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.)

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body.

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!

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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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Thanks Ariana, this is a great hint to the Gluteus and the question of whether to squeeze or not. I was surprised to read that Crossfit trainers advise to engage the GM all the time. And being a Yoga teacher myself I initially think of the same questions that you pose… 😉 I learned, though, too, that most of us make far too little use of the Gluteus maximus as the biggest muscle in the body. And using it would probable help many other muscles that we use in substitution of the Gluteus (such as the Piriformis, for example) to… Read more »

jan hollander

Very good article,and I now it from all the ballet dancers doing yoga thus having flexibility but no strength this was iyanger yoga I did ten years ago so a good point.
And I love Kelly he is great

Louise Legouis

Thanks for a good discussion. I’ve been waking up my GM a lot more in my practice lately and find many advantages including more hip stability and better knee alignment.

Haley Bevers

I had no idea! A glute squeeze to lift the inner arches of the feet! How fun! I might have to check into the book you mentioned. Thanks!


A thoughtful consideration of the effects of always engaging the glutes. It’s great that you explored this broadly and with an open mind. It can be easy to become indoctrinated into one movement modality’s point of view. I love that you felt the need to cross-polinate!


Thank you for addressing the myth that many yoga instructors are still perpetuating that you should relax the glutes during various poses, particularly backbends. And thank you again for not agreeing to blindly follow a purporter of the opposite extreme. I have only recently become acquainted with anatomy, but understand enough to know that (correct) engagement of the glutes is likely needed much of the time for strength and stability, but that a variety of movements and contractions are needed for a balanced body. I do find myself contracting my buttocks while standing to find buoyancy and length in the… Read more »


thank you, I’ve often thought that yoga instructors offer too much release in the GM, I’m glad to hear about more engagement.

Evelyne Linder

Flying over to the next post since I have been doing what Kelly Starret says… didn’t even think about the extra external rotation. Glad I ran into your post!


I’ve been plagued with hyper mobility for the better part of my yoga life. I’m now in my mid 60’s and had developed a lot of issues from that. For YEARS I heard cues to release the gluteus, particularly in backbends. When I started to work with a yoga therapist we discussed this. Particularly because he makes me do glute strengtheners all the time. What a difference it’s made in my overall strength and integration. So much less pain.
Thanks to drawing attention to this. Every time I hear the cue to release in a backbends it talkies to the hand!

Heidi Schaul-Yoder

Having just begun some strength training in addition to yoga myself, I’ve had the same exact query, and this was a wonderful examination of the issue! Thanks!

Jennifer Whalen

Thanks for the post Ariana. I too wonder what the perfect balance is when it comes to engaging my gluteus maximus muscle. I have extremely limited external rotation in my hips, so training my GM to engage during poses is important (and difficult for me!). But is the saying “too much of a good thing” something I should keep in mind?


Hello Ariana, thanks for the post on GM. I have noticed everyone who walks into my private Pilates practice these days has trouble engaging the glutes. Even my husband, who I recently started teaching and is already pretty fit, is struggling with strength as well as simple proprioception in this area. Certainly interesting to note. I personally have found skillfully engaging my gluteus muscles in different ways is the one of the foundations of all my standing and balance work and wonder how people do these poses without it! Bodies are amazing. I am inspired to try the YTU therapy… Read more »

Nancy Neuenhagen

To relax or not relax. You have referenced Kelly Starrett. I believe that he recommends squeezing you glutes to set your pelvis before engaging your abdominal muscles to brace your spine. It is important to maintain a degree of bracing contraction in your abdominals but once your pelvis is set you can relax you gluten.


I wonder if the push for GM contraction in the Crossfit world is because so many people come to Crossfit never having properly used their GM for anything before. Or have spent the past X years of their life sitting in a chair at a desk, never activating their GM for more than the few seconds it takes to get up and sit down, and maybe not even really then. Because so much of what is done in Crossfit requires active participation of the GM, the reminder to activate that muscle might serve as a way for coaches to bring… Read more »

Sandy Ahlensdorf

Ariana it is an excellent point and a solid reminder that even squeezing the glutes and creating torque can become too much if we do it all the time. Diversity in movement! Turn the glutes on, create torque, and lift. Then go to a Yoga Tune Up class to learn to roll out your glutes and fire them in different directions (Half Moon Risers anyone!?)! Thanks for the article!


Activation of gluts is very important for stabilizing the pelvis during walking or running, it removes some pressure from lower back and knees. I dont think that it can have negative effect as we spend most of our times in hips flexion when gluts are stretched and as the result weakened


Very interesting and something for me to ponder and chew upon!

Elise Fabricant

Thanks for this! I’m also a long-time yogi and teacher who needs to strengthen and is intrigued by crossfit (and the glutes!). I’m sitting at cafe counter typing this and contracting Gluteus Maximus. Now I need to start cueing this a bit more in my yoga classes. Cheers!


