Your glutes (bum muscles) are one of the largest muscle groups in the body. Sounding like a party of Romans, you have the muscles, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. This page from the Yoga Journal has some useful illustrations if you would like to know a little more about the anatomy of the glutes.
Weak or lazy glutes (which sounds a bit mean), have been linked to back pain, hip pain, poor posture, runners knee, iliotibial-band syndrome and even achillies tendonitis. So if you are a desk-sitter and or a runner/cyclist, this is really something to think about.
I think the relationship between the glutes and the hip flexors is a really interesting one as you could think that you have great, strong glutes, but perhaps their relationship with the rest of the associated muscle chain is imbalanced and causing you pain in other areas. This was really highlighted to me recently when I was doing a bridge exercise as part of a yoga session. On my back as I raised my hips up, I could really feel a pull in my left knee (notoriously my ‘dodgy knee’).
If you sit for long periods of time, your glutes can become overstretched and weak. This is because for much of the day you are in a position where your hip flexor muscles (the muscles that run down the front of your hips into your thighs) are resting in a shorter position. As one your hip flexor muscles become shorter, this can then also alter the angle of the hips to tilt forwards which can then affect your back. When your glute muscles simply aren’t having to work – they aren’t ‘firing’.
When thinking about your glutes, it is a good idea to take a look at your posture. You can check your posture by looking in a full length mirror (for a basic idea), or by doing a simple posture analysis with a friend. You can also ask a friend or family member to take some photos of you standing side on, facing forwards and backwards. You need to stand in a neutral position with your feet hip width apart, shoulders square and your chin up. Ideally you should be able to draw a vertical line from your ear and down through your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.
This easy check might help you highlight other issues. This set of videos will help you think about your posture in more detail and if you think you need more guidance – always consult a recommended physio. But if you think your posture is a bit off and you have had other niggling issues for some time, then strengthening your glutes and improving flexibility through the hip flexors is a great place to start.
Exercises to strengthen your gluteal muscles and improve range of motion through the hip flexors
You can easily incorporate some exercises to strengthen your glutes and improve your range of motion into your workouts. You could even do some of these at work. Here are some to get you started.
Bulgarian split lunges
A bulgarian split lunge increases the intensity of both the glute part of the exercise but also the hip flexor stretch part. You only need to elevate the back foot by the height of a step or lower and then check your feet to make sure you have them nice and parallel.
The squat is the classic glute exercise, however it is worth going back to basics to get it right. You want to make sure that your chest remains proud as you lower down. Your bum should lead with your feet ever so slightly wider than parallel at hip distance apart. In this position you may find that you can’t get that low. Flexibility in the ankles may be complimenting poor glute strength. So the important thing is to maintain the best technique possible and go at your own speed to improve your range of motion.
Donkey kicks/ hip extension
You can perform this one flat on the floor or elevated as I am. With your hips level lift your bent (or straight leg) up and down.
Leg raises are performed on your side. Lift and lower with control.
Bridges or hip raises
Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor, ensure your back is in a neutral position. Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips for a count of two to the top and two to lower with control.
Resources I looked at when writing this article were from:
Yoga Journal Online, Livestrong, Mens Health and videos by Institute Education.