Sir MixaLot and I have a lot of things in common, well, maybe only this one thing: We like Big Butts. And maybe even that isn’t completely true – what I like is STRONG butts.
In today’s day and age, we have a tendency to sit a lot, stand not much, and exercise even less. This leads to what science-y folk call (not kidding) Gluteal Amnesia. Dr. Stuart McGill explains it thusly: “People with troubled backs, generally walk, sit, stand and lift using mechanics that increase the back loads. They tend to have more motion in their back and less motion in their hips. A common aberrant motor pattern known as gluteal amnesia ” in his article: “Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention”, Strength and Conditioning Journal. The hip flexors become tight from all of our time seated and/or from poor training and their antagonists, the glutes tend to get left out and become weak and inhibited. So, we’re really overworked on one side of the joint, and really limited on the other – this does not sound like a plan for successful movement to me. Ignoring our glutes forces other body parts to do the work that the glutes should be doing, which can often result in pain or injury, not to mention poor performance. In layman’s terms, your ass is lazy.
Strong gluteal muscles are a huge benefit in derby. Says Suzy Hotrod, “My leaguemate told me that getting hit with my ass hurt like being beaten with a rolling pin. I blushed.” In the Bodies Issue of ESPN, she went on, “I like that I have a strong rear end — you can hit people with it, play defense with it, and you don’t hurt your tailbone when you fall. It’s really an “ass-et” in roller derby. It’s kind of like being tall in basketball.”
And, let’s be honest, we all appreciate a nice looking back end.
We have every reason to spend some time on our hind, so let’s get to it.
First, the anatomy. The gluteal muscles are comprised of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
Bret Contreras, The Glute Guy, might know more about your butt than anyone – here’s how he explains the mechanics: The gluteus maximus has the potential to be one of the most powerful muscles in the body. It accelerates hip extension, hip external rotation, and hip abduction. Eccentrically, it decelerates hip flexion, hip internal rotation, and hip adduction. Gluteus maximus also helps to stabilize the knee via the iliotibial (IT) band and the sacroiliac joint via the latissimus dorsi and sacrotuberous ligament.
Your main hip extensors are the gluteus maximus, the hamstring part of the adductor magnus, and the hamstrings.
The other gluteal muscles, glute med and glute min, abduct the thigh (pull it away from the midline of the body). When you walk, they work with the TFL to keep the pelvis from dropping away to the opposite side. Super important. They also aid in hip rotation.
Why do we forget our posterior chain? And why does it forget about us? Well, the body will strengthen the patterns it finds itself in most commonly. Most of us who are desk-bound or driving all day, are sending signals to our body that say ‘this is where I want to be – let’s load this pattern up’. Our hip flexors tighten and our glutes turn off.
The best way to combat gluteal amnesia is with gluteal mindfulness – exercises targeted at strengthening the glutes and working on our daily movement patterns so that the glutes get involved. Here’s how:
Your butt needs variety. Hit it from a number of different angles, using different loading strategies.
First, relax those hip flexors, let the glutes do their job. Foam Rolling will go a long way to help, it’ll improve your soft tissue quality and allow for improved flexiblity. Do some static stretching, some dynamic mobility – looking at hips, ankles and thoracic spine, as well as some core stability work. Don’t forget some glute activation drills like the glute bridge, quadruped hip extension, and side lying clam to make sure your butt is awake before you work it out.
As far as exercise selection goes, your best bet is to keep it simple and focus on form. Make sure you are actually feeling your glutes – poke them, prod them, keep them turned on. Start with bodyweight before progressing to loaded movements. The drills that you use as activation can be powerful exercises too – add a band to the extension or clam, weight up the bridge or do it with one leg. Here are some ideas to get you going:
Abduction, External Rotation: Standing Band External Rotation
Quad-Dominant Hip Extension: Box Squat
Hip-Dominant Hip Extension: Romanian Deadlift
Bent-Leg Hip Extension: Hip Thrust
Hybrid Exercises: Sled Pushes (this lady is totally boss)
If you want to put it all together, here’s my personal glute inspiration, Kellie Davis, showing us how it’s done – she does a circuit of squats, deadlifts, high step ups, hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, back extensions, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and Skorcher single leg hip thrusts.
Not every training session has to be a glute session, but every session should include some mindfulness of what your glutes are doing. Don’t neglect them, or they will get lazy and forget about you. And nobody wants a lazy ass.