If you spend hours upon hours sitting at a desk all day, you may be the victim of an ever-growing epidemic called glute amnesia. Okay, so it's not a real epidemic (no need to panic and pull out your Walking Dead survival skills), but it is a legitimate postural problem that goes undetected in lots of people.
Glute amnesia occurs for several reasons: When you sit for prolonged periods of time (like at work or waiting in traffic), your muscles slowly adapt to your go-to posture leaving your hip flexor muscles short and your butt muscles lengthened. Your small spinal erector muscles and hips start compensating for your weak booty. Over time your body assumes that the appropriate muscles can't–or won't–do the work. When it comes time to work out, your body is so used to these compensations that the compromised muscles basically draw a blank; it's been so long since they were activated that they've literally forgotten how to engage, hence amnesia. In time, your workouts actually might reinforce these imbalances, perpetuating the problem (wompwomp), which is why you might no see the results you want.
Do You Have It? The Test
Start by laying on your back with feet flat on the floor. Gently raise your hips to the ceiling and hold for about five seconds. What muscles do you feel engaging to keep your hips high? If you're cramping in your calves or if your lower back is screaming at you, chances are you've fallen victim to glute amnesia. Next, check out your profile in a full-length mirror. Do you have a major arch in your lower back? This is called lordosis (aka arching your back and sticking your butt out so much even Nicky Minaj is blushing). This means that your glutes (and core) are being a little on the lazy side and not engaging enough to maintain a strong, neutral spine. Some curve in your lower back is normal, but if it's brought to the extreme, your intervertebral discs between the vertebrae in your spine can get squished and over time develop into disc herniations and a host of other lower back pain.
Quick Fixes for to Wake Up Your Booty
So your butt has been hitting the snooze button. It's time to wake up! Follow these easy fixes to prep your glutes for an awesome workout and to make sure they're working for your entire sweat sesh.
- Get rolling: First, spend some time form-rolling your hip flexors. When these muscles are shortened, they're essentially hyperactive and will be carrying the brunt of your butt exercise. When you roll them out, you'll release tension in the connective tissue that wrapped them into this tight position. This will cause your hip flexors to take a step back, and call on your glutes to snap out of it and get working! Start with rolling out the front of your thighs–make sure that you stick to only rolling muscle and not any joints or cartilage. Here's how to use a foam roller.
- Prep muscles: Dedicate five minutes pre-workout to glute activation to make sure they're up and at 'em before you get into more intense butt exercises. Try gentle hip rocks to break your hyperextension habit of the lower back. Next take a mini resistance band and wrap it around your knees. Lay on your back begin hip bridges (the test move from before). Focus on pushing through the arches of your feet while maintaining constant tension on the band. This will wake up all three of your glute muscles. (Psst: This is also an awesome active recovery to superset with your deadlifts.) Try opening and closing your knees (the clamshell) with the band still wrapped around to warm up your glute medius and glute minimus (stabilizing muscles) before you get moving.
- Be alert: Match your exhales with the hardest part of any exercise. This will help time muscle engagement for optimal activation, and in turn, results. Example: Quickly exhale as you reach the top of your kettlebell swing. The exhale is your cue to squeeze your butt and core like whoa. This will eventually become second nature, and you'll develop the muscle awareness to call on the right muscles at the right time.
- Switch on: As you begin to recognize what proper glute engagement feels like, you may do some reps perfectly and others...not so much. Hang in there! By learning what doesn't feel right, you'll slowly improve your awareness of what does.
- Master these moves: Zero in on your glutes and hip flexors with these 7 glute exercises that combat dead butt syndrome.
Liz Doupnik is an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer living and working in New York City.