In Wednesday’s post, I wrote about creating contraction in the gluteus maximus (GM) at all times. In standing, this does not create external rotation, but what about posterior pelvic tilt?

In Becoming A Supple Leopard, Kelly Starrett maintains that it is possible to strongly contract the GM when standing without tilting the pelvis. It probably requires heightened body awareness and perhaps a glance in the mirror to make sure a pelvic tuck is not happening.

I think an occasional GM squeeze can be beneficial. Reestablishing that hip extension balances out all the sitting we tend to do in our daily lives, can lift the arches of the feet and stabilizes the pelvis and spine. However, I do not think it is beneficial to contract them constantly because the GM consists mostly of fast-twitch fibers, which are better at generating short bursts of strength. Contracting them all the time would cause muscle fatigue.

Here are two Yoga Tune Up® exercises that address the Gluteus Maximus. The first one strengthens and tones the GM while the second one provides a deep stretch. It is important to do both, because whatever you strengthen needs to be lengthened too!

1. Bridge Lifts Minivini contracts and tones the GM:

2. Asymmetrical Uttanasana stretches the GM:

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Ariana Rabinovitch

After 20 years of practicing yoga Ariana has come to believe that body-consciousness leads to self-healing and self-transformation. Ariana teaches a therapeutic style of yoga and often incorporates non-traditional yoga postures and exercises in order to strive for a balance between strength and flexibility. She brings her extensive knowledge of Anatomy and Kinesiology to the forefront of her teaching. She began with an Iyengar yoga program at Columbia University and since then has learned from a wide array of incredible teachers (including Jill Miller!) in order to get a well-rounded and diverse understanding of Yoga.

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Madi

I try to contract the GM strongly while sitting for maybe 60 seconds at a time, sporadically throughout a long session at my computer. I feel it helps me reset the SI joint and support the lumbar–so that I can check in with my posture and relieve a tiny bit of work from spinal support muscles and hip flexors. It also forces me to check in with my habitual anterior pelvic tilt–I tend to overcorrect for that lumbar flexion/slouching by over-shortening the hip flexors and slightly extending the lumbar, sitting forward on my sit bones (far away from my sacrum!),… Read more »

Katharina

I just read your last post and I am very happy that you give additional explanations and exercises to help with Gluteus contraction and correct alignment. So I guess I will squeeze my GM every now and then when standing and will pay attention to not getting too much into a posterior tilt of the pelvis. Sounds like a good plan.

michele

Thank you for the pose recommendations which are easy to incorporate into a daily practice!

Katrina Sukola

this a great reminder to pair strengthening with lengthening. When I sequence classes, sometimes I do this subconsciously, but I will bring more awareness to adding this to my own practice and teachings.

Tisha

Thanks for sharing this. After reading this blog and your first one, I think I don’t engage my GM enough and that’s probably why they are not strong. Perhaps I can try an experiment with myself to squeeze or engage them more often, but being mindful and aware as to not posteriorly tilt my pelvis. I love that I learned that contracting the GM while standing can actually raise the arches of the foot. This would be a great thing for me since I tend to pronate. Thanks for sharing the video on the GM strengthener. Will add this to… Read more »

Evelyne Linder

As a naturally anterior tilter I have found it very useful to engage GM while standing. I don’t do it all the time, just as a reminder here and there when I check on my posture.

Ilkay Kucuk

Thanks for highlighting that all the muscles that are strengthened also need to be lengthened as it is very easy to focus on strength and forget about flexibility.

Lita Remsen

Interesting post and several interesting follow up questions (I’d be intrigued to hear responses.) Anyway, I will definitely be more aware of engagement in this area; when it’s happening and when it’s not.

Christy

I often find my gluteals contracted when I’m standing and have wondered how that affects my pelvis and low back.

Melody

I enjoyed the floor hip extension that the “Bridge Lifts- Minivini” video offered, as a good counterbalance to our frequent position of sitting all day. The addition of the arms overhead felt great on my shoulders too. Opportunities to strengthen and tone my gluteus maximus are always welcome in small doses!