Hi Jessica,
I agree with you about Crossfit. I had a great teacher/coach for a while. He knew what he was talking about. But then another coach started running my classes and it was a disaster. I think it depends on who is teaching and leading the classes. Faster, harder, heavier is not better!


Wow, Ariana, I have had exactly the same question–as a yoga teacher in NYC who recently decided to give Crossfit a try–and was so startled by all the “squeeze your butt, squeeze your glutes” they’ve got going on. Thanks for pointing to Muscolino’s take 🙂
(Are you still doing Crossfit? I feel like it’s a little…extreme…and I have this vision of some sort of future fitness regime that brings a yoga mindset to intensive strength and cardio…)


I fascinated by the IT band these days, as it is such a powerful muscle. It is responsible for making and breaking athletic careers, etc. Flexing the hip, and tilting the pelvis activates and protects this muscle when hiking, biking, and other activities.

Aubrey Heinemann

I am currently in the Level I Training and I absolutely love the reminder from Maura Barclay that it’s imperative to engage your glute muscles while in a back bend, like bridge. The glutes help to stabilize the low back. I do like the different exercises that were posted here. I also work on being able to engage one glute at a time with my students so they can fell under their own hands what muscles are doing what.


Very interesting topic, Ariana. Thanks for sharing! I too am a yogi who has always been on the “too flexible” side of the coin. I also have a tendency toward Lordosis and “flat feet”. Over years of practice, I have learned — and am constantly acquiring new tools to work toward mitigating these imbalances in my body through mindful muscular engagement. For my body, firing the gm helps me to drop my tailbone and lengthen my low back, decreasing my overly curvy Lordotic curve. This action also helps me to root into the outer edges of my feet. If I… Read more »

Cindy Runzer

I too have wondered about the gluteus maximus, having heard conflicting views on when to squeeze and when not to. One of my favourite YTU teachers often (ok, always) talks about strengthening the glutes and incorporates many poses into his sequences for that purpose. I thank him for raising my awareness of the need for a strong ‘yogi butt’!

Ayla Barker

Thanks for this information! I have a very bendy back and tendency to anteriorly tilt my pelvis, so glute activation and nipping in the ribs, tucking the pelvis under are always my corrections. However, I also walk with externally rotated hips and feet which I am also working on to make more parallel. Its good to know that all of my glute activation will not counter act my work on internal rotation if my feet are planted.

Alex Booth

I believe Kelly says to ensure minor activation of the glutes (I know he says you should maintain 20% for your abs). When you’re moving loads like they say you definitely want to engage your GM. It makes you stronger! A cool test you can do is have your glutes de-activated. Squeeze something or someones hand. Then squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. Do you notice a difference in your grip strength?

Christine Colonna

Great post! Glut max strength is so important for healthy backs and knees. We spend so much time sitting on them that most people have forgotten how to activate them, great cue to keep them contracted with all activities!

Gina Decker

Thank you for the information. I do try to keep my buttocks unclenched but they like to get involved so I allow some contraction.
I did try standing and isolating the movement of clenching without a lot of hamstrings and could feel my arches lift. I can’t wait to try this on my flat footed friends.



Yeah I love seeing the arches lift when I engage my glutes. That is a nice nuanced explanation of gluteal engagement that your PT gave you. Might be hard for people who don’t have a lot of kinesthetic awareness, but it works for me! Thanks for sharing.


Barbie Levasseur

I had the same experience: I was doing exclusively yoga and got a little too floppy. I used to do a lot of fitness, and yoga gave me this amazing, yummy, euphoric feeling. Now that I do mostly yoga, stretching doesn’t do much for me, but a little a set of clam shells (glutes stengthening) feels amazing and even sometimes gives me that same “ahhhh,,,,” feeling that yoga used to. There usually a happy medium somewhere between the extremes between relaxed and clenched, and I’m still exploring for that point!


I have been playing with these ideas since reading your article and experienced the lift of the inner arches! Great advice for helping a student with flat feet. I recently had a Yogi PT describe the engagement of the glutes as follows: “Think about engaging the outer to center of the glute muscle and keeping the most inner part of the glutes relaxed.” This made sense to me and thus I thought to share it. It’s easiest to try to identify in poses such as Bridge.


I believe your theory is correct. Although it is probably the case that if you stood with your feet fixed and continually squeezed your butt cheeks, (although you may look silly), you probably won’t develop any significant external rotation. But if you engage in activities such as kickboxing or Bootcamp type training with dynamic lateral/squatting movements you very probably could develop a muscular imbalance favoring external rotation.

Lori Gunnell

I like that you are not just presenting answers about the GM, but also asking thought provoking questions. This piece was well written and makes me want to study this big muscle more. Thanks!


