Our glutes are the primary players in many of the movements that we do in everyday life. Including those that make it possible to do yoga, run, hike, cycle and more! As active yogis we need to create and maintain strong glutes.
Strong glutes, along with other smaller, supporting muscles act as a base of support for the pelvis and hips. These hard working muscles stabilize and keep level our pelvis. They secure our femur bones into our hip socket. They also help to rotate the femur internally and externally, and extend our leg backwards. In being functionally strong they also support the lower back, knees and ankles. Runners – without good hip extension you won’t have a powerful stride, which means your speed will be limited!
Glutes are arguably the most important muscle group for runners. Unfortunately, they are also the most neglected in terms of maintenance and strength.
All in all, having strong glutes helps us to gain better control of our legs, which in turn reduces our risk of injuries.
The goal of this article is to create a better awareness of the function of glutes for runners, yogis, and fitness enthusiasts alike. Look at what causes glute weakness or imbalance. How we can identify if we have a problem and how to stretch & create strong glutes.
How are such an important muscle group neglected?
There are a number of ways we jeopardize the health of this important muscle group.
- Gluteal Amnesia
- We are unaware of their role in movement
- Asymmetry in our daily life movements
Modern living and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are leading to what experts call “gluteal amnesia”. A term called to highlight the fact that our butt muscles become overstretched and underused (weak). Our brains are quite literally forgetting how to communicate with these muscles, as we sit down more and more. Strong glutes become weak glutes. The good news is that with focus it doesn’t take long to get this strength back.
Sitting down a lot for long periods of time can causes tight muscles in the front of our hips. In particular our hip flexors. which then restricts the glutes making them weak. The consequence of this becomes an anterior tilt, a pulling our pelvis out of alignment. As you can see in the photo above which shows far from good posture sadly. This then has knock on effects on other areas of the body making lower back pain and injury even more of a reality.
Most fitness enthusiasts are unaware of the role their glutes play in their running performance.
Active yogis tend to be very focused in their pursuit of strong quads and hamstrings. There is a strong attention to the bigger muscle groups, primarily focused around the legs themselves. These muscle groups are also the ones that we “feel” the ache in after a long run, dynamic track session, hiking or cycling. So it is natural that they stay at the forefront of our mind.
However, the problem with focusing on these bigger muscle groups is that the work doesn’t stop at your legs. Your glutes, help to centre your pelvis so that your center of gravity is in line with your ankles, knees and hips. Helping also to support knees and ankles. Not spending time to stabilize this area leads to major weakness and injury elsewhere also.
Whether through sports or habit, humans have a good and a bad side when it comes to certain muscle groups. We tend to kick a ball more on one side, lead your run with one leg more than the other. At rest we tend to stand on one hip more than other. Parents carry their child more on one hip than the other also. We hold our bag on one side more than the other. We cross our legs seated in one way more than the other. The list goes on!
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE NEGLECT OUR GLUTES?
Our body is very intelligently designed. When one area of the body is weak or not pulling its weight, the effort to stabilize transfers down to the muscles close to the next joint. It is important to remember that our body is designed by function. So each muscle has its own purpose and role, and a support role to another muscle nearby. However if we ask it to carry its own role AND the role of another area it will be overloaded.
The risk then becomes one of injury in the lazy muscle area (which literally stops firing up because someone else is carrying it) and injury in the area of the body where it is doing more work because of lazy muscle.
If your glutes are generally pretty inactive in everyday life, your other muscles become disproportionately stronger.
Consequences of that can be:
- IT band syndrome (runner’s knee)
- Patellofemoral syndrome
- Achilles tendonitis
Read more here about why yoga benefits runners in terms of correcting muscle balance and reducing injury risk!
UNDERSTANDING WHAT having strong GLUTES DOes FOR US
So let’s try to better understand the role of our glutes, remembering there are in fact 3 muscles. Then we can explore some fun ways in which we can integrate skills and drills into our yoga pratice. With the intention of being able to carry them into our other moving practices too.
FUNCTIONS OF THE GLUTEUS MAXIMUS
- Thigh extension (thigh backward)
- Thigh external rotation (outward)
- Thigh abduction (away from the body)
- Thigh adduction (toward the body)
FUNCTIONS OF THE GLUTE MEDIUS
- Abduction (lifting leg away from the body)
- Internal rotation of the hip
- Stabilizer when shifting weight from leg to leg
- Any single-leg movement
Glute Minimus is a little version of medius 🙂
HOW TO TEST IF YOU HAVE WEAK GLUTES
Stand up with your arms up overhead, facing towards a mirror with a clear view of your ASIS hip bones. Lift your right foot off the ground and try to balance. You are looking to see if your left hip drops down – if it does this can be a sign of weakness.
Another way to try this is sitting down. Squeeze your buttocks, then release them: You should feel them tighten, then slacken.
TRY SPRINKLING THESE YOGA POSES INTO YOUR HOME PRACTICE TO HELP BUILD STRONG GLUTES
All of these poses below serve as creative ways in which we can activate the glutes within our traditional yoga practice. One of the key things is to focus your attention on engagement and how it “feels” to have these muscles engaged. Then when you start to flow and move in the yoga practice you will start to become more aware of if they are working or not in these shapes. I like to start my practice with glute bridges to set an intention of engagement and muscle memory for this purpose. Once you get familiar with the glutes firing up on your yoga mat, you will start to build more awareness in your movement patterns away from the mat also.
Join me in any of my live daily Zoom classes for more insight into how to create a balanced, strong and functional body that will help you to excel in your movement of choice! I create a playful and safe environment in which you can explore while learning more about your unique body. Explore your first class for free by signing up here