Claudia Blasimann

The reason why it is emphasized that much in CrossFit is because from an athletic point of view, it is a very powerful muscle, as it both extends and externally rotates the hip. So for example in all squat movements, it is not only needed to complete the exercise, but also to do it safely by not letting the knees fall in and possibly be damaged. With our sitting lifestyle, it tends to be too long and not strong enough, so bringing awareness to it and strengthening works good for most people. But I do agree with you that it… Read more »

Julia Lamm

Yes I would agree that we should not be contracting our GM all the time because that may cause tightness and since it is close to a sciatic nerve, it might spike piriformis syndrome. Activating GM for a bridge pose is a great idea.

Camille

I find that I squeeze my tush when I’m not even thinking about it at least when I’m standing. I’ve tried to turn off some of it but (no pun intended) it’s really hard to without completely letting go of a contraction to keep my hips, legs, and feet in a good position. Anybody got tips for me?? Let’s just say I have a real tight butt!

Elyse

I love all the information you provide. I admit, I don’t understand the concept of actively engaging muscles to create “posture” or alignment. If conditions are ideal, shouldn’t these muscles engage involuntarily? If conditions are not causing involuntary stabilization responses, isn’t the next step to address “Why?”. Most of my students grip their glutes all the time as part of an unconscious stress reaction. Learning to relax the butt (to be quite blunt about it) is needed. While voluntary engagement may be useful for specific asanas, I can only imagine the psychological and physical condition of someone who is constantly… Read more »

Veronica Dinehart

Thank you for pointing out the benefits of GM contracting and lengthening while not overstimulating and using the GM through constant use.

Ariana

Rosemary,

Good question! And I think it depends on the person. For your case it sounds like about 20% is what you needed to maintain stability in the back and hips and ankles. For some people it might be to engage less than they already do. I don’t agree with the Kelly Starrett and my Crossfit coach that one should engage the glutes all the time as hard as they possibly can. Glad that you were able to manage the pain with such a simple yet effective exercise! I love hearing solutions to pain like that.

Ariana

Rosemary

Ariana, Thank you for your post. I curious as to what constitutes “occasional” contraction. While life guarding, in which a rotation at my pool consisted of alternating between a seated and standing position every 5 min for 45 min per hour I found myself in a fair amount of pain. From my low back, up and around my hip, and all the way down my leg from outer hip to ankle I would experience discomfort ranging from mild to flaring. My body worker told my the 20% rule, maintain 20% glut engagement at all times. This dramatically shifted the amount… Read more »

Gennifer Morris

I have found that since I have increased my awareness of a slight GM squeeze that I have had less Psoas pain. I believe this is because I am starting in a good position and therefore my psoas are not always kicking in to pick up the slack. Great of you to research this to check if there is too much of a good thing.

Clare Chura

Thanks for providing abundant amounts of insight to this pose, Ariana! I always feel my glutes contracting while practicing bridge lifts, but it didn’t occur to me how much the arches of the feet are also affected. Another good counterpose is jithara parivartonasana 3. This lubricates the coxal joint after the extension and deep pelvic tilting experienced during bridge. It also softens and gently rolls out the glutes.

Nan Huson

I really appreciate the attention paid to strengthening the glutes, in light of all the sitting most people do all day. I am strongly in favor of strengthening the posterior chain, which tends to get lengthened, while the hip flexors (for example) are short and tight.

Wren

I love the videos, and the phrase “whatever you strengthen needs to be lengthened”. It’s so true and I often forget that those things should go hand in hand. I think the videos can help to balance out a GM that’s stuck in a seated position most of the day.

Elissa

I work standing on my feet all day and it can get pretty tiring, but as a dancer and yogi, I feel such a difference throughout the day in my lower back if I remind myself to contract my GM slightly. Like you noted it’s important not to clench the GM because of muscle fatigue or tucking.

Macala

I am loving the GM contracting/not contracting argument. I love how you put it. I believe GM engagement while not externally rotating but activating your adductors is a good way to go. Of course balancing it al out with stretching too.

Mado

Muscles are designed to contract AND relax. Contracting any muscle group indefinitely is probably not a good idea…

Kate Krumsiek

OOhhh! I love the new-to-me information about the GM being made up of mostly “fast-twitch fibers”. Not only does it explain a lot but provides a new path to study! Thank you, Ariana. 🙂