In this article Clive Fogelman explores the importance of both stretching and strengthening when training the glutes in your movement practices.
Training the glutes
In my teens I did lot of sport including football, running, cricket and rugby. Recovery and conditioning weren’t so much on the agenda then. As a result, I experienced extreme tightness in my glutes which also contributed to ongoing back pain.
In my early 20’s I was introduced to yoga to develop a more consolidated stretching routine.
I realised very soon just how tight I was, not just with my glutes but also my hips and hamstrings. Soon, I was practising every day and gradually I noticed a profound shift in my body and poses like seated crossed legged and pigeon became somewhat bearable! But then I realised my body was going in the opposite direction. I was over-stretching. I realised one day after a game of football that I wasn’t running as quick as usual and that my kicking didn’t have the same force. By over stretching my legs, they lost some of their strength.
Consequently, I revisited my yoga and other movement practises and explored how I could use them as a vehicle for both stretching and strengthening my body. And both are really important for the glutes.
A bit about the glutes
The glutes are one of largest group of muscles in the body and key players for leg strength and mobility.
The gluteus maximus, the biggest gluteus muscle, helps propel us forward when we walk, run or climb up stairs. The gluteus medius and minimus help stabilise the pelvis and support hip abduction and thigh rotation.
Reasons for strengthening the Glutes
Many people might have chronically tight and weak glutes (sometimes accompanied with tight hip flexor muscles) due to prolonged sitting and living a more sedentary lifestyle. As a result, glutes become inactive and in effect, switch off because of an over-reliance on other muscles during exercise and everyday movements that should be performed by the glutes. Training the glutes has lots of benefits such as:
- Improves Body Strength
Our glutes are capable of generating a huge amount of power. It is the powerhouse that pushes our body forward and essential for the strength that is required for walking, running and so many other sports.
- Better Posture
Having strong glute muscles can help give the spine the support it needs and the stabilisation our pelvis requires to maintain a healthy posture. Weak glutes can affect lower back alignment which in turn can make us more suspectable to lower back injury.
Strong glutes really help to stabilise the body when we are trying to hold balances such as standing poses in yoga and can also help support our balance when we are transitioning from pose to pose.
- Reduced Chance of Injury
When are glutes are stronger it can also protect vulnerable areas of the body such as your hamstrings, knees, and lower back. It is essential that these areas function in a healthy manner in order to perform simple daily activities well. If the glutes aren’t activating, the rest of the body including the spine can become overworked and injured.
Effective ways to strengthen the glutes
While there are a range of postures and movements you can you use for strengthening your glutes my favourites are bridges, lateral walking with a resistance band, squatting, high lunges and side skaters.
Reasons for stretching the glutes
Another reason glutes can feel tight is from over exercising with a lack of recovery and stretching. In fact, over-exercising combined with lots of sitting can prove very problematic. Stretching the glutes is really important to keep them in good shape. Some benefits of stretching the glutes include:
- Improve muscle stiffness
It is common to experience muscle tightness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), as your muscles begin to adapt to being used in different ways especially when starting new activities or when you expand your current routines. Regularly stretching the glutes can help reduce or avoid muscle stiffness in the lower body. Stretching the glutes can also relieve release stiffness/ tension around the hips and lower back.
- Mobility & Flexibility
Flexible glutes can support better lower body mobility which not only helps us with walking and running and other sports but also daily activities like walking downstairs. In terms of our yoga practise, it can help us get into certain poses and move more efficiently between poses.
- Reduced Pain and Injury
Glute stretches help to relieve a whole range of symptoms. I have found tight glutes after exercise often refer pain in the knee, hip or back by subtly altering the position of the leg, causing an uneven distribution of forces through the knee. And sometimes no matter how much I try to release tightness in my back, it is not until I have stretched the glutes first that I feel more release in my back.
- Rest & Renewal
Some stretches for glutes can be incorporated into our yin yoga practise. Over the years, I have greatly benefitted from yin yoga where poses are often held for several minutes. This is to encourage fascia (connective tissue), surrounding bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, to ease and open. This can facilitate a very a deep release in tight areas of the body like the glutes. In turn, this can aid in recovery after a strong workout. It’s also nice to slow down now and then!
Effective ways to stretch the glutes
Again, there are a range of glute stretches but my regular ones include some self-myofascial release with a tennis ball, pigeon pose , shoelace pose and seated figure 4 stretch (from a chair). You can even try standing figure 4 stretch which you might find strengthens the glute on the standing leg while stretching the glute on the other leg. Working on balance and flexibility together!
Some final take-aways for training the glutes:
- Strengthening and stretching the glutes are both important for maintaining stability, mobility and flexibility while reducing the chances of injury.
- Activate the glutes during your warm-up with some dynamic stretching e.g. slowly squatting up and down. Dynamic stretching usually involves performing similar movements to a sport or exercise at a slower pace. You might often find the beginning of a yoga class integrates this.
- Incorporate a few light glute stretches during your cool down and after completing your exercise. I tend to wait to later in the day or the next day to have a longer and deeper stretch.
- While stretching can sometimes help relieve pain it can also sometimes exacerbate it. Consulting with a physical therapist can be very useful to more clearly identify what’s going on. You can also get a tailored programme of strengthening and stretching exercises to follow.
- Try not to sit for too long at one time. (*On that note, it’s time for me to finish this article and get up as I’ve now been sitting for too long!)
About Clive Fogelman:
Clive Fogelman is a London based yoga and meditation teacher with a background in learning and development as well as psychotherapeutic work and sports coaching. Clive focuses on supporting people to cultivate intuition in their own bodies and develop greater self-awareness.