The Muscles in Your Butt Might Be Dead. Here's How to Find Out (and Revive Them)
STACK interviewed Dr. Seedman for this article, which originally appeared on stack.com on 12/18/15.
If we had to choose one muscle group to train, it would have to be our glutes. And not just to create nice butts. The glutes are the largest, most powerful muscle group in the body. No other muscle group has as much impact on your performance.
That's why we emphasize over and over again that Squats and Deadlifts are critical for improving athletic performance—and, if you're not an athlete, for just getting downright strong. They are among the best moves for developing glute strength (more on this later).
Sometimes your glutes can become dormant. Even though you perform exercises that you think work your glutes, they might not be firing like they should.
Essentially, your butt is dead. And this is a serious problem! (But it can be revived—see below.)
"Pretty much all sports and every type of activity is predicated on appropriate glute function," says Dr. Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance (Atlanta, GA). "For example, the No. 1 muscle in sprinting is the glutes. If they're not firing like they should, it's not only going to put the athlete at a greater potential for injury, but it's really going to compromise their speed."
The same can be said for jumping, throwing a ball and even picking up a box off the ground. The glutes also play an important role in balance and keeping your knees stable when you change directions and land from a jump.
This explains why coaches always say, "Use your hips!"
Glute inactivity also causes problems in the weight room. If the largest and strongest muscle group in your body is not working at full capacity, it will limit the amount of weight you can lift with perfect form. Ultimately, your body will break down. Other areas will compensate for your inactive glutes, causing knee pain or an injury somewhere else in your body, such as your lower back.
"The glutes and also the hamstrings are critical for maintaining optimal balance between the front and back of the leg," Seedman says. "If you have an imbalance from glute inactivity, it's inevitably going to result in some type of knee pain."
When all is said and done, dormant glutes make you a weaker, less-powerful and more injury-prone athlete. So fixing this issue is a high priority.
Fortunately, it's not all that difficult to correct. Here are Seedman's tips for detecting glute inactivity and instructions for how to fix it.
How to Check if Your Glutes are Firing Properly
Check your glute activity with the following simple self-tests from Seedman.
Do you have knee pain? Chronic knee pain is the first sign of glute inactivity. If your knees consistently hurt—especially when you are playing a sport or working out—your glutes are probably the issue.
Do you have lower-back pain? Lower-back pain is another sign that your glutes aren't working properly. Typically these muscles compensate for inactive glutes, causing overuse and pain. However, even if you don't have lower-back pain, you might have glute issues.
Do you sit a lot? Most of us sit way too much. It's a product of modern society. Sitting causes the muscles on the front of your body to tighten, creating anterior pelvic tilt. Too much anterior pelvic tilt and your glutes can no longer fire properly.
Can you hold a Single-Leg Stand? Do a Single-Leg Stand with your eyes closed and your feet facing forward. If you can't hold this position for at least 1 minute—and especially if you fall forward and toward the middle—your glutes aren't working properly. Test each side a few times and compare your average times to see if one side is working better than the other.
How to Fix Inactive Glutes
Here are Seedman's tips for getting your glutes firing at their full potential.
Don't Lift Heavy Until You Fix the Issue
If you suspect that your glutes are inactive, take a step back in your training. Rather than lifting heavy, focus on your technique. Fix your glutes before adding weight to exercises that involve your glutes (this doesn't affect exercises like the Bench Press). It might seem like a setback, but once your glutes are fixed, you'll be stronger than ever and have less risk of injury.
Perfect Your Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is a fundamental athletic movement that far too many people can't perform properly—it's the basis for exercises like Squats and Deadlifts. If you can't hip hinge, your glutes are immediately taken out of a movement. Check out the video below to see what a proper hip hinge looks like.
Fixing the hip hinge is relatively simple. It just takes practice to learn the movement and program your muscles to fire properly.
Activate Your Glutes Every Day
Since we sit so much, it's fairly easy for our glutes to go dormant. To counteract this, you need to deliberately use them every day. One of the best ways to do this is with Double- or Single-Leg Glute Bridges. Do at least 3 sets if 10-15 reps.
Perform Glute-Focused Exercises
Finally, if you don't train your glutes, of course they won't work properly. Many great exercises can help you achieve this, such as Squats, Deadlifts and Hip Thrusts. To get your glutes in tip-top shape, perform Single-Leg RDL's using a weight equivalent to your body weight, and don't let your raised leg touch the ground. It might sound challenging, but this is a measure of awesome glute function.