Strong, functional Glutes? What’s This Bum Deal Then?
Our bottom is so so so much more than an aesthetic item to be viewed, pondered, berated, idolised.
There was a time when women were fed the line that cellulite was the baddie and thus war was declared.
Now it is shape. We are condemned, it would seem, to attempt Herculean labours, largely doomed to failure, in the name of changing the shape of our bottoms. The really sad thing is, the bottom is really so much more important than that, and really does need work, and work that doesn’t involve anything at all from Brazil, unless of course you are a connoisseur of their nuts
Aesthetics has won the battle for hearts and minds. The idea of aspiring to having strong, functional glutes, a bum that is actually functional is, of little of no consequence to most people. However, read on. It has not won the war, just yet.
What is the (strong, functional) bottom line?
Basically, the bony structure of the pelvis, in back view, overlaid with lots of interesting muscles.
Mainly you are seeing the gluteal muscles, aka the Glutes. As seen on the right side of this picture the Gluteus Maximus is the one that gives the bottom it’s rounded shape, along with the G. Medius on the outside. The left side of this picture shows that under Medius and Maximus there is Minimus.
Unseen and underneath the Gluteals are a selection of extra muscles that are responsible for externally rotating your leg. In this left picture only one is shown: Obturator Internus. The back leg muscles, the hamstrings attach into the pelvis on the sit bones, shown in the bottom middle of this picture.
The shape is partly dictated by the width of the pelvis, the amount of tone in the Glutes, amount of fat, and the orientation of the pelvis. If you tilt you pelvis forward at the top, your bottom sticks out more at the back. Shape is an outcome of lifestyle, good bad or indifferent. In addition exercise makes a difference and some of the shape is down to whether your genetics are male or female and the idiosyncrasies of what genes your parents conferred upon you.
Why Should You Care?
The Glutes are the primary muscles of walking and running .
They are essential to hold you up in a standing, upright position
They enable you to squat down and get you up and down off the chair, toilet or floor.
They stabilise the pelvis during movement – which in turn confers stability in the rest of the trunk.
In pretty much all of these vital human movement tasks, they are assisted by other muscles. Nevertheless the Glutes are absolutely vital. This is why you need strong, functional glutes.
How Do The Glutes Become Weak?
In very simple terms: not moving enough. Importantly, this doesn’t mean that we should all be out jogging, or dead lifting in the gym, although those are great things to be doing. It is simply a question of walking more and sitting less and trying to move in more different ways
Ageing doesn’t help (and ’twas ever thus eh). Muscles weaken with age and it requires more work to maintain their strength, but you can over come the effects of ageing. This is aside from the effects of disease processes which makes everything harder
They can be weak due to reciprocal inhibition by tight muscles at the front of the body. If the Quadriceps and Hip Flexors at the front of your legs are very tight then they can prevent the Glutes at the back from properly working. This is something I see in the gym a lot – in people who think of themselves as fit, but who lack strong Glutes, despite being aerobically fit and fairly strong. I have this problem myself.
They can be dysfunctional, as opposed to weak, if there is asymmetry across the pelvis. That is, one side of the body is stronger that the other. This is extremely common, and correctable, but is slightly different from overall weakness.
What Happens When The Glutes Become Weak?
Well it’s not good news but it is extremely common and mostly correctable and solvable. And like so much else at the moment, we are all in this together.
Here is the aesthetics
Your bum might look big but it will not look round. It will be more saggy.
People with very weak Glutes, or who have severe mobility problems can often present with almost no muscles there – just saggy skin. This is the end game of “use it or lose it”. If you don’t use your Glutes, or if you cannot use them due to illness or disease, they will waste away – quite literally, as will any muscle that isn’t used enough.
Movement/ Stability effects
Back Pain: There is a correlation between incidence of back pain and weakness in the glutes. Not always, but it can be very significant. Support the pelvis properly with functional Glutes and you have better trunk stability which can reduce the incidence of back pain
Poor Core/Trunk Stability: This can be because the trunk muscles are trying to help out the weak glutes. They may then get tighter, more fatigued, more compromised. This in turn can lead to back pain
Pelvic floor issues: If the External Hip Rotators (remember them from the picture above?) end up trying to help out the Glutes they can then become tighter and compromised. Two in particular: Piriformis and Obturator Internus also have a relationship with the pelvic floor and are often referred to as the Pelvic Wall, as opposed to the Floor. If they are tight and overworked they can destabilise the pelvic floor, pulling it out of alignment.
Buttock pain, knee pain: The ongoing effect of chronic weakness and the inability of the body to “hold” the pelvis in place can cause buttock pain arising from tightness in other muscles or impingement of nerves arising from chronically tightened muscles. Or it may be that weak Glutes simply do not cope well with unexpected amounts of movement even if that is simply a longer walk than usual or standing for longer than normal. If the pelvis is unstable because it is not “held” by the Glutes then there can be a knock on effect in the knees – the next joint down the line. Pelvic instability can cause knee instability.
Increasing inability to get out of a chairs, get up or down from the floor (although the latter is affected by other things too, like knee issues) or go up and down stairs.
Walking becomes a more demanding activity because extra muscles have to try and shore up the body and contribute to movement. The body will find different movement patterns to enable walking to happen. These are inefficient and can place inappropriate load on other joints such as the knees and lower back
What Should We All Do About It?
It all sounds a bit much..but honestly, there are some really simple solutions to starting on the road to Glute strength.
Here is the agenda for change:
- If you have long standing pain and discomfort, get it checked out. See a Osteopath or Physio or visit your GP and get referred via the NHS route. There may be other things going on that need checking out, or there are many manual therapy treatments that can really help.
- Stretch out through the front of your hips. Having said that, sometimes stretching in the Glutes themselves can help too. It doesn’t have to be extreme, just to get everything moving better
- Stand more, and sit less. We all have to sit: sometimes for long periods during the working day, but we can all stand periodically , and stand properly
- When you do stand, have a neutral pelvis. This ensures full use of the Glutes to support the pelvis and therefore the body
- Try to walk more. Not always easy. I of all people know this, because I’d far rather be on my bike that walking, but sadly, bicycles don’t help your bum get stronger. Just 10 minutes walking a day is a fabulous start.
- Strength training for your Glutes. Start with the exercise basics and build from there. The advantage of strength training is that you can really overload the Glute muscles to develop strength, and it doesn’t all have to be squats and lunges. You can use body weight if needs be, with no need for equipment. Here is a clip focusing one one classic strength exercise: the glute bridge
- Brazilian Butt surgery
- (only joking)
What you DON’T have to do to make your Glutes strong and functional:
All those crazy “5 minute butt workout” clips you see on social media, or the ones saying you can sculpt your glutes. Be wary of those. Most of the images are of people doing exercises incorrectly, often with poor spinal biomechanics, who are using the lower back to do the work of the Glutes. The very thing you wish to avoid. I have seen this time and time again: a svelte half naked twenty something doing Swimming legs with a massively arched back, or doing side leg raises with a 20kg weight on the pelvis but a curved spine. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about all of this and we need to aim for good exercise form at all times.
As a rule of thumb, if the Instructor is half naked, ignore the clip.
If they are fully naked, time to find another website. You are watching porn.
It would seem these days, that we covet our neighbours ass, not their ox. Try not to do this.
Avoid any info or clips that suggest sculpting, unless of course you are interested in Michelangelo or Rodin.
Instead try this
These are a first for me. Complete work outs that you can do along side me, so to speak!
Always remember: A Bum is for Life, not just for Instagram
These dear reader, are sculpted Glutes