Perhaps Sir Mix-A-Lot could see the future when he recorded his song "Baby Got Back" in 1992. King of the Butt, Sir Mix started a revolution of loving a lady who was "little in the middle" but whose "got much back." And though celebrated through hip-hop song in the 90s, the Booty has had a revival recently. Music celebrates it, jeans flaunt it, and Fitspo (the name of fitness inspiration in social media) can't post enough of it. There is no denying that the bum is back and in a big way (pun intended.) But beyond the aesthetics of the derrière, it's key role in the movement of the body can't be--and shouldn't be--ignored and it's here where we get the revival of the booty in a different and much more functional way...
That athlete above is track and field European and world champion and Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill. She is a heptathlete which means she competes in seven--yes, seven--track and field events. I first saw her when I was in London during the summer Olympics of 2012 and I just fell in love with the physique of the sprinter/heptathlete. I always admired it before but seeing these athletes' bodies performing like a finely tune machine is always inspiring to me....but I guess that is also the field that I am in too. One of the things I love about sprinters, aside from their sculpted arms and chiseled abs are their legs and glutes. Strong glutes are essential not only to better athletic performance but better overall movement. Those with well-developed gluteal muscles have lower incidence of low-back and knee pain, faster sprints, better movement patterns in their lifts as well as safer and stronger workouts. The gluteus maximus happens to be the largest muscle in your body and is the main muscle for locomotion. We, as human beings, were meant to have big, strong butts although the average human being has below average glute strength. How can this be?
I'm going to first rewind many a year back to our paleolithic ancestors and remind us all of the tasks they needed to carry out on a daily basis: walking, running, climbing, hunting, foraging, digging, bending, lifting, etc. From an evolutionary/natural selection standpoint, certain muscles, particularly the glutes, had to be strong, in order to survive. I could spend an entire article talking about ancient movement patterns, and many articles have been written about it, and this one is a particularly good one if that topic interests you, but I want to focus more on how this applies to us in the modern day. Fast forward us now to the technology age---------> Computers. Phones. Tablets. We sit on our butts so much now that they might be bigger, but not in the way we would like them to be! We now suffer from Flat Butt Syndrome. Aesthetically, it is not pleasing to the eye but show me someone with atrophied glutes and I'll show you someone who most likely has low back problems, an anteriorly tilted pelvis, poor movement patterns, hip and/or knee pain, and a generally weaker posterior chain (the backside of your body) These are things that can affect your health. So when someone like myself asks you to attempt a squat, your body will do whatever it needs to do to compensate for your glutes not activating properly, putting undue stress in the wrong areas (anyone feel knee pain in squats?)
Bret Contreras, CSCS, also known as The Glute Guy, has written a spectacular article that I have shared with some of my current clients with glute imbalances and he chalks imbalances up to three main reasons:
1. Asymmetrical human nature--daily movements, unilateral sports and athletic patterns.
2. Inactivity--sitting on our butts too long! We need to use it or we lose it!
3. Pain, prior injury and structural issues--basically, if you've been injured or experienced pain from the lower back down, your nervous system automatically inhibits your glutes in order to slow you down and allow for recovery and healing (remember me saying that the gluteus maximus was a main locomotive muscle?) Cool from a "the body is such an amazing machine" standpoint but not so great from a standpoint of "imbalance and now we need to correct it."
So what can you do about it? How do we correct this?
Well, if you're not already working with a strength coach or trainer to help identify your specific muscular imbalances, you can still do a couple of self-tests to see where you stand in all of this. Get in an elbow plank position on your forearms (top) and then lift the heel towards the ceiling (bottom):
Do this for each side. Does one leg feel easier to lift? Is there one side that doesn't like to participate? You can even poke the bum on the lifting side: is it flabby? (ignore any layer of body fat. If the muscle is activating, you'll still feel it tighten up) Poke the top and the underside, you might feel some differences. If there is one side that is flabby, less engaged, harder to lift, then that is your weaker side. If you have a previous injury, it will most likely be that same side you injured. For example, one of my soccer kids had an ACL injury. Her weaker glute is the left side--same side as her injury. If you don't feel one side over the other, it doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have an imbalance or under active glutes. If you're inactive, your butt is too. And even if you are not sitting on your keister all day everyday, if you're not actively working the glutes multiple times throughout your week, you still probably have imbalanced and/or atrophied bum muscles.
In order to correct an imbalance, figure out which side is your weaker one and then perform these corrective exercises from The Glute Guy, Bret Contreras himself:
*10 sets of 3 second maximum contractions (aka squeeze your cheek) with the weaker glute in a standing position
*10 sets of 3 second maximum contractions with the weaker glute in a sitting position
*10 sets of 3 second maximum contractions with the weaker glute in a prone position (lying on your stomach, your knee will be bent and you'll go from resting on the floor to lifting the knee off the floor; see below)
After those sets of isoholds, you'll next perform 2 sets of 10--20 reps of bodyweight drills:
Side-lying leg Abduction (or as I call it, The Jane Fonda):
Side lying Clam--make sure you're squeezing the glutes back so it's actually working and not just opening and closing your knees:
Quadruped Hip Extension (pulsing the foot up towards the ceiling):
Single leg glute bridges, the weaker leg is the one that will be on the floor:
You can perform the isoholds multiple times throughout the day and the bodyweight drills 5 to 7 days a week but when it comes to your regular workout, you'll want to work unilateral exercises with a low to medium load at a ratio of 2:1. For example, if you're doing a step-up onto a bench or stepper, you'll do 2 sets on the weaker side for every 1 that you do on the stronger side. For more on glute imbalances and how to correct them, check out the great article from Bret Contreras that breaks it down (articles and their direct links found in the sources listed below).
2014 might have been the Year of the Booty and it shows no signs of slowing down in 2015! Get it right with these glute correcting exercises and get it tight with squats, hip thrusters, bridges, deadlifts, split squats and other glute targeting exercises. Your body will thank you for helping to improve its functionality and you'll also cure your Flat Butt Syndrome ;-)
1. "The Evolution of the Gluteus Maximus" by Eirik Garnas.
www.organicfitness.com. February 6th, 2015
2. "How to Fix Glute Imbalances" by Bret Contreras, CSCS.
www.bretcontreras.com. January 12th, 2013.
3. "The 2-1 Method for Fixing Glute Imbalances." by Bret Contreras, CSCS.
www.bretcontreras.com. January 10th, 2015.