If you have any pain, please consult with your physician or physical therapist prior to attempting any of the movements suggested. This content is intended for clients who have been screened in the Foundations/ Practical Strength curriculum.
The glutes are having quite the moment. When I used to go to the gym, I noticed an uptick in women doing gluteal work, which I used to see only in the PT clinic.
Sidestepping with a band, hip abduction with resistance, bridges with resistance- all started showing up on the gym floor, usually practiced by young women who were otherwise weight room avoidant.
I was so curious about the change in popularity of glute strengthening, I started to dig into a little of what was going on. As often is the case in women’s fitness, the focus on having a large and round bum was being dictated by fashion and aesthetic. Celebrity culture (think Jennifer Lopez, the Kardashian crew) is promoting large, round glutes as a physical goal. Young followers were following suit.
While everyone has different genetic predispositions to muscle (some of us genetically have more type I muscle fibers, some of us have more type IIb, some of us are genetically predisposed to having less muscle mass), we all can train our muscles.
The reason to train gluteals go way beyond looking a certain way in a pencil skirt.
Biomechanically speaking, the gluteals are the powerhouse of our upright bodies.
We cannot have healthy leg or spinal motion without training and strengthening our glutes.
Over the course of this month, let’s look at the three main functional parts of the gluteals: glute max (which provides sagittal plane stability), glute medius/ minimus (which provides frontal/ coronal plane stability) and the external rotators (which provide transverse plane stability).
As with all body parts, stability in the gluteals requires strength and stability above and below on your movement chain. You cannot have stable glutes without having a stable spine and ankle.
The role of the glutes in healthful human movement is so broad- glute function affects everything from spinal stability to ankle function. To keep things as simple as possible this month, I will explore the relationship between the gluteals and leg function.
Most people with knee pain have gluteal and ankle weakness, and use a quadricep dominant movement pattern.
Focus on accessing glute maximus- Sagittal Plane
As we know, osteoarthritis does not happen overnight. It is a pathology that takes a long time to develop. Because bone material is anisotrophic (for more on what grows bone please check out our bone blog post), it grows in the presence of compression.
Most folks with osteoarthritis have been excessively compressing certain structures (while under compressing other structures) for years and years because of muscle imbalance and resulting poor movement mechanics.
When I see an older adult with knee pain and osteoarthritis in the clinic- 90 percent of the time- people demonstrate the following movement strategies and patterns:
People overuse their quadriceps (and under using their glute maximus)
Most clients with knee pain when asked to squat, shift their knee caps over the front of their ankle. This greatly increases the muscle force at the large quadricep muscle at the front of the leg, and greatly increases the compression between the knee cap (patella) and the femur (the long thigh bone).
This type of pattern over time is a recipe for increased compression of anterior (front of the body) knee structures, and will grow (hypertrophy) bone over time
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the gluteals. It is the primary hip extensor of our body, and assists with spinal extension. A really common byproduct of an underused glute maximus is a quad dominant movement pattern.
Self-Assessing Your Quad Dominance: DO try this at home:
If you have a full length mirror, stand so that you can view your profile. If you are not too shy, you could have a loved one film you in profile.
Start with a squat, bending at your hips and knees as you would to sit in a chair and return to standing. Notice if your knees come forward (in front of your ankle joints). If you do not notice any challenges to this alignment, increase the challenge by doing 12 – 15 repetitions. Watch for any changes.
Next, check out how far you feel comfortable squatting down. Do you feel comfortable getting your pelvis close to the ground? Or does it hover at chair height? Notice where in your body you feel the limitation (ankle, knee, hip, low back are some common findings). If you cannot get your pelvis lower than your knees with a fairly straight spine and your toes facing forward make a note of limited motion.
Increasing the challenge-single leg:
If you have performed the above assessment and your knee is lined up perfectly, try the same series of techniques while standing on one leg. Don’t be afraid to use something like a stable dresser to hold onto while you are performing the movement. You’re not testing your balance- you are looking for any movement anomalies. Jot down any findings.
In our practical strength training we focus on performance of muscles in the back of our bodies. To begin to connect with the sensation and strength at the back of the body, check out our lower body warm up video.
Happy Moving (and discovering!)
For more info on gluteals , join us for our Fire Up Your Glutes Workshop this month, as we will explore more about gluteal anatomy, how to best mobilize as well as strengthen the gluteals and how to use your gluteals in everyday life.