LEARN MORE Back Pain OMG! Who Shrunk The Buttocks? The case for strength training and manual therapy.
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.

Benefits of Strength Training
Buttock atrophy, the main cause of lower body aches and pain.

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.

TIGHT HAMSTRINGS

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.

Hamstrings & Posterior Knee Pain

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.

LUMBAR INSTABILITY

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. 

Picture source: Physioworks

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.

STRENGTH TRAINING

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.

Stronger Gluteus, Stronger Body. Life Changing.

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.

MANUAL THERAPY

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.

Learn More About COMT

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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