It’s one thing moving your body, and even feeling better for doing so. But, a lot of the time, we don’t know what’s happening or why!
Over the coming months we’re going to be giving you an introduction to the body’s key muscles. Not only will this (hopefully) help you see what’s happening when you are in a Yoga class, but also help you understand the benefits and give you a tool kit to manage your own.
This month we’re looking at your butt.
Whether you’re wondering what’s the benefits of chair pose, love a squat, or are experiencing soreness in your lower back, all can be connected to the muscles we sit on. Here’s a look at the glutes.
What many of us don’t realise is that building glute strength also improves posture, relieves lower back pain, and stabilises the hip and knee joints. We rely on the gluteal muscles for getting up out of a chair, lifting, carrying, and climbing stairs. But, runners, cyclists, mountain climbers, surfers, and tennis players also rely on glute strength for propulsion.
The gluteal muscles are an incredibly important muscle group because they are the central hinge in the body aiding in lifting our entire body weight.
In this series of our ‘Beginner’s guides,’ we explore the importance of glute strength, and how Yoga can improve posture, joint pain, and sports performance.
What Are Glutes?
Glutes are the gluteal muscles in the bottom, and are the strongest and most powerful muscle group in the body. This muscle group comprises 3 muscles: the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus.
The gluteus maximus is the large muscle that creates a rounded shape in the bottom. This muscle is responsible for taking the leg backwards, such as when you stretch your hip flexors. And, when you run, jump, climb, get up from a chair, it’s your gluteus maximus that does all the work.
The gluteus medius is much smaller than the gluteus maximus, yet it is an essential gluteal muscle. This muscle is the primary hip abductor – which means it is necessary for rotating the hip joint in actions such as getting out of bed and stepping out of the car, or cycling.
Gluteus medius also stabilises the hip, pelvis, femur (thigh bone), core, lower back, and sacroiliac joint (the joint at the base of the spine where the two dimples are).
Glute medius strength is essential in runners. It stabilises the pelvis, so that if you were to stand on one leg with the other raised, your pelvis would remain relatively level. This plays a huge part in our running gait.
The gluteus minimus is a small muscle that sits deep beneath the gluteus medius. The main functions of this muscle are stabilisation and abduction. By abduction, we don’t mean it’ll bungle you into a car and demand a ransom. Abduction in physiological terms means this muscle moves a limb away from the body.
Weak glutes are a result of not using them. Most daily activities avoid using the glutes, so they become underdeveloped. All that commuting and desk work without training leads to weakness. When your glutes are weak, other muscles take up the slack such as your lower back or hamstrings. That’s when these areas shorten and pain arises in the lower back, hip joints, and knees.
Weakness in the glutes can lead to Trendelenburg gait, where a person is unable to keep their hips level when they walk, so they walk lopsided. Level hips during running keeps the body symmetrical, preventing injury. If you’re a runner, a Trendelenburg gait will hamper your running efficiency and speed. This condition also leads to lower back pain because the pelvis isn’t stabilised while you run.
Activating the glutes before doing sports will make them work more effectively.
What Is Glute Activation?
Glute activation is warming up the gluteal muscles to strengthen them so they work at their optimum.
Firing up the glutes involves mentally isolating the muscle while pumping them.
A 2017 study shows that doing glute activation work prior to a workout can help recruit the glutes in such a way to make them more powerful and effective during the workout.
Establishing a mind-body connection is vital for activating the glutes. Yoga is perfect for mentally isolating muscle groups.
Yoga for Activating Glutes
Standing, balancing, and backbending Yoga poses are perfect for firing up those glutes.
All one-legged standing poses effectively activate the gluteal muscles. When you hold a pose such as Warrior 3, Half Moon Pose or Tree Pose, you strengthen the glutes of the standing leg without movement (isometric contraction).
A 2021 study showed that Warrior 3 and Half Moon Pose are the most effective poses for glute activation.
As you wobble and find your balance in Half Moon Pose, you work the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius on a deep level. You can only gain enough balance when you engage the glutes to stabilise the hip. Activating the glutes fully prevents you locking the knees and overarching the back.
Backbending poses are also great for engaging the gluteus maximus. A strong pose such as Upward Bow Pose also engages the adductor muscles, the hip and inner thigh muscles. As you go back into this pose, your hip flexors stretch out and your gluteus maximus muscles engage. It’s important to keep the legs parallel in this pose, as they instinctively try to splay outwards, rotating the hip. Keeping the legs parallel in Upward Bow Pose fires the gluteus maximus from the tension you create from pulling the legs together as they try to rotate outwards.
Locust Pose has to be mentioned if we’re wanting to activate our glutes! This is a fantastic glute activator as it involves tightening, holding, and releasing the glutes while laid on the stomach.
Chair pose is a standing pose that works like a squat. This pose brings our weight forward, as if we are walking up stairs and places all our body weight onto the gluteal muscles. Mentally isolating these muscles while holding the pose strengthens the glutes on a deep level.
Fire Up Those Glutes Now
Whether you’re a runner, mountain climber, or cyclist, you can start activating those glutes right away. If you practice regularly, it’s likely that you’ll notice an improvement in your glute strength within a couple of weeks. You may then find that you can run, climb, or cycle with more ease.
You can even start practicing straight away. Yogafurie online classes provide a wealth of Yoga sequences that you can do immediately at home.
Sign up today and get your first 10 classes for free.