The glutes of the modern man are in a sorry state. They are weak and small, largely because they spend most of their time resting on a chair, couch, car seat, or bed. The gluteus maximus – arguably the king of all the muscles of the human body – in particular bears the mark of a sedentary existence. It doesn’t live up to its royal title or its reputation as an extremely powerful muscle.
Is this something that we should be concerned about? Yes… It definitely is. Not only is a small and flabby butt aesthetically unpleasing, but it’s frequently accompanied by poor posture, back pain, and certain other musculoskeletal-related problems.
In order to build strong and powerful glutes, one obviously has to perform exercises and activities that put a lot of stress on the glutes, such as the barbell squat, sprints, and the cable pull-through. With that said, even fairly non-strenuous exercises that are performed without any added resistance are useful for building stronger glutes and preventing back pain and bad posture. In today’s article, I thought I’d briefly talk a little about one such exercise, as well as why it’s important to keep one’s glutes from falling into a deep sleep.
A weak and passive king is not a good ruler
Imagine that you rule over a small kingdom. Your name and ancestry give you the right to sit on the throne of the king. You’ve come to realise though, that you’re probably not the best king in the history of kings. Far from it. All your life, you’ve felt like the kingdom you’re supposed to rule over rules over you as much as you rule over it. Recently, the situation has gotten even worse, and you now have the disturbing feeling that your power, strength, and influence have diminished to a point where you are no longer in control.
Whereas some of the people you rule over have long suffered as a result of your failures, others have taken advantage of your inability to keep your kingdom safe and in order and seem to have absorbed the power and strength that you’ve been losing. Some are even on the verge of rebelling against the throne and attempt to kick you off the golden chair you’ve been sitting in your whole life.
This little story helps illustrate what goes on with the glutes and musculoskeletal system of the modern sedentary man.
Obviously, muscles are not people and can’t actually be ordered into hierarchies: each and every one of them has a unique role to play in the body they are a part of. With that said, not all muscles are equally strong, big, or dominant: some are a lot more powerful than others. On top of this list of powerful and important muscles is the gluteus maximus. The glutes, and the gluteus maximus in particular, are at the center of the human body, they are involved in most of the physically demanding tasks that we humans perform, and they have played – and continue to play – a special role in our evolution.
Furthermore, just like people, muscles are affected by the actions of “their peers”, in particular their most powerful and dominating peers. If the gluteus maximus muscle of the human body is weak and small, then chances are other muscles of the body will also be weak and small as a result. Moreover, in the absence of a strong and powerful gluteus maximus, other muscles will rise up and become a more dominant part of the system that they are a part of.
In other words, if one muscle withers with respects to its size, power, or functionality, some other muscles will also wither, whereas others again will become more dominant. This is particularly true if one of the muscles that are integral to the initiation of these processes is “the king” of all muscles – the gluteus maximus.
This self-sustaining cycle, in which some muscles atrophy as a result of underuse whereas others rise up as a result of overuse, involves a process in which the contraction of muscles on one side of a joint is accommodated by the relaxation of muscles on the other side of the joint (“reciprocal inhibition”). It’s not just weak and saggy glutes that accompany a sedentary lifestyle. If the glutes are “sleeping”, then chances are other muscles, including the rectus abdominis, are “dormant” as well. Most likely, some muscles, in particular the iliopsoas and erector spinae, will be overactive and tight, largely as a result of the failed leadership of “their king”. These problems are characteristic of the lower crossed syndrome, which I’ve talked quite a bit about here on the site in the past. Regular glute training can go a long way towards remedying these issues and is critical for preventing bad posture and back pain.
Are your glutes in a state of dormancy?
It’s important to remember that most contemporary humans living in developed nations spend the majority of their wakeful hours sitting on a chair; hence, their glutes are fairly inactive most of the time. A heavy training session in the afternoon can certainly help repair some of the damage that all of this sitting causes; however, the glutes should preferably be woken up regularly, not just once every now and then at the gym. They do better on a sleep schedule that consists of small naps, as opposed to one that involves long periods of inactivity.
Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that not everyone likes to go to the gym, has learned how to lift correctly, or has access to the type of equipment that is needed to perform heavy strength training that targets the glutes. Not only that, but it’s important to note that one doesn’t have to lift weights to maintain a good posture and keep ones glutes from atrophying. Throughout most of our evolutionary history, nobody worked out at gyms or lifted heavy weights. Our primal ancestors walked a lot, carried stuff around, and ran at moderate-high speeds every now and then, but they obviously didn’t perform heavy barbell squats or deadlifts.
By itself, the standing glute squeeze obviously won’t endow you with an extremely powerful and perky butt; however, it can help you improve the appearance of your backside, as well as prevent bad posture (e.g., anterior pelvic tilt) and back pain.
How to perform the standing glute squeeze
The standing glute squeeze is a very simple exercise. Simply stand straight and proceed to forcefully squeeze the glutes. Keep the contraction for a set period of time (e.g., 45 seconds) or as long as you can, relax, and start again when you’re ready. Do as many sets as you want/can as often as you want/can, and gradually increase time under tension as you get stronger. The exercise is not particularly demanding or strenuous, so you don’t have to worry about overtraining. It can easily be performed in combination with other light activities in which one is standing still.
As pointed out above, the exercise is very simple. With that said, in my work as a coach I’ve noticed that some people don’t know how to correctly tilt their pelvis. If you’re one of these people, you may consider performing the lying pelvic tilt (lie down on the floor, bend your knees so that the bottom of your feet are touching the floor, and proceed to tilt the pelvic posteriorly by pushing your lower back into the ground before you tilt it anteriorly by arching your lower back) before you move on to the standing glute squeeze, so as to learn how to tilt the pelvis.