Whether you love yours or you hate them, your glutes do much more than just give you extra curves.

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OrthoCarolina Physical Therapist Chris Gabriel gave us the low down on our backside, including how to find out if our glutes are firing, how to make them stronger and when to see a professional.

Chris, who specializes in sports medicine, says in modern society we spend a huge amount of time sitting at our desks. That means our gluteal muscles are on a slight stretch all day long, which can cause them to “de-activate” or “go to sleep.”

And that’s not good, because as we mentioned before, our glutes do a lot more than round out our Lululemon pants.

Chris says our glutes help control the leg and knee as we jump, land and squat. They also help us go up and down the stairs. If our glutes aren’t able to do their job correctly, other muscles (like the hamstring) have to work harder than they should.

“Lots of people have tight hamstrings because their hamstrings do too much work,” Chris said. Tight hamstrings can be a recipe for injury if not properly taken care of. But that’s not the only possible injury related to underperforming glutes — they can also cause lower back and hip pain, problems with leg control when jumping and landing and more.

 

So how can I tell if my glutes aren’t firing?

Chris suggests enlisting a friend or family member to help you with this simple test: Lay flat on your stomach on a bed or table, and have the person put one finger on the middle of your left butt cheek and one in the middle of your left hamstring. Then, keeping your knee as straight as possible, slowly raise your leg in the air. Repeat for the other side. Your hamstring and glutes should contract at roughly the same time, but your helper will be able to tell you if there’s a delay.

“It’s pretty common — most people have some type of delay, and a small percentage can get all the way to a hip extension and their glute doesn’t fire at all,” Chris said. “That means day to day, they’re using their hamstrings or back muscles to produce the hip extension motion.”

glutes test

 

How can I improve my glute strength?

At work, avoid gluteal amnesia by getting up once every 30 minutes to take a walk around your office, or at least do a quick stretch. Incorporating a standing desk or workstation will also drastically improve bloodflow to the glutes.

At the gym, focus on different variations of dead lifts, step-ups or a bridge with your feet up on a ball. At home, you can train your lateral glutes and gluteus medius with the clamshell: lay on your side with your knees bent and open and close them like a clam shell. Bonus points if you put a band around your knees. A glute bridge is also a great way to isolate and train the glutes.

Lying on your side with knees bent to 90 degrees, keep the feet together and raise the top knee. Do not rotate your body backwards. Start with three sets of 15 and work toward three sets of 30 with one-minute rest breaks between sets. Fatigue should be at the end of the repetitions; if it is starting early in the repetitions, start with three sets of 10 and slowly build up from there.

Lying on your side with knees bent to 90 degrees, keep the feet together and raise the top knee. Do not rotate your body backwards.
Start with three sets of 15 and work toward three sets of 30 with one-minute rest breaks between sets. Fatigue should be at the end of the repetitions; if it is starting early in the repetitions, start with three sets of 10 and slowly build up from there.

Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Drive up through your heels and upper back to lift your glutes off the ground. Drive your hips up as high as possible, squeezing the glutes hard. Keep your belly button drawn in so you don’t hyper extend your back. Do not push backward off your heels. Make sure you are driving straight up and that your knees aren’t caving in. Squeeze your glutes for second or two at the top and lower all the way back down to the ground before repeating. You should feel this move in your glutes and hamstrings and not in your low back.

Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart.
Drive up through your heels and upper back to lift your glutes off the ground. Drive your hips up as high as possible, squeezing the glutes hard. Keep your belly button drawn in so you don’t hyper extend your back.
Do not push backward off your heels. Make sure you are driving straight up and that your knees aren’t caving in.
Squeeze your glutes for second or two at the top and lower all the way back down to the ground before repeating.

If you sit at a desk all day, definitely make sure not to jump into your next workout without stretching your hip flexors enough, or you could find yourself a victim of “dead butt syndrome” — an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius. Here are seven exercises to combat it.

Some people think squats are the key to a stronger derriere, but Chris says proceed with caution: some people are extremely quad dominant and don’t use their gluteal muscles to squat at all. That could set you up for overusing your other muscles. A physical therapist can help you figure out which exercises are right for you.

When to seek professional help

If you’re experiencing severe or persistent pain, numbness or tingling, or if your knees buckle inward when you jump, land or squat, Chris says it’s best to call a professional to prevent injury.

 

Need more info? Visit www.orthocarolina.com.

 

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MEET OUR EXPERT

oc-chris-gabrielChris Gabriel, OCS, CSCS, is a physical therapist based at OrthoCarolina’s D1 Sports Training & Therapy center in Matthews. He got his Master’s in physical therapy from University of Pittsburgh.