Unfortunately for us, we live in a time where our life style predisposes us to muscle imbalances

Searching for the Long, Lost Glutes

Do you remember the first time you squatted or dead lifted in the gym?  I sure do- put weights on the bar, go down, push, come back up.  Simple. I can still remember exactly where I felt it- in my quads and low back respectively; nothing in my glutes. Go ahead, now is the point in time where you admit to yourself that that was you back when you lost your training virginity. Heck, that might even be you now.

If truth be told, many of the high level athletes I’ve been working with are in the same boat.  And really, it’s kind of funny- not as in “ha-ha everyone’s getting injured” funny; more of a “ha-ha isn’t it slightly ridiculous that we don’t really know how to do basic movements and recruit big muscles properly?” funny.

Lucky you.  You’re reading this blog, and today you will start to become aware of your glutes and how to actually use them. 

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

“Kristian, what the heck are you talking about?!”

Your sexy glutes are made up of three muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus- is one of the largest muscles in the body and your strongest hip extensor and also works in externally rotating your leg
  • Gluteus Medius and Minimus- both act in abducting your leg (basically pulling your leg out to the side)

Exercises like squats and deadlifts are complicated- being that there are different movements going on in many different joints as we complete them. The issue is that we often dominate with one group of muscles and don’t necessarily use all the agonist and antagonist muscles required to complete the movement effectively or efficiently. This, in turn, can lead to muscle imbalances, which can further lead to pain and injury.

Unfortunately for us, we live in a time where our life style predisposes us to muscle imbalances. If you refer back to my blog on sitting, you’ll be reminded that sitting wreaks havoc on our body, posture and muscle balance. This holds true not only for our upper body, but our lower body as well.

Often, I will have patients come into my clinic complaining of low back pain or knee pain. If there is no major mechanism of injury (i.e. a car accident), one of the first places I examine are the hips to see if there is any major glaring issues that could be predisposing this patient to pain and discomfort (the hips don’t lie…) For the majority of the time I will see an inability to effectively recruit their gluteal muscles.

This inability does not prevent someone from being able to complete a movement. As I’ve mentioned before, the human body is quite resilient. We can find ways to complete movements; whether we are in pain and/or if the right muscles aren’t being used properly. However, I’m sure you’ve probably already guessed that this can only lead to further pain, injury and discomfort.

“So Kristian, what should I be feeling while dead-lifting or squatting?”

Here’s the deal- while doing these movements, if you’re loading on the weight you will feel it pretty much everywhere in your core and lower limb. BUT if you’re only feeling it in your quads or low back- you’re doing them wrong.

“So Kristian, how do I go about activating my glutes, so I know I’m feeling these exercises in the right places?”

Let’s start from the basics and see if we can actually get those glutes to fire on their own.

Lay on your back with your knees up and your feet on the floor- put your hands underneath the small of your back. Pretend there is a peanut between your butt cheeks and squeeze! Make your bum as small as possible.  Now, see if you can do this without activating the muscles of your low back- keep them loose and soft- not hard as a rock.  Once you can do this, we are off to the races. If you want to challenge yourself and try to raise your pelvis in the air by only squeezing your glutes (like the picture)...This can be tough- make sure you're not firing those lower back muscles!

Start on your knees with your bum at your heels. Bring yourself upright by squeezing your glutes together and pushing your pelvis forward. This should not be felt in your quads or low back.  If you’re having trouble doing this, place your hands on your glute and try to hard/squeeze your glutes so that your fingers can feel it.

These two exercises are the start of how to fully discover your glutes. The trick is to get comfortable with these and then incorporate them into your daily lives (work, lifting, chores, etc.).  My next post I will be going over the proper mechanics of the squat to put this whole “glute” thing to bed.

Final note. If you’re experiencing chronic low back, hip or knee pain you should give these a go. You may be surprised at your inability to recruit your gluteal muscles. Also, consult a health professional or trainer who is knowledgeable with biomechanics and musculoskeletal health.  They will be able to guide you to ensure that you are performing these exercises and other movements properly, effectively and efficiently.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or comments, please post them below or stop by Satori or the Richmond Olympic Oval and we can grab a tea and chat about it all.


Dr. Kristian Frantzen