Do you find that one side of your butt just doesn’t seem to work as well as the other? In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons why this may be and some options for how to wake up your sleepy glute.
It just feels like one side of my butt isn’t coming to the party.
If so, I have good news: we can “wake up” your sleepy glute.
That’s the good news. The thing is, it’s not necessarily simple or straightforward.
I would LOVE to be able to tell you exactly why it is that one side of your butt seems to work better than the other. It would be AMAZING if I could offer you a simple, easy-to-follow, one-size fits all set of recommendations for what to do to get that underachieving gluteus maximus to get on board…but I just don’t think I can.
The story of your body
So how does this come to pass? How do we arrive at a situation where you have two perfectly good glutes and only one of them seems to be working its magic? How do we wake up your sleepy glute?
Well, that’s an altogether tricky question to answer because how it happens is going to vary from one person to the next.
Perhaps there is an anatomical asymmetry? More likely, perhaps you have developed some asymmetrical movement habits that bias one side over the other. In these cases, a small amount of glute-strength asymmetry might well be thought of as a fact of life…and not really a cause for concern. (Of course, we’d have to measure the difference to know for sure, but for the sake of this post, we’re going to assume that you’re experiencing a left/right difference that is more than just small).
Or maybe it’s a neuromuscular thing? What I mean by that is that maybe your glute is neurologically inhibited. Stubbed your toe? Hurt your knee? Or your hip? Had low-back pain? Experienced nearly any kind of lower-body injury? All of the above result in glute inhibition. That inhibition is meant to be temporary…but sometimes, the rehab process (or lack thereof) can lead to these compensations becoming ‘locked in’ and (sort of) permanent.
[I say ‘sort-of permanent’ above because I think it’s important to recognize the very plastic nature of your body: the tissues of your body are constantly remodeling according to the stresses that act upon them. At the risk of over-simplifying, it means that how we train our bodies determines how they look and feel and perform.]
And then, it could simply be a matter of having trained one side more than the other. This is perhaps the easiest scenario to address because it really just means we do more exercises for the weaker side for a time while it catches up to the stronger side. For example, these ones.
Ultimately, my current hypothesis about the whole one-sided glute situation is that it matters less how it happened and what matters more is what’s going on right now.
Which is more important? Mobility or stability?
It’s a trick question.
Alignment is the answer.
(Credit goes to Mike Reinold for being the first to get me thinking about this).
Let’s use your glutes to explain.
Closest to your spine, your gluteus maximus attaches along the ridge of bone that is the rear upper crest of your pelvis down to the side of your coccyx. The other end of your glute max anchors into the top part of your IT band, near the top of your thigh bone.
My current hypothesis is that in the case of a gluteus maximus muscle that doesn’t seem to contract or engage as well as the other side, one side of the pelvis is often tilted more anteriorly than the better functioning side.
If your pelvis were a bowl of soup and you were to tip the bowl to pour soup out in front of you, you would be tilting your pelvis anteriorly. This tilt can create a bit of slack in the glute max muscle…this slack can change how well the muscle is able to generate tension.
[There is also room for one or both sides of your pelvis to tilt inward or outward on an oblique axis to the anterior-posterior axis…but that’s a complication for another day.]
So… what can we do to wake up your sleepy glute?
Well, the big question that we need to address in this case is what is causing this one-sided pelvic tilt?
The simplified answer is that some muscles are a bit stuck in a relatively shortened position while others are stuck in a relatively lengthened position. Where it becomes complicated is in trying to pin down which stuffneeds to lengthen and which stuff needs to shorten/develop more resting tension.
While your mileage may vary (because the story of your body is, of course, wonderfully unique), here are a few things you can try that can address some common elements of the single-sided sleepy glute equation:
You’ll likely feel a noticeable difference from one side to the other. That’s ok. That’s why we do reps: hold each position for 3-5 breaths and to 5 reps on each side.
Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. Do 3-5 sets.
Front-Foot Elevated Split Squat hold
This one is spicy. Let’s start with 1-3 holds for 5 full exhalations each.
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