‘
Heck, I’ve even been there when other trainers were coaching me.
To really fire up those butt muscles can be hard–especially if you tend to do a lot of sitting on them for various reasons. In this post I hope to shed a little light on why we need to really work on getting those muscles to fire on all cylinders.
Glutes, your butt muscles, are for more than just padding your bones when you sit or filling in a pair of pants. They’re actually for extending your leg behind you, externally rotating the leg and abducting your leg. In training, these actions can be seen in exercises like deadlifts, bird dog or a sumo squat. In circus training you can see this in positions like Arabesque, front balance, straddling into a position, crocs or a cartwheel–just to name a few.
In you daily activities your glutes are involved in movements such as standing up or sitting down in a chair (AKA a squat), walking (they extend your leg behind you on each stride), climbing stairs, standing up from bent over and millions of other day-to-day activities.
Or at least your glutes should be doing these actions. But unfortunately, for most of us, they aren’t always doing their job properly due to poor postural habits that have put them to “sleep”. (Technically they aren’t asleep, just not performing really at their best, there is a bit of fuzzy communication from the brain to the glutes. The exercises below hope to clear up the fuzziness.)
When our glutes ‘forget’ what their job is, other muscles step in and try to take over for the job the glutes should be doing. This is generally because of poor postural habits, like too much sitting or slouching, but it could also be due to an injury–recent or in the distant past– and now compensation patterns have set in and those compensatory muscles need to unlearn the role they took on due to poor posture or the injury.
Signs that your glutes are sleeping on the job include:
- if you have ever thought or said to yourself: ‘I have a flat butt.‘ Or,
- if you have had the experience when extending your hips up, say in a bridge position, and your hamstrings have cramped. Or,
- your glutes, through ineffective use, can become ‘short’ and ‘tight’ which can turn your feet out as you walk–think duck feet–and this can cause discomfort in your knees.
This is not an exhaustive list and even if one or several of these examples occurs with you, it doesn’t automatically mean your glutes are asleep. That’s hard to say for sure without some movement screens; this is more of a simple generalization that occurs most often to people.
Getting your glutes to wake from their slumber is actually quite important and will possibly–probably–alleviate some muscle tightness and/or tension in other areas of your body. This is because those muscles that are compensating for your sleepy glutes are tired of doing work they weren’t really meant to be doing. Aches and pains in some of your joints may feel some relief-and wouldn’t that be a nice thing?!
Additionally, getting your glutes to be active when it’s their turn to work will help you move better throughout your day and while you are training–yielding better results in the gym and in your circus discipline.
So….maybe I have Sleepy Glutes, what do I do now?
You will probably want to begin with some foam rolling of your legs and glutes. If you’re looking for some guidance, I wrote a blog about it before, it’ll give you the ‘how to’ for rolling your lower body.
After a thorough warm-up, here are a few exercises you can add to your training session, at home, at the gym or at the studio.
Single Leg Hip Lift
From the video below you will see that one leg is pulled in towards your chest, this is to lock your lumbar spine into flexion. All too often when people do hip lifts/glute bridges they lift a little too high and their low back and hamstring do most of the work or regardless of how high they lift their hips the low back is arched too much and takes on the work instead of the glutes. Locking the lumbar spine into flexion makes sure that the glutes are doing the work.
Not only is Bird Dog an excellent glute exercise, it’s also an excellent core exercise. As with the hip lifts, many people perform this exercise incorrectly and end up putting a lot of strain on their low back and bypassing their glutes. Pay close attention in the video to the demonstration of maintaining a braced core and a neutral spine as well as how the arm and leg only lift parallel to the floor. Also make sure not to lean away from the side you’re lifting.
This video is a progression up to Bird Dog, go with what is your current challenge and work up from there.
After you have finished your training session, here’s a good glute stretch you’ll want to add to target the glutes. The figure 4 stretch is a great glute stretch. Hold for 30 seconds on each side. (make sure ankle that’s on the knee is flexed for proper alignment in the stretch)
Taking the time to get those glutes properly firing again will only make your training a little bit easier because you’ll have a powerhouse of muscles working with you to do all the movements you need them to do. Don’t be surprised if you see some changes: progress in skill, increases in the weight you can lift, the speed at which you can run or sprint, your straddle becomes wider or you leg position in aerial shapes becomes more solid. Waking those glutes back up will also have a nice effect on your day-to-day activities as well: all those ups and downs, in and out of chairs and stair-climbing will probably feel better. Don’t be surprised if you can walk a bit faster because glutes will be powering you forward.
As always, please reach out if you have any questions. Leave them in the comments below or contact us. I enjoy hearing from you. Always feel free to share this post with those you know who will benefit from reading its content.