Strong Glutes and Why They Are Important
Hello and welcome to this week’s blog. It has been about strong glutes in the last few weeks in clinic, those, and necks, and I suspect it has been because we have all spent a hell of a lot more time sitting down and looking down.
Anatomy first, your glutes are made up of three large muscles:
Gluteus Maximus; originates on the posterolateral aspect of the sacrum and coccyx, the gluteal surface of the ilium, thoracolumbar fascia and gluteal aponeurosis (yes that’s a wide starting point) and inserts to the greater trochanter of the femur and the Iliotibial Band.
Gluteus Medius; originates on the anterior gluteal surface of the ilium, the gluteal aponeurosis and inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur.
Gluteus Minimus; originates on the gluteal surface of the ilium and inserts on the anterolateral aspect of the greater trochanter.
As you can see from the descriptions of the origin sites, the glutes have a large area they begin from, but all insert, that is attach, to a much smaller area in the top of the thigh. Your glutes are responsible for correct pelvic alignment, running propulsion, single leg standing support and they also support your lower back during lifting and prevent knee injuries during running and lifting.
Wow, that is a lot of work for the glutes to do, and it is the reason I nearly always massage the glute muscles in clinic because of their importance to both the upper and lower body. They are right there at the hinge of the body and aid you in standing up from bending over, and they are fantastic at cushioning you when you sit down, they are the largest muscle in the body, after all.
And we must not forget the deeper muscles that lay beneath the glute muscles, which frequently impact the glutes and how they operate; Piriformis, Superior Gemellus, Inferior Gemellus, Obturator Internus, Obturator Externus, and Quadratus Femoris. But they are subjects for another blog, another time.
Strong or Weak Glutes?
To be honest, this can get a little misleading right now, because I am talking about strong glutes and they were such a buzzword workout a few years ago, leading to people ‘cheating’ their way to stronger looking glutes by wearing enhancing leggings, and in extreme cases, surgery. The reason I say it is misleading, is because it is so easy to become focused on just one body part, thinking that it is the key to better overall fitness. It is not. This article is about glutes, but please do not forget that you need to have a strong whole body, because one strong link in a weak chain means that the whole chain is weak.
And talking of weakness, glutes are susceptible to weakness due to our propensity to sitting down to work, I am sitting right now to write this, as well as sitting for leisure and pleasure, such as watching a film or sitting and travelling to eat dinner out… sitting down.
So, glutes need to be thought about and worked out to be strong, but not to the detriment of the other muscles in the body. They need to be strong to support all the other activities you like to do, as I said in the previous paragraph, they aid running propulsion, and if you slow down running, what other propulsion are they aiding? Yep, walking. They also support you when you stand on one leg, and what happens to each leg during walking. You’ve got it, standing on one leg.
How can you tell if your glutes are either weak, or strong? What about if they are simply need activating?
Weak glutes could lead to back ache, hamstring aches or tightness, quad aches, hips aches, knee aches…
Strong glutes could also lead to the above, if you are overworking yourself, so how do you tell?
Generally, if you are regularly lifting weight which challenges your glutes, and you can feel them contracting during those exercises, you have strong glutes.
Ever heard of activating your glutes? I have spoken about it before with clients, but it is a phrase, a terminology, that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Glutes are never truly asleep, or ‘inactivated’, because like all muscles, they have a job to do and they do it. Sometimes they do it inefficiently and so some of the load of their job can shift to other muscles nearby, leading to aches and injuries there. Think of lower back aches when working out, of hamstrings and quads that tire more quickly than you expect them, that lower back niggle when you go for a long walk.
A great primer exercise for your glutes, right before you challenge them to some heavy duty lifting, is either lighter lifting with a focus on squeezing your glutes together to aid the lift, or some banded side steps with the band around the balls of your feet. Don’t fancy that? Body weight squats will do the trick just as well. Warm up the body part needed for the exercise to get the most out of it.
Squats and Deadlifts
The two most popular glute exercises. Ages old and still the go to for many people for one exceptionally good reason; when done well, they work.
Glutes are particularly great at the heavy lifts, the big weights on the barbell, the sense of achievement once completed, the hypertrophy effect on them. But it does not mean you have to lift big to get big results. Small weights, lifted repetitively, work just as well. Choose what you are comfortable with and go do it.
If you are a beginner to exercise, it is always a good idea to have a trainer led session to nail good form on heavy lifts, and to protect yourself from injury. And if you are not a beginner to exercise, but having problems, a refresher session with a trainer could stand you in good stead.
When it is Not the Glutes Being Tricky?
So, you think that your glutes are fine, you are working them out regularly, but something still does not feel right. Maybe it is one of the deeper gluteal region muscles I mentioned earlier, the piriformis being the number one culprit of many a discomfort. This muscle originates from the anterior sacrum and sacroiliac joint and inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur. Well, isn’t that greater trochanter a busy little area? Remember that all the gluteal muscles also have insertions there too? It is no wonder then that this can be a hot spot for things not feeling right. A deep tissue massage to the glutes can usually help relieve muscle tightness or reveal a weakness not previously considered, so maybe it is time to speak with a professional to work out what is happening.
Can stretching help? Yes… and no. Stretching is considered by some to be ineffective and it is a long-standing worldwide debate as to the reasons why. The main reason being is that it is considered impossible to stretch a muscle longer than it is designed to be. In my opinion though, what stretching can do for you, is to unfurl tightened areas and bring the muscle back to where it belongs, length wise. I am not going further into the debate now, maybe in a future blog.
Stretching the glutes is very quick and easy, Google it for yourself and see which images come up, and I guarantee that the one which has you sitting on a chair, with one ankle over the other knee and leaning forward will be there. I posted a picture about it on my own Facebook page this week. Take a look, give it a go, see if it brings you any relief.
Another option is to use a soft tennis ball, place it under the softest part of the glute when sitting down, and rock about slightly to get a good compression into the muscle. Stop if it hurts and only do for a few minutes at a time.
For taking time out of your day to read this, and if you are at all unsure about your glutes and whether they are the reason for how you are feeling, please do get in touch with me here.
See you soon,