Most people want strong, shapely glute muscles for aesthetic reasons. What better way to look good in a pair of jeans? But having strong gluteal muscles has orthopedic benefits too. When your glutes are weak, it increases your risk for hip and knee injuries. Unfortunately, there’s a growing problem of “gluteal amnesia,” thanks to the fact that so many people sit at a desk most of the day. What is gluteal amnesia and what can you do to correct this common problem?
Gluteal Amnesia: Glutes That Forget to Activate
When you sit for long periods of time, your gluteal muscles, consisting of the gluteus maximum, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, are inactive. As you sit for long spells without rising from your chair or stretching, your hip flexors tighten, further inactivating your glute muscles. Over time, the glutes “forget” how to activate, and become lazy. This is sometimes referred to as gluteal amnesia.
Another cause of gluteal amnesia is poor posture and postural imbalances. Some people have a pelvis that tips forward, called an anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior tilting of the pelvis stretches the gluteal muscles so they can’t be as readily activated. A combination of anterior pelvic tilt and sitting too much during the day leads to lazy glute muscles that put you at risk for injury. Plus, research links poor glute activation with back pain and pelvic instability.
Another sign of gluteal amnesia is tight hamstrings. When your glutes are lazy, your hamstrings have to work harder to make up for their slack. As a result, you may experience frequent hamstring strains. Knee or hip discomfort can also be related to weak or lazy glutes. Why would gluteal amnesia lead to knee pain? When your glutes are weak, your femur internally rotates, placing stress on the cartilage in your knees. As you can see, weak glutes place stress on a variety of muscles and joints and create an imbalance that puts you at risk for injury. It also negatively affects your posture. This, in turn, can lead to further imbalance and injury. It’s a vicious cycle.
Correcting Gluteal Amnesia
To correct the problem of glutes that have gone to sleep, you need to do exercises that specifically activate your gluteal muscles. Many women are “quadriceps dominant” and have weaker hamstrings and glutes relative to their quadriceps. To restore balance and wake up slumbering gluteus muscles, do a variety of exercises that activate the glute muscles. Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges target the hamstrings and glutes, but to correct gluteal amnesia, add exercises that isolate the glutes like donkey kicks and glute bridges. Squats activate the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles but single leg squats do it better. So, add one-legged squats to your routine. This exercise is good for balance training too.
Focus on tightening your glute muscles when you do other exercises as well. Practice squeezing your glute muscles when you’re not actively exercising, when you’re standing in line and when you’re walking. The more you sit during the day, the more you need to target glutes in your training. If possible, elevate your work station so you can work standing up. The less sitting the better. If you have to sit, take a break and do squats or glute squeezes every 30 minutes.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt and Weak Glutes
As mentioned, the anterior pelvic tilt is a contributor to glute amnesia. How do you know if you have it? Place your back against a wall. Put your hands between the wall and the point where your back is furthest from the wall. If you can easily slide two hands into the space, you have anterior pelvic tilt. With anterior pelvic tilt, you’ll also see a more pronounced curve in your lower back when you look at yourself from the side. You may notice that your tummy protrudes forward, creating the appearance of a pot belly, even if you carry little fat on your abs.
So, how did you end up with an anterior pelvic tilt? Genetics are a factor but sitting in a chair too much can give it to you too. When you sit for long periods of time, your hip flexors shorten and your pelvis tilts forwards. Hip flexor stretches help correct an anterior tilting pelvis as does an exercise called the lying pelvic tilt. Lying pelvic tilts retrain your pelvis to maintain a neutral position.
To do a lying pelvic tilt, lie on your back with your knees spread slightly apart. Focus on pushing your lower back against the floor and holding it. Once you’ve mastered pelvic tilts lying down, do them in an upright position. Stand against a wall with your feet 5 inches apart. Press your lower back against the wall and hold it for 15 seconds. Repeat 15 times. Glute bridges and hip thrusts are other exercises that help correct anterior pelvic tilt and gluteal amnesia.
With anterior pelvic tilt, the muscles that need to be strengthened are your glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals. Correcting anterior pelvic tilt will also help with gluteal amnesia. In some cases, an anterior pelvic tilt is so severe that physical therapy may be necessary. In most cases, you can do a lot to correct gluteal amnesia and anterior pelvic on your own.
The Bottom Line
If you sit a lot, experience recurrent hamstring tightness or have anterior pelvic tilt, you probably have glutes that aren’t activating properly. To correct gluteal amnesia, do a variety of exercises that target your glutes, stretch your hip flexors, sit less and do exercises to correct anterior pelvic tilt if you have it.
ShapeFit.com “Gluteal Amnesia: Weakness in Your Glutes Can Cause Stress Issue”
J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. Jul;39(7):532-40, 2009.
Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation 81, 32-37. (2000)
Am J Sports Med. 2006;34(4): 630-636.
J Athl Train. 2004 Oct-Dec; 39(4): 352-364.
Related Articles By Cathe:
Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs: