No BUTTs About It

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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:

Three different muscles make up the Gluteal group.

Three different muscles make up the Gluteal group.

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.

 

If you liked this article, read Piriformis: What’s Going On Back There?

Need hip pain relief? Try these Quickfix videos!

Keep reading about hips and glutes.

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nic matthews

Funny and informative; I love a good butt joke. Thanks for an entertaining read that was also filled with useful tips for strengthening the glutes.

Colleen Flaherty

Great description of the how’s and why’s of glutes and their very important roles in our bodies! As a non-yogi, I didn’t know the glutes were important for back bends but it makes total sense! Next time I want to practice, I know to fire the booty! Thanks for sharing important tips and info!

jan hollander

Indeed a comprehensive article,and super helpful to me,in further finding out about the butt, this the six article I am reading for my ytu teacher trainer course essay such a tremendous amount of information on the ytu blog

Tanja

Thank you so much for this comprehensive article and stressing the importance of engaging your glutes in backbends!!

Diana Azavedo

Thanks for this article. Not only did it have a nostalgic entertaining start but it also kept me reading and understand the importance and the role of the glutes in our everyday life. I always imagine it was important to engage the glutes in backbends given its role and now i understand it much better.

Alyssa

I am also enamoured with those hard-working glute muscles! Since starting to purposely work on mine, I have noticed better posture, the eradication of lower back pain (achieved, I think, in conjunction with upper back strengthening and core work), and more lower-body strength…not to mention a better-looking booty! Fluffing up the glute tissue with Therapy Balls is one of my favourite ways to roll out, too. Thanks for another great, LOL-inducing post, Terry!

Joann Burnham

Love this post! Thank You for reminding us that it is important to engage the glutes in backbends!
Such an important shift in thinking to get out there. “You cannot extend the hip (a primary direction of movement in a backbend) without the gluteus maximus contracting.” It makes perfect sense to me.

Genevieve

Thank you for this comprehensive and practical post.

Charmaine Garry

Thank you for this very informative piece. The importance of the glutes is so misunderstood in today’s society. Getting people to understand the connection between their lower back pain and their potential weakness can be difficult. Your article would help clear this up for people.

Bernie Cook

This was a great post. I loved your detailed summary of the three major gluteus muscles
(in layperson’s terms – where you clearly describe the purpose and function of each muscle). I totally understand, thanks to your explanation, the imbalance I am suffering in my low back – weak butt muscles. Ugh! I need to read the book you referenced by Katy Bowman. Thanks and, by the way, a “toast” to your very funny article – Okole maluna. It is Hawaiian and it means “bottoms up.”

Anna

This post made me laugh- thank you! There is so much content here that describes in detail how our ‘butts’ work and what they do. Turning the glutes on in backbends is so important for maintaining integrity in our pelvis and spine. I avoided backbends for years because I was so confused about the right way to do them, where my focus should be and the intensity of them. Now, I can find much more thoracic flexion, and it feels amazing!

Amie Alapeteri

Love your blog! Enjoyable, educational, and Witty! I totally agree about the glutes. Seeing those “bums” every day that have definitely lost their “Friday night” appeal. You inspire me to educate about the glutes even more. If you don’t use it, you definitely lose it! Namaste! 🙂

Catherine

Bien intéressant! J’ai moi même souvent entendue de professeur de yoga de relâcher les fessiers dans les backbends, ce qui m’avait grandement surpris suite à ma formation en danse où j’avais appris à engager mes fessiers. Je trouve dommage qu’il y ait un si grand manque de connaissance du fonctionnement du corps humain (anatomie), c’est toute une rééducation que nous avons à faire ou a donner. Merci pour les spécifications des fonctions de chaque fessiers, ça aide à mieux comprendre l’importance de les garder actif et en santé.

Lee

Love the notion of keeping the butt fluffy and strong and that YTU recognises the importance of strength and flexibility, providing a range of exercises (assessments) to invoke proprioception (of any weaknesses, strengths – misused, overused, underused, confused, abused muscles) so individuals can find their own healthy balance choosing from the YTU exercise library to strengthen any weakness in the chain, and YTU balls to roll out any tension or useless scar tissue impeding healthy movement to give people best chance of creating healthy movement patterns.

Bob

It’s all about da bass, da bass! I Totally agree to make space in the low back prior to back bends you definitely have to use your glutes. The best Salabasana A I can acheive is with a block squeezed between the thighs, activating gluteals and trying to push the block into the ground with some external rotation of the thighs. Without the glutes there is no posterior tilt of the pelvis to relieve the natural extention in the lumbar spine before lifting and extending evenly through the whole spine into the poses.

Olga

I liked the connection you mentioned between weak buts and lower back pain. And i really like the cue to squeeze a block between thighs to activate the gluts during back bends. i use it all the time

Lynn

I have been thinking about it this way….activate the inner thighs first, then the flutes. For me this seems to allow me to fire the smaller inner thighs before thy get “swamped” by the powerful glutes. Get the space(from inner thighs) then stabilize with glutes. Thank you!

Alison Pignolet

Great survey of the importance of the Glutes. I had one yoga teacher, in response to the question about firing your glutes in Bridge pose ask “why wouldn’t you use one of the strongest muscles in your body to move one of the heaviest parts of your body against gravity?”. It made so much sense! You are right, retire that notion!

Olga

Thank you for sharing. I’ve also heard about relaxing the glutes during backbend from some of my yoga teachers. But after reading Katy Bowman’s and Jill Miller’s books i have more understanding about glutes activation importance.

Elise Fabricant

Thanks for this “humerus” piece the part of the body that is more often the “butt” of jokes than skillfully written about. And thank you, too, for reminding me on the interesting dual action of the gluteus medius. I had forgotten that it both internally AND externally rotates the hip. Now I’m curious about which other muscles are also so multi-talented?

Julie Thomas

Terry, always nice to read about “butt matter the most”. Truly find insightful to know that the little Gluteus minimus actually perform the opposite actions of the big papa bear Maximus Gluteus. What a great team team of hip stabilizers. I was introduce to The Tubular Core pose today and learned how it stabilizes the spine. While in the pose we also had to do some isometric “pretend” hip Extension, flexion,and external and internal hip rotation to activate the whole nine yard. I felt my “okole ” which is the Hawaiian addition to your list. Great article!

Melinda

Hi Terry – Have been working on my squats for about a year now and am definitely seeing the results in my glutes. My “day job” has me sitting at a desk for long hours and I lobbied to have the company purchase adjustable desks so that we could work standing up. Here’s to fluffy and strong tushies all around! 🙂

Kristin

Thank you for this, I just had someone in a yoga class tell me that I should not use my gluteus because I would not be able to internally rotate my legs. THinking about the fact that the glut extends, it seems strange to me that we should “turn it off” in a position that seems to require it to be on to support the low spine