Gluteal amnesia. Dormant butt. Dead butt. All of these names are just another way of saying that your glute muscles aren’t firing as much or when they need to, potentially causing low back pain and lower body tension.
Our gluteus maximus muscles are the largest and one of the most powerful muscles in our body. They are key to hip stability, jumping, and standing from bending. Our glute max muscles are what allow us to maintain upright standing and are therefore a key to posture. It’s fair to say that, physiologically, are glutes are a distinctive part of what makes us Homo sapien.
You can probably guess how important proper glute function is for overall body function. Testing for proper glute activation is simple. Lie flat on your back and squeeze your butt. Hold for 10 seconds. If you glutes are activating, you will feel your pelvis lift toward the ceiling and your toes turn out slightly. The hold should be even. As with all stretches and exercises, make sure you continue to breathe. If you are able to accomplish all of this, congratulations! Your butt is wide awake and fully functioning!
But if your contraction doesn’t feel like described, then your butt might be taking a bit of a nap. Your body is pretty ingeneus and will make sure that you can continue moving in your daily life by recruiting other muscles to help out. It’s these compensations that typically produce the low back pain, hip pain, and hamstring tightness that are typical complaints of someone with gluteal amnesia. Here are the common compensation patterns you might be seeing and how to fix them.
Short or Uneven Hold
Holding the contractions for at least ten seconds speaks to your gluteal endurance. If one glute is deflating before the other or you are struggling to get to that 10 second mark, you could benefit from some glute strengthening. Do lunges on just the side that is letting go first if you’re hold is uneven, squats or lunges on both sides if you need an overall boost.
A sign that your hamstrings are activating during this exercise is bending knees. Though your hams - specifically your biceps femoris or the hamstring muscle that is located closest to the outside or your leg - do assist your glutes in leg extension, this contraction does not require that assistance. If they’re stepping in here, they are working too hard. Stretch your hamstrings and practice consciously allowing your hamstrings to remain relaxed as you attempt the exercise again.
Toes Turn Inward
Glute max assists in external leg rotation. That’s why your toes turn outward with glute contraction. When they point toward the center, it signals that your adductors are activating. Stretching your adductors and consciously relaxing them will help you to focus your contraction in your glutes.
Your back should remain flat as you perform this exercise. One of two muscle groups could be stepping in: either your lumbar erectors or your hip flexors. Practice the glute contraction with your knees bent and feet flat. This will help to retrain your nervous system to allow your back to remain relaxed if it is your lumbar that is helping out and will prevent your hip flexors from contracting if they are the compensating group until your glutes are strong enough to work without the assistance.
Bonus! It is extraordinarily common for your glutes to kick in to assist with pelvic floor contraction. The same can happen in reverse. We want to make sure that your pelvic floor stays relaxed, so bring your consciousness into your pelvis as you gluteal contract to check if you are kegeling. If you are, make sure that you are continuing to breathe. Your respiratory diaphragm and pelvic diaphragm work together and breathing will help you to maintain normal pelvic floor function as you work your glutes. If still notice tension, work on your reverse kegels or complete pelvic floor relaxation before you return to glute engagement. Where are your glutes on the activation scale? Are they completely knocked out or ready for action? Somewhere in between? Which of these tips helped you the most? Let me know in the comments! And remember to share with a friend!