What Can Be Done?
This is, by no means, the definitive work and end-all be-all answer to this question.Â I am not a doctor, a therapist or other medical practitioner and EACH situation is different.Â Therefore, understand that these are suggestions, to be used in conjunction with possible other training modalities and may be contraindicated by your specific issue, so check with your doctor first if you have any concerns.
The answer depends on what your specific muscle imbalances are. For you, what is tight, what is weak and what has caused your body to have these imbalances?Â If you try to correct the imbalances without changing the lifestyle situation that caused them, guess what, you are fighting an uphill battle, just like walking the wrong way on an escalator.Â If your situation is caused by trauma, this is different, but if you are the victim of a lifestyle issue (which is extremely common) understand that you can do all the stretches in the world and if you don’t change your posture on a daily basis (being aware of your body in daily life is the first step) then you will probably see very little improvement.
So, back to the problem at hand: what can I do for my J-Lo booty?
The first question is why are your glutes not firing properly?Â Do you sit all day?Â Do you have an anterior pelvic tilt?Â The most likely culprits are:
- tight hip flexors
- tight quads
- poor core strength
- stretched hamstrings
- or other problems causing your lack of function.
There can be many other muscles contributing to the imbalances but these are the main ones I will address.
Tight Hip Flexors
If you have tight hip flexors, and most of the population does (with or without sleeping glutes) your first plan of attack is going to be static stretching, which we will follow up with dynamic stretching.Â Actually, I would put foam rolling first as Self Myo-fascial release has been found to be most beneficial to decreasing the tension in chronically overactive muscles, however, it can be difficult to reach your hip flexors on a foam roller and with a tennis or lacrosse ball…well, honestly that’s just too much pain for me to handle and I’d rather a massage therapist work it out for me; they are the best option in any case.
Quick anatomy lesson; what are some of the hip flexors?
In human anatomy, the hip flexors are a group of skeletal muscles that act to flex the femur (thigh bone) onto the lumbo-pelvic complex, i.e., pull the knee upward.
The hip flexors are (in descending order of importance to the action of flexing the hip joint):
- Kneel with one foot on the ground and the other leg having the knee resting (“take a knee”).
- Tilt your pelvis to a posterior tilt and squeeze your buttocks on the “down” leg.Â This motion alone should light up your hip flexors, especially if they are tight.Â In fact, you might not need any more than that.
- To progress this stretch, maintain the glute activation by squeezing and keeping the pelvis tilted and bend your front knee forward just an inch or two.Â That should be enough of a stretch, but if you wish to intensify it, you can raise your arm on the side bein stretched, up and over and then back and twist just a bit to try to get to the psoas.
- If you are not on a padded surface, you might wish to put a mat or something under your kneeling leg.
This is one that I like to do with the top of my rear foot laying on a bench with the bottom knee on the floor.Â If you are quite flexible, you might find that this stretch works better for you.Â Flexible is a bit of an oxymoron in this case since we are talking about stretching tight muscles, but if you are hypermobile in your joints to a degree (like myself) or have an otherwise good range of motion, you might not fee this stretch as shown above and may need to modify it to this stretch.
External Hip Rotators and Piriformis
These can be some nasty little muscles, and I HIGHLY recommend starting out your foam rolling session on the piriformis.Â I have not progressed to the tennis ball yet, asÂ mine is usually tight.Â If you sit on a foam roller, cross one knee over the other, place your hands behind you on the ground and lean to the side that has the foot up and begin to roll, you might find what feels like a “bone” in your butt.Â As you can see from the pictures above, there is no bone there, but that tiny muscle called the piriformis which can be a nasty little guy.Â In fact, it even has its own syndrome “piroformis syndrome”, which can be a common cause of sciatica as when the piriformis muscle becomes tight it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.Â Other symptoms may be aching in the leg or pain in the low back.
Make sure to give it lots of attention by this foam rolling move and stretch below.Â
To foam roll your piriformis, here is a video: http://www.sharecare.com/question/how-do-i-foam-roll-my-glutes-piriformis
Lie on your back with one leg crossed over the other.Â Put your hands behind the back of the knee facing away from you and pull it towards you, thus causing both knees to come towards you.Â You will feel a deep stretch on the outside of your hip.Â Hold anywhere from a minimum of 30 seconds to 3 minutes.Â Remember to breathe.
Side Lying (Band-Resisted) Clams
This one might make you feel really awkward, so maybe don’t do it in the gym, but do it at home….or if you really don’t care what other people think, go ahead and do it in the gym, all the while staring at the guy with no butt, scoffing at him while he does his 1/4 squats in the smith machine with 8 plates and you know you are actually doing something functional and useful…..uh, sorry, you probably want to leave out the staring and scoffing bit. 🙂
- To do this, lie on your side with knees bent and feet stacked one on top of the other.
- Draw your navel in, contract your glutes and lift your top knee towards the ceiling.
- Make sure you keep your hips level, they should not move back and forth and your Range of Motion (ROM) should be fairly small with this.Â If you find you can go fairly wide with no problem and no feeling of tightness in your glutes, shift your hips forward and try again.
- You can wrap a mini-band around your knees to progress this.
