Here’s what happens when your butt loses its memory (so to speak) and how to help prevent it.
You’ve heard of amnesia of the brain—but your butt? Turns out, there’s such a thing as gluteal amnesia, also known as dead butt syndrome, and avoiding it may help prevent pain and increase your performance in various activities. By now, you know that sitting too much is bad for your health, and it can also be bad for your butt. Here’s what happens when your butt loses its memory, so to speak, and how to prevent it.
What Is Dead Butt Syndrome?
Gluteal amnesia is exactly what it sounds like. “Your glutes forget their purpose,” says Jeff Fishel, MS, DC, a chiropractor in Arcola, Illinois and the founder of Tighten the Core. “The gluteal muscle becomes neurologically inhibited and doesn’t activate when it should.”
That may not sound like a big deal until you consider how this might work against you. “If the glute muscles are weak, other parts of the body may take additional stress, which can potentially result in injury,” says Kelton Vasileff, MD, a sports medicine physician and orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. That could include tight hips muscles, hamstring injuries, lower back pain, even injuries to the cartilage in the knee. Gluteal amnesia can also decrease your performance in any activity you’re doing, whether that’s weight training, running, or playing tennis, Fishel says.
What Causes Gluteal Amnesia?
You can probably guess what the main cause of gluteal amnesia is, namely a sedentary lifestyle (which is why this is also called “chair ass”—seriously). “It most likely affects individuals who are sedentary and/or those who sit for prolonged periods of time without taking breaks,” says Jericho McMatthews, Beachbody super trainer in Los Angeles and creator of Morning Meltdown 100. For instance, if you’re working long hours at a desk job, regularly commuting long distances, or making a living through commercial driving, you could be at risk of dead butt syndrome.
And side sleepers, heads up: “Sleeping on your side in a fetal position can add to the weakness of these muscles,” Dr. Vasileff says.
How to Read the Signs of Dead Butt
There are some telltale signs of dead butt syndrome, aka your glutes have stopped firing. They include an anterior pelvic tilt (you’ll know if you look at yourself sideways in the mirror and see that the spot at which your belt buckle would sit is pointed slightly down to the ground versus straight ahead) and unusual cramping or pain in your hamstrings during workouts, McMatthews says. Tight hip flexors, poor posture, and weak abdominals are also common factors with this condition.
Another way you can check is by doing a pelvic bridge on the floor, Fishel says. Lie face up on floor with feet on floor, ankles below knees. From this position, lift hips up until they’re level with your knees. If you feel any tension in your hamstrings or low back, chances are you have gluteal amnesia.
4 Key Exercises to Wake Up Your Glutes
The good news is that you can prevent—and overcome—this by taking walking breaks from sitting and opting for the stairs whenever possible, McMatthews says. You can also secretly work your glutes without even leaving your chair by sitting tall with shoulders subtly pulled back and abdominals tight. To do it, gently tuck your tailbone and squeeze and flex one butt cheek at a time for five seconds. Alternate cheeks, repeating 10 times per cheek (so 20 times total).
Then do these four exercises designed by McMatthews two to three times a week with at least 24 to 48 hours between workouts:
1. Glute Bridges
Lie face up on floor with arms by sides, palms pushing into floor, and knees bent with feet on floor, feet hip-width apart. Gently tuck pelvis and driving heels into floor, lift hips straight up toward ceiling. Squeeze glutes as you do this. Lower and repeat 15 to 20 times.
2. Rainbow Taps
Get on all fours on floor, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Keeping spine neutral and core engaged, extend right leg straight behind you as if reaching to touch back of room. Engage glutes as you lift right leg up and over to left, tapping floor outside left leg, and then moving it in arching motion—but not higher than hip height—to right, tapping toe on floor again. Repeat 15 to 20 times before switching sides.
3. Tabletop Hip Adduction
Begin on all fours on floor, knees below hips, wrists below shoulders. Keeping core engaged and spine long, slowly lift right leg to right to about hip height (picture a dog at a fire hydrant) and lower. Repeat 15 to 20 times before switching sides.
4. Side Plank Clamshell Thrust
Get on right side on floor, propped on right elbow with right elbow under shoulder and knees together, bent to 90 degrees. Pushing down through forearm, lift hips straight up to ceiling as you squeeze glutes and drive hips forward. As you do this, lift left knee to ceiling, keeping heels together. Release and repeat 12 to 15 times before switching sides.