How well do you know your weight training anatomy? Quiz time. What’s the largest and strongest muscle in your body? If you said the gluteus maximus, you’re right. The muscles that make up your backside are three: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the smaller gluteus minimus. Judging by their names, you’re correct in assuming the gluteus maximus is the largest. In fact, it’s the biggest and strongest muscle in your body and it’s strategically situated right in the middle of your body. However, despite its potential strength, many of us don’t have glutes that are as strong as they should be.
Why is there an epidemic of gluteal weakness? The average person gets out of bed in the morning, sits in a chair most of the day, and sits again while eating dinner and watching television. If they don’t do a structured workout, their glutes get no stimulation at all. Sitting is particularly bad for the trio of muscles that make up your glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus.
Sitting also tightens up the muscles that make up your hip flexors. Due to reciprocal inhibition, when your hip flexors shorten, your glutes relax and gradually relax. Over time, they weaken and atrophy due to disuse. So, you end up with an imbalance between the flexor and extensor muscles that control your hips and your posture. Plus, your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors are forced to work harder. Somebody has to do the work! This imbalance can impact every aspect of your physical performance and even lead to hip, back, and knee pain. How many people are walking around with chronic back pain because their glutes are permanently asleep?
The Strongest Muscle in Your Body – The Aesthetics of Weak Glute Muscles
Weak glute muscles can alter the appearance of your backside too. When your gluteal muscles are weak, your buttocks lack shape and definition. As we age, buttocks become flatter in appearance anyway and this can be remedied, to some degree, by getting those glutes to fire up rather than letting them sleep on the job. There’s even some thought that constant sitting predisposes to cellulite by reducing blood and lymph flow to and from your backside. So, strong glutes are better for the shape of your buttocks as well as the function of your entire body.
The Strongest Muscle in Your Body – Waking Up Weak Glutes
You might think that if you strength train regularly, your glutes couldn’t be weak. Yet hours of sitting can enfeeble them even if you strength train regularly. Plus, you don’t use your glute muscles much in your daily movements. Walking on level ground does little to activate them, although climbing stairs, squatting down to pick something up, and walking on an incline does to some degree. Because you probably don’t use these muscles a lot, focused training is vital. It may be the only opportunity the muscles in your backside are forced to work.
You’re probably are already including lower body exercises, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts in your strength-training routine. But what if you’re working your lower body and your glutes are still not shaping up? The problem may be that you’re not fully activating your glutes when you do exercises like lunges and squats. It’s a more common problem than you think.
One sign that you’re not activating your glutes when you perform compound exercises is you don’t feel the burn in those muscles when you squat or lunge using heavy weights. You feel it in your quads and hamstrings – but your glutes, not so much. Also, you might notice that your quads and glutes are sore but your glutes are not. These are signs that you’re not kicking your glutes into action when you do lower body exercises.
The Strongest Muscle in Your Body – Focused Glute Exercises
So, what can you do? Keep squats and lunges in your routine but add focused glute exercises, like glute bridges, clamshells, single-leg bridges, and hip extensions. These exercises are designed to wake up slumbering glute muscles. Add single leg deadlifts and single leg squats to your routine to work one side with intensity and then the other. When you perform these exercises matters too. Do focused glute exercises BEFORE you do squats and lunges to wake them up and get them ready to work. When you pre-activate your glutes, they’re more likely to fire when you do compound, lower body exercises.
Another tip is to work on your posture when you’re standing and sitting. When you have proper spinal alignment, you’ll naturally activate your glutes when you squat and lunge. How is your office set up? Make sure you have an ergonomically friendly chair and desk and are sitting properly in that chair. Take frequent walking breaks to stretch out your hip flexors. Incorporate hip flexor stretches into your fitness routine to lengthen them. When you stand up, do a few sets of glute squeezes where you squeeze your glute muscles as tightly as possible and hold for as long as you can.
Kettlebells, too, can help you whip your glutes into shape as well. If you take this approach, keep working up to heavier kettlebells as working with greater resistance activates the glutes more. Just make sure you’re not using a weight that compromises your form.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line has to do with YOUR bottom line. Weak glutes aren’t just an aesthetic issue. All the muscles in your body are interconnected. A weakness in one muscle can affect the entire kinetic chain and create imbalances that impact your athletic performance. A sedentary lifestyle with lots of sitting brings on gluteal amnesia, which impacts the muscles above and below your glutes. If your glutes have gone to sleep, your risk of back and knee pain are higher. As Bret Contreras, the “glute guy” points out, the gluteal muscles are muscles that are easily inhibited. Keep that in mind and work on doing the things you need to do to wake up those backside muscles and reignite the strongest muscle in your body.
OnFitness. Nov/Dec 2016. “Quest for a Firm, Shapely Backside”
The Glute Guy. “How to Fix Glute Imbalances”
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