This is good information. I feel that I have weak glutes, and have heard this theory of contracting them whenever you think of it, as much as possible. I’ll look forward to finding out whether this is a good plan of action.


I love this article!! I have been playing with this in my own yoga practice. The problem is differentiating between GM clenching and activating. I do know that in my own experience, activating my GM with a slight posterior tilt helps me lift my sternum which helps me into better extension which is the point of back bending. Thoughts?


Great questions raised here! I have been dealing with the gluteus maximus contraction for a while now as I have a more than normal anterior pelvic tilt, which I am working to correct on an ongoing base. However, I cannot posteriorly tilt without contracting the GM. It required too much contraction at the beginning and I would be able to do it only statically. I have reached a point where I can walk maintaining a neutral pelvis alignment with a reduced amount of GM contraction. I am not able yet (if possible) to do that without engaging the GM and… Read more »

Pat Donaher

There are plenty of yoga teachers who discourage students from engaging their glutes in backbends. My own theory- teachers were trying to avoid that “butt clench” that people associate with elimination activity, which certainly isn’t helping much in a yoga pose. But this approach throws the baby out with the bathwater, as Jill and Kelly and others have certainly talked about, and in my body these cues led to painful back bending . I had a teacher recently cue glute activation (I’m paraphrasing) by thinking less of a pinch or squeeze, but rather broad contraction across the butt. I haven’t… Read more »


This is a really interesting article to me. I’ve always been flat footed, pigeon-toed, and weak in the glutes. I can’t help but to think all of these things are linked. My lack of contraction in general (standing, sitting, working out, yoga) of the glutes is clearly not helping to reverse my flat arches. I also have a slight anterior tilt of the pelvis when I’m standing. It sounds like engaging my glutes more often will help to neutralize that pelvic tilt as well. All of this could contribute to my very tight hips. Therefore, I think that building strength… Read more »


This is a really interesting article to me. I’ve always been flat footed, pigeon-toed, and weak in the glutes. I can’t help but to think all of these things are linked. My lack of contraction in general (standing, sitting, working out, yoga) of the glutes is clearly not helping to reverse my flat arches. I also have a slight anterior tilt of the pelvis when I’m standing. It sounds like engaging my glutes more often will help to neutralize that pelvic tilt as well. All of this could contribute to my very tight hips. Therefore, I think that building strength… Read more »


This is a really interesting article to me. I’ve always been flat footed, pigeon-toed, and weak in the glutes. I can’t help but to think all of these things are linked. My lack of contraction in general (standing, sitting, working out, yoga) of the glutes is clearly not helping to reverse my flat arches. I also have a slight anterior tilt of the pelvis when I’m standing. It sounds like engaging my glutes more often will help to neutralize that pelvic tilt as well. All of this could contribute to my very tight hips. Therefore, I think that building strength… Read more »


My experience is similar. This past year for me has been stepping outside of the traditional yoga world, like to the world of YTU and Crossfit (Jill’s and Kelly’s brilliance has blown me away) to learn more about human movement. I also discovered my glute group after being told to soften my butt for so long in yoga class (especially during backbends argh!). Wow…I feel so strong and connected from my hips to my feet, as i walk, stand or hold warrior 2. Like anything, too much is not good but consciously training glutes and understanding when to turn them… Read more »


I think a reason why the glut max is not being engaged in Yoga is that in so many people the hamstrings fire before the gluts and take on the works of the gluts. Some simple verbal cueing can get people to focus more on the firing of the gluts and volia people will be happier!


In my experience, the action of the glutes would be balanced by the adductors while the pelvis stabilizes via transverse abdominals. Answers to these types of questions are rarely static and simple, Usually quite dynamic, even subtlety complex and elegant. The body is amazing.


HUGE fan of Kelly as well. Love this blog. Keeping a healthy, strong GM continues to bring benefits in both my yoga practice and in my gym time. It’s a HUGE muscle and it really is such a key part of so many movements. Having a strong GM is also important in backbends which sometimes gets forgotten. Thanks for this!

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Helen McAvoy

Love this article….especially having been a dance -fitness instructor for 25 years…I know about the importance of those glutes …and I always keep a close eye and remind my students of proper alignment but maintaining a place of engagement within the gluteus. With dance positions and turn out and no turn out, it can effect posterior and anterior tilt and knee alignment. Thank you!!! 🙂


I have been noticing, since I started practicing yoga, that my lower back and all of my pelvic area is in need of attention. It seems to me, that sometimes I might be stretching too much to compensate for one side, in order to get some relief from this discomfort. “As I spend more time within my own body, I can start to see where the problem areas are. I have gained a lot insight, which has transferred into some pain relief, by attending the yoga tune class….Thank you!