Trying to squeeze into that much loved dress or those hip pair of jeans for the upcoming party season, but you just can’t quite get it over your rear? Then listen up…

Your glutes (bottom muscles) are the largest in your body, and are key to whole-body firmness. But in reality, most of us spend more time sat on our bottoms than using the muscles.

If your training is not having the desired effect, it could be that your glutes are not working as hard as they should. This means other muscles have to pick up the slack. When the buttock muscles start to weaken, compensation occurs elsewhere. The backs of your thighs and lower back muscles are recruited instead. Basically, your entire body does not benefit from your workouts.

WHAT ARE THE GLUTES?

The gluteus maximus is roughly three times the size of the biceps (front of your arm), and it’s the largest of the three gluteal muscles. It begins at the top of the pelvis and wraps around underneath the hip, where it connects to the femur. It extends the femur at the hip and laterally rotates the extended hip.

The gluteus medius is situated on the outside of the hip and the gluteus minimus is directly beneath it. Together, they are responsible for abduction and rotation of the femur at the hip. They also assist the gluteus maximus in extension. The gluteus medius muscle contracts, stabilising the pelvis when standing on one foot. This prevents the pelvis from tilting to the unsupported side during activities such as walking.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY GLUTES ARE WEAK?

Weakness in the hips and glutes is common among those of us who sit all day.
If you spend eight hours or more a day seated, your glutes atrophy through underuse. When this happens, they cannot activate correctly.

If a muscle isn’t contracted, the muscle nerve neurons become dormant. The lower back becomes dominant and the glutes are neglected. This results in bad posture and bad form when you exercise.

The body is an interconnected system. If the muscles do not fire in the right sequence, other muscles compensate, possibly resulting in strain or injury.

For example:

  • Weak glutes can’t stabilise your pelvis, which causes it to tilt forward. This puts pressure on your lower spine.
  • The lower back can be injured if it is forced to do the hip-extending job of the glutes.
  • The ankles can be strained if misused due to improper alignment caused by inactive glutes.

The glutes are your most important muscles, vital for the health and strength of the whole body, especially your back. Together with the abdominal muscles, they make up our core. Just as you can’t have a strong tree without strong roots, it’s impossible to be strong without a strong bum.

Strong glutes and good hip mobility allow us to efficiently use multi-joint exercises, such as lunges, to strengthen the whole body. Multi-joint exercises increase strength and size far more effectively than isolation exercises like leg curls.

SO HOW IS MY BUM CONNECTED TO MY TRICEPS?

Try a simple test: a tricep dip. This is a standard arm exercise. But does your lower back or thighs start to ache after a few reps? If so, your glutes are not strong enough to hold your pelvis stable, so other muscles have stepped in, making the tricep dip less effective.

Another test is to try a plank.

If your glutes are not firing, your back muscles are recruited to support the pelvis. This means your abs are not working sufficiently to strengthen them, and you’re straining your back, too.

HOW DO I ACTIVATE MY GLUTES?

Traditional bum-firming exercises are of no use if your glutes aren’t activated. Your other muscles will compensate as usual.

Our top recommendation to get your glutes firing is an exercise called the Clam.

To perform it, lie on your side with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Keeping your feet and ankles together, use your buttocks to open your knees like a clam. You should feel this in the glutes, not in the legs.

Clams and hip extensions activate the muscles and wake the dormant nerves from their slumber. This YouTube video from trainer Wayne Gordon shows how to do the clam with good form.

Other good exercises that build size and strength are the multi-joint exercises. Do dead lifts, deep squats, lunges and step-ups while making sure your weight is in your heels. If it transfers to your toes, you’re using your quads and lower back, not your glutes. Another option is to try yoga.

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