Moving onward in our Common Compensations article series, we turn our attention downward to the base of the trunk, the foundation of the core, that being the hips. This month we are focusing on gluteus maximus, otherwise known as glut max, the Powerhouse muscle, which is the largest and one of the two most important muscles of the hip.
Why is the glut max so critical to life? This muscle is responsible for everyday activities such as helping you rise from a chair, get out of your car, ascend stairs, and get up off the floor. While the glut max is not a typical area of pain, pain in your low back can refer pain in this area and lead to reduced activation of glut max, most likely due to either irritation of the nerve roots that exit the lower lumbar spine or from the direct impact of the referred pain on the muscle itself.
Your first sign of glut max weakness is typically not pain. Instead, you will notice that all of a sudden you need to use your arms to help push yourself up out of a chair, or need the railings to make it up the steps. For young, active people, your first sign of glut max compensation is frequently hamstring tightness, cramping, overuse, and eventually a hamstring strain or tear with little to no reason or warning. This is because the hamstring has to work much harder when glut max is not activating as frequently and intensely as it should.
How do you turn the glut max muscle back on? Start with an easy exercise of squeezing your gluts together. Then work your way through the progression of exercises pictured below, and you will be well on your way to restoring the power to the Powerhouse muscle, and relieving your hamstring of its common compensation.
1. Lie on your stomach*, with a pillow under your stomach.
2. Squeeze your gluts together as hard as you can; pretend you are squeezing a twenty dollar bill (don’t let it go!)
3. Hold for 5 sec, without holding your breath. Relax. 4. Repeat 20x, 2-3x/day.
*This exercise can also be done lying on your back with your knees bent, sitting, or standing.
Glut Squeeze with Knee Extension
1. Lie on your stomach, with a pillow under your stomach, with your tip-toes propped on the surface.
2. Squeeze your gluts together, then straighten your knees.
3. Hold for 5 sec, without holding your breath. Relax.
4. Repeat 10-15x,2x/day.
Glut Squeeze, Alternating Leg Lift
1. Lie on your stomach with a pillow under your stomach.
2. Squeeze your gluts together, then lift one leg off the table, keeping the knee straight. Lift only so high that your thigh comes off the table one inch. Slowly lower your leg back to the surface.
3. Maintaining your glut squeeze, lift the other leg off the table. Slowly lower your leg back to the surface, and then relax your glut squeeze.
4. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times on each leg, 2x/day.
5. Make the exercise harder by holding your leg up for 5 sec before slowly lowering it back to the surface.