You squat, you lift, you swing and keep getting rewarded by a sore back? Do you keep having trouble with lower back pain? No matter how much you keep stretching, massaging or foam rolling – it just won’t get better? In most cases it’s actually pretty damn strong. Your butt may just be the bigger problem!
LOWER BACK PAIN THROUGH GLUTEAL AMNESIA
Yes, I said your butt is most likely the problem. Scientists, especially Dr. Stuart McGill, have shown, that the bigger part of our population is not able to control their gluteal muscles correctly. That includes professional athletes! It’s the main reason we keep not using our glutes for their main job: hip extension. See also Michael Boyle’s Strength Coach Blog
Too bad the glutes may just be one of the most important muscle groups in our body. They are the main source for power generation. And are also referred to as the source of eternal youth – if you want to believe world known strength coach Dan John on this one. I guess he’s on to something here as everyone will agree that a round, sexy and well trained butt is mostly associated with health and youth.
The missing ability to tightly flex your glutes is referred to as „gluteal amnesia“. In easy words: your butt fell asleep and is still sleeping“. The term gluteal amnesia was found by the Canadian back specialist Dr. Stuart McGill since he recognised more and more people suffered from this syndrome.
WHY AREN’T WE ABLE TO SWITCH ON OUR GLUTES?
A very good question. I have to admit there’s no definitive answer. It is rather a mix of different reasons. As always it’s got a lot to do with our sedentary lifestlye. Too much sitting causes a lot of problems. One of it ist that we unlearn some of the most basic human movements. Our fascia tightens, we loose mobility and muscular strength. All of this starts most likely with our very first day at school. Unfortunately this „big day“ for our little ones is also the day they cannot escape from our „sitting society“ anymore.
As our butt keeps getting more and more inactive – it kind of falls asleep – and we keep loosing the ability to use it properly. That sucks. Because our buttocks contain lots of potential, power and strength. If we use it in its original way. It is literally a goldmine regarding power development and health.
Let’s be honest. What in this beautiful world is made without meaning by mother nature? For sure not your booty. Without strong glutes you will note be able to stand upright or to extend your hips properly. This issue will be taken care of by your hamstrings or the erector spinae. These guys have to work extra hours in order to make up for your lazy glutes. As they need to work some extra time they are more likely to burn out early. Usually by cramping. This may also be chronically over time. Which means you now have a big problem, bro.
DO YOU HAVE GLUTEAL AMNESIA?
Really bad forms of gluteal amnesia are usually seen in elderly people or hardcore office guys. To check whether you have some form of gluteal amnesia perform Michael Warren Brown’s Butt Awareness Drill (BAD):
Lie down on your back, slide your hand underneath your cheeks and flex each cheek after the other. Switch constantly between left and right and flex them as tight as you can. Does that work without any cramps in any other parts? Good, there’s hope for you! You do not know how to flex your cheeks? There’s no hope for you, my friend. Switch to chess!
Of course not! Even if this is an impossible task at the moment, there’s nothing you can not (re)learn. Just repeat this drill as often as possible trying to switch on your gluteal muscles as hard as you can. It will finally work and be as easy as breathing.
Only because this drill works good for you does not mean you are done with this topic, though. Gluteal amnesia may as well mean that you are not able to keep your belt line parallel to the floor while standing or moving in an upright position. This is the first sign of gluteal amnesia. This concept was first released by Laurence Morehouse and Leonard Gross in their books „Total Fitness“ and „Maximum Performance“ in 1980. They are describing a woman that effortlessly glides over university campus and keeps her beltline parallel to the floor at all times. Unfortunately this is not the case for most of our population. We are more likely to let our hip kip to the front. We call this anterior pelvic tilt. This will let our beltline look down towards the floor.
The solution is to flex your glutes tightly. As if you want to crack a nut between your cheeks.
Try it. Get up and check your beltline. Is it parallel? Imagine there’s a big bowl of water inside your pelvis. You are trying to not spill any of the water while moving through space. Do you keep pouring water out the front of your bowl? Then squeeze your cheeks tightly. Your bucket should be straight now as you now have a neutral pelvis. The anterior pelvic tilt is a problem we see very often with people. Especially those with a sedentary lifestyle. Most likely the problem lies within weak glutes.
WHY DO I NEED THIS?
Your pelvis should be neutral. Always. No matter if you sit down, stand up or else. This is to relieve your lower back. If you are in a neutral position any force as well as your bodyweight will divide onto several body parts. Therefore you are pain free. Even while training, for example in the kettlebell swing, deadlift or the upper position of a goblet squat, your belt line should be parallel to the floor. Make sure you always pay attention to this.
You are missing out on a huge potential for power development if your glutes are too weak, for you are not able to use them properly. And you will work on your own destruction step by step. Sounds weird, but if your glutes are not doing their job regarding hip extension someone else will do so. Most of the time it’s your hamstrings or lower back. As they will tighten due to the extra work your body will try to make up for this by also tightening its anatagonist: your hip flexors. Because your bodies goal is to stand upright. Period. No matter the cost. That leaves you with weak glutes, tight hamstrings and a sore lower back as well as a stressed out hip flexor. Happy Birthday, mate. It will take quite some time to fix this, but it is possible.
YOUR SOLUTION: STRENGTH AND MOBILITY
The most important point is to use a holistic approach. You need to get stronger in your buttocks. This will be achieved by squats, lunges, hip thrusts, pistols, split squats, sled sprints etc. If you do need a special plan you may want to try Bret Contrera’s 30 Day Glute Challenge. It is suppossed to be good. From my point of view though it is only really good if you use it as add-on. Squats, Deadlifts and Lunges simply give you the best bang for your buck! If you are already familiar with squats I’d rather use squat programs.
You should never forget to work your mobility as well. Not only mobilising your joints but also working on your fascial release is very important. Learn more about how to release your fascia properly on my HEARTCORE Athletics Blog or YT channel.
Finish strong, Art