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Spine Secret #4: Your Glutes are (Almost) Everything!

You know that old saying, "lift with your legs, not with your back?" It could be more accurately phrased "Lift with your glutes, not with your legs"!

Gluteal function affects so many aspects of our physical health: spinal stability, knee stability, ankle stability.

Without a strong and functional set of glutes, we cannot: stand upright, get in and out of a chair successfully, walk with safety, lift a suitcase or get up off of the floor.


There has never been a more important, and underused- a more sat on muscle group.


This is a fairly small sample size (and, warning, just anecdotal evidence), but in my 15 years of working as an orthopedic physical therapist, I have never encountered someone with low back, hip, knee or ankle issues who had strong enough glutes. Not. One. Person. In 15 years. There is something to this.


Trying to have a stable back on top of weak gluteals, is like trying to build a brick house on a sand pit- it’s totally a fruitless endeavor.

As many of you know by now, there are 3 functional aspects of our glutes from which we derive support:

1) Gluteus maximus

2) Gluteus medius

3) External rotators of the hip (OK, not technically a glute but still functioning to provide full body support, and spinal/ hip stability)


To check in to see if the 3 parts of your glutes are strong enough to be the hero in your body, use these techniques from our Fire Up Your Glutes! content (July 2021):


Self-Assessing Your Quad Dominance: DO try this at home:


Dynamic Posture:

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.


Self-Assessing Your Glute Medius/ Glute Minimus- Trendelenburg Sign: DO try this at home:


Dynamic Posture:

If you have a full length mirror, stand so that you can view yourself straight on. If you are not too shy, you could have a loved one film you facing front.


Locate your pelvis. Feel for the place where your pelvis protrudes forward. This area is known as the ASIS. Place both hands there for reference.

Start by standing on one leg. Notice if you are able to do this and maintain an even position at your pelvis. Notice if one pelvis drops or lifts.

Perform on each side, and make a note of any findings.


If you have any deviations from pelvic alignment above, stop there.

If not, let’s progress to a two legged squat.

Bend at your hips and knees as you would to sit in a chair and return to standing. Notice if your knees fall in toward one another, or bow out. If you do not notice any challenges to this alignment, increase the challenge by doing 12 – 15 repetitions. Watch for any changes.


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.

Be honest with yourself in assessing your ankle/ knee/ hip and pelvis alignment.

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.


Self-Assessing Your PGOGOQs: DO try this at home:


Dynamic Posture:


Stand in front of a mirror. Squat as if you were sitting into a chair. Notice if there is any amount of your knees falling together (this is called genu valgum) or if there is any apparent shifting of your kneecap to the outside (lateral) aspect of your leg (recall from above, this is an illusion, but it gives you cues about what is happening with the femur below)


Increasing the challenge- single leg:

If everything looks A-OK proceed to examining the same squat but single leg. Look for any amount of your knee diving in, or any amount of your kneecap sliding laterally.


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 so support good mechanics in all planes of motion. To build awareness of your PGOGOQs, try out non- weight bearing external rotation (aka clams). And our lower body warm up video.


For more information on gluteal function, treat yourself to our Fire Up Your Glutes! recording.


Until next time, Happy Moving!


Trina



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