Firm up your butt to reduce back pain and improve function.
Weakness in the gluteus medius--one of three "butt" muscles, along with the gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus--is linked to non-specific (no identifiable cause), chronic low-back pain, according to a study published online on May 26, 2015 in the European Spine Journal.
"It's a great study, and I know from my own patients that weak glute muscles are a factor in low-back pain. The authors urge future studies to see if strengthening those muscles help, and I'm convinced it does," says Robert Turner, PT, OCS, a board-certified orthopedic specialist and clinical supervisor at the Spine Therapy Center at the Weill-Cornell affiliated Hospital for Special Surgery.
Your glute muscles work with the muscles in your low back to help you maintain an upright posture, Turner explains. "If you have weak glute muscles, instead of extending your hips to stand up straight, you extend your back muscles to try to balance yourself over your limbs, and that leads to low-back pain."
Another common problem is improper movement patterns. Simply put, instead of using the glutes and hips to initiate lower-body movements, many people move their legs forward by using their calf muscles and pushing out with their feet. "This is an inefficient movement pattern that ignores the glutes, which keeps them weak and flabby," Turner says.
Hands-on help. The first step in strengthening and firming up your butt is to be aware of what your glutes are supposed to do and when, Turner observes. "The glutes are jumper muscles. They generate high-power movement for short bursts of time--perfect for initiating the movement needed to get up out of a chair and propel yourself up the stairs."
To help clients properly use their glute muscles when walking, Turner often walks behind them and pokes their glutes to remind them to squeeze those muscles and push the pelvis forward, instead of using the calves and ankles. Another way to experience glute activation is to wear pants with two back pockets and put one hand in each pocket (or place your hands where the back pockets would be if you had them). "You should feel your glute muscles contracting (tightening) and gently releasing as you walk," says Turner.
The proper movement pattern for walking is to feel your abdominal muscles engage, then your glute muscles engage, then your leg muscles moving forward from right underneath your "sit bones" (the section of your pelvic bone that touches first when you sit down), Turner explains
To strengthen the glutes and help them activate in the proper sequence, Turner recommends doing the two exercises shown below. Also, practice slowly getting up out of a chair without using your hands, then slowly sitting back down), as well as going upstairs two steps at a time.
"Strong glutes, firing at the appropriate time, will make it easier for you to do daily activities and will also make your butt firm and functional," Turner concludes.