Your glutes help you to do just about everything. They help you run, walk, go up and down stairs, sit, stand, etc. If your legs are moving, your glutes should be working. Your glutes are central to your functioning, so when they are not doing their job, there can be major problems! Most of us sit on them all day while at work, leaving them in a stretched position; elongated and weak. Inhibited glutes can be the root cause of almost any problem associated with your lower body or low back and can even cause some issues with your upper body, but we will be sticking with lower body issues for the entirety of this blog. After reading this blog, you should be able to tell if you have weak or inhibited glutes, what kinds of problems weak or inhibited glutes can cause, what could be to blame for your glute issues, and a couple of methods to fix them!
To give a quick background on your glutes, they are made up of three muscles; Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Minimus and Gluteus Medius. The Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle of the three and responsible for most of the shape of your behind. The Gluteus Maximus is also responsible for external rotation of the hip as well as adduction. The Gluteus Maximus works closely with your IT Band to steady the femur. The Gluteus Maximus is also responsible for support of and posterior tilt of the pelvis. The Gluteus Medius and Minimus internally rotate the hip and are part of the muscle group that abduct the hip.
— How can you tell if your glutes are inhibited, weak, or not firing properly? There are a few easy ways to test yourself:
(1) Do you have a lack of coordination when walking backwards? If yes, your glutes are weak, inhibited, not firing properly, or a combination.
(2) Can you stand on one leg for 60 seconds without having to put your foot down? If no, your glutes are weak, inhibited, not firing properly, or a combination.
(3) When lying on your stomach, can you raise one leg (as straight as possible) off the ground with no low back arch? If you have a low back arch or cannot keep your leg straight, your glutes are weak, inhibited, not firing properly, or a combination.
— There are, of course, other ways to tell if you have glute issues. Many of these indications are overactive hamstrings, low back pain, Runner’s Knee, tight IT Band, and plantar fasciitis, just to name a few. Basically, poor glute function can result in total chaos in your body. Here is a breakdown of a couple of the problems you may be experiencing and the role your glutes play:
- Knee pain – Chronic or acute knee pain is a good indication that both your glutes AND your hamstrings are not doing their job. A big consequence of Inhibited glutes is poor control of the femur, which means the knees take a beating. Weakness or inactivity of these muscle groups can cause faulty mechanics in your squat, hip hinge (central to dead lift) and lunge. Performing any of these moves incorrectly, can result in way too much stress on the knee joint. The knee relies on the balance of strength between the muscles in both the posterior and anterior chain to function effectively. If your knees shift forward or fall inward, your glutes are not activating correctly.
- Weak ankles and feet – Do your feet pronate (roll inward) or are your ankles inherently weak? If you answer yes to either of these questions, your glutes are weak or disengaged, which will cause an overall lack of balance and stability. If your knees fall inward (mentioned in point above), then your ankles probably pronate too – this is a direct indication that the glute Medius and Minimus are not doing their job!
- Tight hips – Your glutes, as aforementioned, are responsible for a lot of the function in your lower body, including, but not limited to hip extension, lateral rotation of the hip, abduction and adduction of the leg, and posterior pelvis tilt. Ultimately, your hips depend on your glutes! If your glutes or hamstrings are weak or inactive, you will have decreased hip mobility. Your hips shouldn’t stop moving unless they are trying to make you stable – if you are not stable, your hips will lock, which means that your glutes are inhibited.
- Low back pain – Tight hips or restricted hip movement leads to low back pain because your lower back is forced to move more. The glutes are responsible for so much movement in your spine, hips, and torso, that if they are inactive or inhibited, your low back becomes overactive, thus causing soreness and/or pain.
- Some additional results of inhibited or weak glutes are tight psoas, groin and hamstring pulls, performance issues with big lifts (squats and dead lifts), and even opposite shoulder or elbow pain. When glutes aren’t functioning how they should your body will take the path of least resistance, meaning it will divert signals to stronger muscles close by and will often result in injury and overactivity of other muscle groups.
— How can you fix inhibited, weak, or inactive glutes? There are a number of exercises you can perform, each with focal points to ensure correct form and activation. Here are some exercises (along with come cues) to start working on proper glute activation and strengthening:
- Lunges – In place, or walking – take nice big steps to ensure your knee is not going past your toe and always keep hips back while pushing through the heel of your plant foot
- Squats and Dead Lifts – keep your hips back and ensure that your knees are not collapsing inwards. If they are, put a resistance band around your knees to force them out.
- Single leg exercises – Bulgarian split squats and step ups – again make sure the hips are shifted back and you are pushing through the heel all the way up and all the way down.
- Additional exercises – Glute bridge (can also be performed single leg), hip thrusts, pull throughs, supermans, glute kicks, leg lifts, kettle bell swings, band walks, and windmill planks are all among the best exercises you can perform to maximize your glute function and strength.
If your glutes aren’t functioning effectively, the problem has likely been brewing for a while and there is no “quick fix”. The big idea though, is daily activation. Improving your glute function will take time and patience! It is important to understand the imbalances in your body; what causes them, the results, and how to fix them. If you think you might have weak or inhibited glutes, you probably do and it might be in your best interest to seek a fitness professional to help you correct the problem before it turns into a sidelining injury! At Core Progression we are happy to help. Give us a shout!
Here are the articles I referenced for this post: