Photo source: the New York Times
(last updated 5 May 2020)
WHERE DID THE BUTTOCKS GO?
Blame it on fashion. Our love of baggy jeans have resulted in the disappearance of the buttocks. But the bigger culprit is our sedentary lifestyle. Blame it on the long hours of sitting, whether at work or at home, because we have wasted away the most powerful muscles in the body.
Buttock atrophy is believed to be the cause of low back pain and a host of other muscle and joint (musculoskeletal) pain related to the lower body. Knee pain, ankle pain, sciatica and ITB syndrome are common pain and injuries of the lower body, where the origin of the pain can be traced to the disappearing buttocks.
LARGEST MUSCLES IN THE BODY
The buttock muscles are the main muscles of the body for standing, walking and running. Another name for the buttocks is “gluteus.” We have three gluteal muscles. Gluteus maximus — as the name suggests — is the largest. In fact, it is the single largest muscle in the body. The others are gluteus medius, which is medium in size, and gluteus minimus, the smallest of the three.
The main function of the gluteal muscles is hip extension, the action of moving the thigh behind the hips and trunk. Hip extension helps us to stand tall.
The gluteal muscles are also responsible for power and acceleration. The force — produced by moving the thigh behind the hips and trunk when we walk — pushes the upper body forward. The gluteal muscles not only help us walk, but also walk faster, skip more and jump higher.
Imagine Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus to be the best players on your soccer team. Being fast and powerful, you don’t want them on the bench. You want them to be active.
Problems start to occur when the strongest players are sidelined and other muscles like the hamstrings and low back muscles take over, and do what the gluteus do best.
What could happen when the gluteal muscles take a backseat is, the hamstrings may be forced to play a bigger role. When we walk or run, we become more reliant on the hamstrings — also a posterior thigh muscle like the gluteus — for hip extension. The hamstrings muscle becomes very active, but it won’t do the job as well as the gluteus because it’s not as large.
Moreover, the hamstrings muscle has other jobs. Its main function is at the knee joint. The hamstrings muscle is primarily responsible for knee flexion. If the gluteus continue to weaken, the hamstrings has to pick up the slack and do more. You can see why it could become active and tight.
So if your hamstrings is always tight no matter how much you stretch, the underlying problem may not be the hamstrings, but the gluteus. In this instance, strengthening the gluteus will bring more relief to the hamstrings than stretching.
In the body, some muscles are chronically tight and overuse because other muscles are under active. In fact, muscle imbalance is one of the most common causes of muscle and joint (musculoskeletal) pain and injury.
Another group of muscles, which can become tight and active when the gluteus are weak is the low back muscles. The back muscles like the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum are not responsible for hip extension per se. But when the gluteus are tight, they limit the range of hip extension at the hip joint. What often occurs is we would arch our low back or lean our body forward to make up for the loss of movement at the hip joint.
Physical therapist Andrew Walker has a good cartoon to illustrate how the lumbar spine is recruited for hip extension. His cartoon highlighted movement faults, often seen among recreational runners. Walker has a clinic in Huntsville, Alabama in the US.
The cartoon showed four runners: A, B, C and D. Runner C leans his upper body forward in order to extend the legs back. Runner D arches his lower back to drive the leg back. It would appear both runners are in hip extension, but in reality, Runner C moves his upper body, and Runner D, his lower back to drive the leg back. Neither runner has moved from the hips.
In contrast, Runner B is a runner with a good running posture. Runner B uses the gluteus and hamstrings to generate hip extension. He did not move his upper body or lower back, but kept both in a neutral position. His lower back is in the same neutral position, as Runner A, who is in a neutral, standing posture.
Using the back muscles to compensate for weak gluteus create unwanted movement in the lumbar spine when in fact, we always want the lumbar spine to be stable to avoid back pain and injury.
What can we do to correct the muscle imbalance? Strengthen the gluteus with exercise. It will lessen the back pain, loosen the hamstrings, as well as benefit other leg muscles that have come under pressure due to the weak gluteus.
