Gluteus Maximus Activation

Sore hips, low back pain, tight hamstrings. These could all be symptoms of a bigger problem: lack of glut activation. Anyone can fall victim to this syndrome, whether you sit at a desk all day or are a champion triathlete. So I want to take a moment to shed some light on this quiet phenomonon that I see every week here at Head2Toe.

So what’s the big deal about this glut business?

Well, a lot. A whole motion actually. The gluteus maximus (you may have heard a joke or two featuring him) is the main muscle that extends the hip (pulls the leg backward). There are other muscles that contribute to the motion (low back, hamstrings), but there is a particular pattern of muscle activation that leads to a full range of pain free movement. The gluteus maximus is supposed to initiate and carry most of the strength of hip extension, with the hamstring and erector spinae (low back) kicking in late in the game to continue smooth motion. If the glut max doesn’t fire correctly the other muscles are forced to pick up the slack and carry a motion they are mechanically not designed to do. This can cause tightness, soreness, and unabiding pain in those areas. Not only that, but if either of those areas is under pain and distress it will trigger the help from even more muscles to help provide motion they are not designed for. It’s a downward spiral that builds for some time before we’re acutely alerted by pain.

What causes my glutes to give up?

Four things: injury, deconditioning or lack of use, overactivation of opposing muscles, or fatigue due to overuse. These are the external conditions which can trigger glut inhibition. Tight, overused hip flexors is an extremely common cause so I’m going to address it here. As humans we function with everything in front of us and moving forward. We sit forward, drive, eat, run, walk, throw, and even curl forward to sleep. This causes our hip flexors (muscles that bring our leg forward) and quadriceps to become overactive and shortened while our poor glutes are fighting to get some good action. Even if you are a marathoner who uses your glutes to kick that leg back with each stride, you’re also using your hip flexors to bring the leg forward again and the overall ratio of use between hip flexors and hip extensors is far from even.

There are also physiological reasons that contribute to the issue. The bottom line is that some muscles are prone to become inhibited and deconditioned while others overactive and tight. At the fiber and cellular level certain muslces are made to be susceptible to one or the other. The gluteus maximus falls into the first category, the hamstrings and erector spinae fall into the latter.

So how do I get them back?

Exercises. Any of you who have been to see me in our new rehab room know what I’m talking about :-)

How quickly that happens depends on your situation. If you have never really used your glutes before, it could take a little longer than someone who strained one a while back and now that the injury has healed the muscle needs a quick reminder of how to work properly. Either way the gluteals are physiologically designed to turn back on just in the same way they were susceptible to shut down easier. If you can turn them on you’ve won half the battle. Now my precursor to all gluteal activities is that you have to judge if you feel your back or hamstrings firing instead of your glutes. If you feel the burn on the back of your thigh and not in the meaty part of your booty, that’s all hamstring. This is an easy activity to get your glut firing:

Supine Glut Bridge: lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your heels as close to your butt as possible. Now lift your hips off the ground. Keep your shoulder blades and upper back on the ground, there should be no stress on your neck. Now lift one leg and straighten it. At this point you should feel your booty working. If not, try lifting your hips higher. Hold for a count of 5 then lower that leg and lift the other. Alternate lifting legs for a total of 10 repetitions then relax. Do 2 sets every day.

Remember that by the time you feel symptoms of gluteus maximus inhibition there has been a growing pattern of disuse. So be patient and meticulous with this exercise, doing it daily will be your fastest road to recovery. Two minutes a day can spare you pain!


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