That is the question!
When and if a yoga teacher tells you to contract your glutes, chances are they are referring to the gluteus maximus (GM). If you squeeze your butt, you are contracting this most superficial muscle in the gluteal group, also the largest muscle in the human body. It attaches from the posterior iliac crest, sacrum and the coccyx to the IT band and the femur. This large muscle extends, externally rotates and abducts the thigh at the hip joint. (The inferior fibers also adduct the thigh at the hip joint but that is not one of its primary functions.)
This year I drummed up the courage to start taking conditioning classes at my local Crossfit box (gym) with Eric Von Frohlich in NYC. What is a yoga teacher doing at Crossfit, you ask? Long story short – my yoga practice was not enough. I needed to cross-pollinate, mix it up and strengthen up. I was becoming too flexible in my joints and I needed some stability to balance myself out. I recently landed on Kelly Starrett ‘s MobilityWOD website. I respect a lot of what Kelly talks about in terms of biomechanics and optimal movement. He piqued my interest in Crossfit, so I decided to give it a try.
One of the things Kelly and my teacher Eric say is to engage the gluteus maximus all the time in a workout–when coming up from a squat, in a pushup position, when sitting, even when standing because it braces the pelvis and spine.
But like anything else, I wonder if too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. If you turn on your GM while standing all the time, couldn’t it create external rotation in the hips which would not be ideal in a neutral standing position? Can this create an imbalance in the body by increasing the resting tone in the GM while weakening the internal rotators or hip flexors? Can it cause unwanted posterior tilt in the pelvis due to the fixed thigh in standing?
I have not found the answers to all of my questions, but here is what I have uncovered so far. Dr. Joe Muscolino’s The Muscular System Manual addresses my question about the excessive external rotation in the thighs. He states that if a standing person pinches the buttocks together (contracts their GM) this does not cause lateral rotation at the hip joints, because the feet are fixed, and so the thighs cannot freely rotate laterally. This rotary force on the thighs is translated all the way down to the foot and actually ends up lifting the arches of the feet!
But what about the posterior tilt issue, you ask? Come back on Friday to find out Kelly Starrett’s response!