Lateral Mini-Band, X-band or Tube Walks
These are one of my favorites, and it incorporates some movement into your streching, otherwise known as Dynamic or Active Isolated Stretching.Â Depending on the type of band you have, these will differ somewhat, but the end result is much the same.
- With a mini-band around your ankles, squat low, to parallel if you can, and take a wide step laterally (to the left or right).Â Focus on picking the feet up and moving the knees apart.
- With a superband put the tube underneath the arches of your feet, cross the band in an “X” across your body and hold the top of the band.Â If you have a resistance band with handles, put the band underneath the arches of your feet and hold the bands at your side.Â The higher you raise the band the more resistance you get.
- Keeping the legs relatively straight and staying upright, move your leg out to the side (left or right) and take a large step laterally.Â Make this movement slow and when you bring the other leg in, focus on that leg coming in slow, too.Â You want to resist the tension in the band – do not allow it to “snap” your legs together.Â That defeats the purpose. Walk the length of the room and back several times, not allowing the feet to fully come back together and keeping your low squat position.
- This video from Perform Better shows a lot of exercises for the mini-bands.Â The Lateral walks are at the 2.30 mark.Â
- Take about 10 steps in either direction and if you are doing this correctly you will feel a burn in your outer glutes (the glute medius)
Bridges have to be my go-to all time favorite exercise.Â They are simple and effective, albeit they do look rather awkward.Â If you can get over the social awkwardness of these, your body will thank you.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- lift your hips into the air, forming a straight line between knees to shoulders
- squeeze your butt HARD and hold for 2 seconds before descending slowly.Â Repeat for up to 20-30 reps.
Now all these exercises have focused on warm-up and activation exercises for the glutes, what about progressing to training them as part of your workouts?Â Bret Contreras, otherwise known as “The Glute Guy” is the definitive source on the subject, seeming to have done more research than any body so far on the topic.
I also mentioned that whether you have an anterior pelvic tilt or you have sleeping glutes, you may also have weak core musculature.Â The pelvis is considered part of the core, when it is out of alignment, the deep stabilizing muscles may become stretched, inhibited or weak.
There are a huge amount of muscles attaching to the pelvis, from the back muscles to include the quadratus lumborum, multifidus and erectors spinae and lats to the transverse abdominis, pelvic floor muscles and obliques.Â The job of these muscles varies from holding you upright, keeping in your internal organs, giving you stability to keep you from falling over, helping you bendÂ side to side, to the front, and even to the back, among other things.Â When your pelvis is tilted, these muscles can become compromised, shortened, lengthened, tight, weak, etc.
Balance is key to core stability and you may find that as you start upon training your balance capabilities, that they are not as good as you once thought.Â Having good balance is imperative for not only preventing you from falling and hurting yourself, but in maintaining core strength and optimal length-tension relationships.Â Here are three exercises I would perform on a regular basis:
As you progress, begin to stand on increasingly unstable objects: a pillow, a dyna-disk, a bosu ball, upturned bosu ball, half foam roll, etc.
- Stand with your hands on your hips, feet shoulder width apart.
- Keeping knees bent, contract your glutes and bring one foot beside the ankle of the other foot.
- Do NOT let your leg go behind you – this makes it too easy to balance.Â Keep your leg beside the other leg, a bit in front if you wish.
- Hold for up to 20 seconds to 3 minutes.Â You will feel your underactive muscles begin to fire and start to burn as they work to hold you stable.
- Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, elbows directly underneath your shoulders.
- Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
- Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
- Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle. Squeeze your butt hard!
- Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.
What I see when I see people doing this wrong?Â They sag in the middle.Â They don’t squeeze their butts or abs.Â They sink in between their shoulder blades.Â Do this with a partner and have them look at you.Â If you don’t look exactly like this, you’re doing it wrong.Â In fact, most people claim they can do it for 3 minutes no problem.Â More than likely if you can, you’re doing it wrong.Â Squeeze your butt while you do this and tell me THEN if you can do it for 3 minutes.
Putting it all together
So this would be just a sample of how to incorporate all these different exercises together into a program.
A. Foam Roll: Piriformis, IT band, quads, calves, lats, and do thoracic extensions
B. Static Stretching: – hold for 20-30 seconds each.
B1. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
B2. Quad stretch
B3. Piriformis Stretch
C. Dynamic Stretching (Activation work) with Balance and Core
C1. Bridges 2-3×12-20
C2. X-band walks 2-3 sets length of room
C3. Bird Dogs 2-3×12-20
C4. Planks 2-3×30-60 seconds
C5. Single-Leg Balance 2-3x 30 seconds to 2 minutes each (depending on ability)
So, you would foam roll first, go through all of B, follow that up with C, going through the entire circuit of C once before repeating for sets.Â If you train with me, this is the stuff you do BEFORE you even get to the resistance training portion of the program.Â This, in and of itself can be done as its own program, especially if you suffer from sleeping booty, or, it can be the warm-up to any lifting program.Â In fact, this is part of a warm-up I use almost every workout.Â If you do this, your body will be well on its way to restoring proper length-tension relationships, force-couple relationships and just moving a heck of a lot better.
Which means, after all that, you probably don’t want to spend another 30 minutes doing 4 kinds of bicep curls.Â Train your big movements with purpose and get out.Â 🙂
For further reading and where I got some of my material