You may have heard the term "lazy glutes' or maybe you're someone who always feels sore in the front of your thighs after a lower body workout but never in your butt.
Well you're not alone!
The term 'lazy glutes' refers to the muscles in your butt not working effectively or at all and it's more common than you might think. My clients know how much I LOVE hearing when their butts are sore (I'm weird like that) because poorly functioning glutes can cause a number of problems in the surrounding muscles and joints. Learning how to activate the glute muscles during exercise not only improves strength but is also imperative in preventing pain and injury.
So why does it happen?
Inactivate or lazy glutes can occur for a number of reasons but the biggest one is the decline of glute function in modern day society. An average day may consist of driving to work, sitting at a desk, driving home and then sitting on the couch. I know this is very black and white and doesn't apply to everyone but my point is that we all spend a lot of time sitting down. When we sit for long periods of time, the muscles in the front of our thighs (the quadriceps) shorten and tighten and our glute muscles switch off because they are no longer needed. Even if you're exercising every day, you can still have inactivate glutes.
What happens next?
The human body is incredible at adapting to it's environment so if your glute muscles stop working properly, the surrounding muscles such as your hamstrings and quadriceps will compensate. Feeling sore in your quadriceps (quads) after a workout but never in your butt means that you may be 'quad dominant' so basically your quad muscles are doing the work that your glute muscles are supposed to be doing. While the glutes are busy relaxing, the surrounding muscles are doing more work than they are designed to do which is when we get muscle tightness, pain and sometimes injury.
The 'glutes' are made up of three muscles; the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. All three muscles play a vital role in the body including pelvic stabilisation. Stabilisation of the pelvis helps to maintain alignment of the hips, knees and ankles so when the glutes aren't doing their job, you become vulnerable to injuries such as achilles pain, shin splints, knee pain, lower back pain and even plantar fasciitis. An important thing to remember is that the glutes cannot be strengthened if they are not switched on. Fact. But far beyond that, weak or poorly functioning glute muscles will affect other areas of your body because they aren't pulling their weight.
So what can you do about it?
To ensure the glutes are doing their job, you should be performing glute activation exercises prior to a lower body workout. If you're lucky, these muscles might switch on during the warm up or during a workout but for most of us, it just doesn't work that way; we have to actively turn them on. Taking the time to work on this will ensure you are getting the most out of your workouts and over time, your brain will subconsciously make this connection, known as proprioception.
Proprioception is known as the 'sixth sense' and refers to our brain's connection to the body in performing actions at a subconscious level. For example, if I asked you to raise your arm to the side, you wouldn't need to look in the mirror to do so; your brain would subconsciously tell your body what it needs to do because you have learnt that brain-body connection over time. Similar to this, when we teach our brain to switch on the correct muscles during exercise, eventually this connection becomes autonomous but like anything, practice makes perfect,
So which activation exercises should you be doing?
There are many exercises you can do that will have a similar result but to make it simple for you, I've narrowed down my three favourites...
1. The hip thrust. This exercise can be used as an activation or a strength exercise (by adding a barbell on your hips) Start with no weight and work for 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. Lower your butt as much as you can and then lift your hips high and squeeze your glutes for 2-3 seconds before lowering again. As you perform each set, you should start to feel that burning sensation in your backside more and more. Only then should you add weight.
2. The single leg hip bridge. This one is great because it puts your hips into a balanced position forcing your glutes to stabilise the pelvis. Make sure your hips are level and again, squeeze your butt as you lift up. Hold the squeeze for 2 to 3 seconds before lowering your hips back to the mat. You can place a weight plate on your hips to increase the intensity. Work for 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions on each leg.
3. The Donkey kick. This pilates exercise is also great for hip stabilisation because you need to focus on keeping the pelvis level. Lower your knee down until it almost touches the mat and then as you drive the foot towards the ceiling, squeeze your glute muscles and hold the position for 2-3 seconds before lowering back down. Work for 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions on each leg.