Strength training is also known as “resistance” training because it uses external resistance like weights and cables to increase the work load on the arms and legs. Resistance training builds strength faster as it is able to isolate and train a specific muscle or a group of muscles, using various exercises and equipment.
For example, we can have a “chest day” where we train only the chest muscles. We can narrow the training down even further to the individual muscles of the chest, using the different exercises. Similarly, we can have a “gluteus day,” a day where the exercises are dedicated to training the gluteus. See faster results.
ENERGY BOOSTER WHEN COMBINED WITH CARDIO
Most studies show a combination of strength and cardiovascular exercises are better than cardiovascular exercises alone in improving health and fitness. So if you walk 10,000 steps a day, and wondering what else you can do. Try strength training. The exercises will be a bigger energy booster than adding more steps to your walk.
Tight and overactive muscles often cause pain and movement restriction. Even though regular exercise offers many health benefits, you are unlikely to exercise because of the pain. So having manual therapy like COMT in the exercise programme increases the success rate of the exercise plan. COMT offers many benefits, but the best reason of course is, the pain-relieving therapy will let you enjoy the exercise and reap the benefit of the exercise.
Weak gluteus due to long hours of sitting is often the cause of back pain and other musculoskeletal pain related to the lower body. When our gluteus are strong, we don’t have to overwork the hamstrings, or turn to the back muscles for strength when we walk. We are at our best when our strongest muscles are active. So don’t let your gluteus disappear.
Strength training is included in our Pilates 1-to-1 and Duet sessions. Don’t wait. Start Today.
Medical Disclaimer: Always consult your physician if you have an existing pain or a pre-existing medical condition before beginning any exercise. The above information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or replace your healthcare professional.
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The Best Part, My Lower Back Pain Has Gone AwayI attended Pilates classes because of my lower back pain that came about after National Service. I had fears prior to joining May’s Pilates session as the only guy in class, but her non-judgemental attitude very quickly eased my worries and concerns. I started to enjoy the sessions more and more each week with her patient guidance. The best part is that now my lower back pain has gone away!Sean
Back Care class is fun, therapeuticI have fun in the Back Care class. Who would have thought you could use foam roller, spike ball, exercise bands and even a tennis ball to loosen the lower back? The pain can be intense on the parts of the body where the muscles are tight. As I learn to relax into it, the painful sensation feels good. That is when I think my body gets pampered. My lower back is stronger also with the exercises in class, and I get to iron out the knots in my body. So therapeutic. I hope classes will continue as long as possible.Kwee Eng
My 2017 Highlight is your Pilates Classes"One good thing that happened to me in 2017 is attending your Pilates classes. I have chronic lower back pain since early 20s. I am in my 30s now. From a MRI scan a year ago, I found I have ‘lesser fluid’ on two of my lower back discs which might be the cause of my back pain. Sometimes, sitting was just annoying and I’d to take leave from my desk or from what I was doing to lie down. I’d been visiting TCM for quick reliefs when the pain was unbearable. I did some yoga and exercises through the years. They helped but they seemed to bring me other issues like knee discomfort, and a feeling of imbalance on my lower back. It could be I was doing these yoga poses and exercises wrongly. However, in your Pilates classes, the instructions are very detailed and clear on which part of the body I should be working on. Hence, I am able to do the pose with confidence without having to worry I might injure my back further. The lower back feels so soft after each lesson. After so many years of searching for an answer, the solution to my lower back problem is Pilates, where ‘The pelvis is the centre of the body where everything begins’ 🙂 Thank you!"Qianni
MY BACK FEELS BETTER"I'm in my early 20s. Having a lower back strain for close to 3 years, I can really feel the difference after attending May's Pilates group lessons. I’ve been attending for 10 weeks. I can feel that my posture has improved significantly and my back doesn't hurt as often as before. Thank you!"Andrew
NO MORE FEAR"I’d persistent lower back pain after giving birth to my daughter. I saw many healthcare professionals, but my back didn’t get better. But since starting my private sessions, my pain has gone. Before I didn’t want to move out of fear my back would act up, but not anymore. I’ve started running, and recently completed a 5-km run. Thank you!"Dian
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