Remember the show Happy Days (1974-1984)? My favorite character was Arthur Fonzarelli – a super cool, James Dean-esque, handsome guy that all the ladies loved and all the men wanted to be. Fonzi had a famous saying, “Sit on it!” He was constantly telling people to “Sit on it!” There was also a whole episode dedicated to him trying to say he was wrong. He just couldn’t quite get the word out so it was more like, “wwwwrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooonnnnnnnnn. In that episode he wasn’t apologizing for telling people to sit on it, but nowadays are not happy days for our bodies because we “sit on it” way too much. We sit on it to eat. We sit on it to drive. We sit on it to watch sitcoms that can’t hold a candle to Happy Days. We sit on it to meditate. We sit on it to tweet, IG, FB and dream. This IT I’m speaking of is our gluteals. The three muscles that make up our gluteals are abused and underused. It’s so very wwwrrrooonnnggg. These muscles were designed to create a stable pelvis and keep us upright for walking. Strong gluteals also stabilize the spine for a strong, healthy back. Let’s meet the gluteals: Lights, camera, ASSion:
The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles. Depending on which anatomy book you read, it is considered one of the, or the largest, muscle in the body. Its main action is to extend, externally rotate and abduct the hip. The superficial layer of the gluteus maximus joins the tensor fascia latae and together, they insert into the iliotibial band (IT band), which attaches at the knee. The synergists, or muscles that work together with the gluteus maximus, are your hamstrings (you know, the tight muscles on the backs of your thigh), quadratus lumborum (a heavy hitter in the epidemic of low back pain because it’s weak from so much sitting), and the adductor magnus in your inner thigh (one of a group of adductor muscles that bring your leg toward or beyond the midline of your body). I mention these muscles because as a team they all have an affect on your pelvis. If one member of the team is on the sideline or trying to do everything for the lazy team members, there’s bound to be trouble. Aches and pains. Stiffness. Phew. That’s just the maximus.
The gluteus medius is a fan-shaped muscle partially covered by the gluteus maximus. This muscle is constantly working to balance the pelvis when standing and walking. Constantly working might mean constantly tired, no? Yes. This muscle is weak and/or tired on so many people. Don’t take standing and walking for granted if you want to continue to do them as you age. The anterior fibers of the gluteus medius internally rotate the hip. Posterior fibers extend and externally rotate the hip. Put your hand on the top of you right butt as if you were going to put your wallet in your right back pocket. Take your right leg and lift it out to the right side. The muscle you just felt engage is your gluteus medius. The synergists of the gluteus medius are the gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae and the pirifomis. If these muscles are overworking, you will have a big pain in the butt. Really.
The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three gluteals. It abducts, internally rotates and flexes the hip. It is covered by and a synergist of the gluteus medius. It performs the opposite actions of the gluteus maximus. Small muscle, BIG job.
The gluteals are critical for movements as simple as walking and as complicated as backbends. Yes, I’m going to say it. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I’ve heard all kinds of cues for the glutes in backbends. The cue of relax your glutes in backbends needs to be retired. It’s tired. It’s old. It doesn’t make sense. You need to use your glutes in backbends. You cannot extend the hip (a primary direction of movement in a backbend) without the gluteus maximus contracting. In addition, the tendency towards external rotation is counteracted by the contraction of the gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae and adductor group. Contraction. Not relaxation. Squeeze a block between the thighs for backbends, yes. Relax your glutes, NO. No. No. No. Stabilize the pelvis during backbends by turning your glutes ON. If you don’t trust me, trust the people that have been studying biomechanics, body movement, science, anatomy and bodies. Jill Miller states, “Turning off the glutes in backbends is like removing your thumb from holding onto a pen when writing a letter. The thumb stabilizes the pen.”
Don’t do backbends? For the non-back bending population that enjoys walking or living pain free: Biomechanist Katy Bowman, states in her book, Alignment Matters, “Get a better butt. The main culprit of low back pain is weak butt muscles. Gluteal muscles not only stabilize the tailbone, they help support the function of the low back muscles. If the glutes are weak, the low back muscles have to work harder than normal, which makes them fatigued and sore. Squats work well to strengthen the butt.”
If the word squat scares you, think chair pose. Utkatasana or fierce mighty pose is a yogi’s version of the squat. Get with a teacher that can guide you into a correct chair pose. Study with body movement experts that can teach you to squat. You will become a stronger person inside and out.
No matter what you call it: Butt, behind, ass, tuckus, tush, bootie, backside, bass, bottom, arse, badonkadonk, rear, rump, caboose, money maker, fanny, tail feather, et cetera — the list is bottomless — bun intended — I can’t stop! Butt all joking aside, it is important for you to stop sitting on it so much. Tune back in Friday for some tools to keep your tush fluffy and strong.