What Is “Butt Amnesia”?
We all want a derriere worthy of peach emoji praise. However, a well-conditioned butt is about more than aesthetics — it’s essential for protecting your back from pain and injury.
In our sedentary culture, however, most of us have actually lost the mind-body connection to our glutes. Sitting at a 90-degree angle switches off our ability to contract the glute muscles, and the pandemic has only deepened this lack of gluteal activation and strength.
Physical therapists have even dubbed this phenomenon “butt amnesia.” Thankfully, though, this pattern can be reversed. CA personal trainer Darrell Gough is here to share a few simple moves to help reacquaint you with your booty muscles so you can reap the full-body benefits.
The health risks of butt amnesia
Golfers will likely remember Tiger Woods’ famous “glute activation” mishap. A few years back, Woods made headlines for delaying his tee time because his glutes supposedly wouldn’t activate, which caused him back pain. Strange as it may sound, Woods wasn’t being dramatic.
“All great athletes, regardless of their sport, have well-conditioned glutes,” says Gough. “Woods was doing isolated bodybuilding exercises, not functional ones, and his back paid the price. The bottom line is that your glutes must be switched on if you want a healthy back.”
It’s sort of like when guys flex their biceps for mirror selfies at the gym. That’s exactly what we need to do for the glutes, but because we sit so much, it’s more challenging for us to make the same connection. Even if you don’t have a desk job, it’s likely you spend a fair amount of time texting. This causes your shoulders to round, which creates a domino effect of everything else rounding (including your spine). No bueno.
The gluteus maximus has lots of work to do: It’s what keeps your trunk straight in a standing posture, and it helps move the hips and thighs. It’s also the biggest muscle in the body, so when these muscles are weak (there’s one on each side), it leads to compensatory movements that cause injury. In studying cadavers, Dr. Tyna Moore has even found that the ones who suffered from back issues had pancake-flat butt tissue (Dr. Stuart McGill’s website is also a great resource to learn more. He is a leading back specialist who officially coined the term butt amnesia).
“There are seven primal patterns of movement. The human body was designed to push, pull, bend, twist, squat, lunge and gait,” says Gough. “Butt amnesia often becomes evident in your squat pattern. Good squat mechanics allow you to pick up a heavy case of water, keep it close to your hips and activate your glutes to stabilize your back. However, if it’s not in good shape, that’s when pain or injuries occur.”
To develop a functionally strong body, it’s best to focus on these movement patterns rather than isolated muscle groups. That’s one reason dynamic stretching is so valuable; it’s all about functional movements.
“It’s absolutely essential that you’re doing something to work on movement patterns to stay strong, safe and mobile, especially if you’re over the age of 40,” says Gough.
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Time to fire up the glutes!
Okay, so now that we’ve covered the health and performance benefits, how do you actually go about activating your all-important glute muscles?
One – Sit mindfully
Here’s the thing: Glute activation isn’t limited to your workout routine. It’s important to create more regular awareness in your everyday activities, too. When you’re sitting, take frequent breaks to stretch and move. Sit with proper posture in a neutral pelvis position (not rounding or arching the back). Gough encourages clients to extend one leg back and one forward, almost like they’re sitting side saddle, to stretch out the hip and flex the butt muscle.
Two – Glute bridges
Glute bridges are a great place to start, especially for seniors or those who sit for prolonged periods of time. These can be done on a yoga mat or even from bed. “Contracting your glutes in this pose trains you to be more aware, which carries over into daily life the next time you pick up a heavy object,” says Gough.
Here’s how: Lie down on your back. Bend your knees so that they’re pointing to the sky, with the soles of your feet planted on the floor. Then, lift your pelvis to the ceiling without arching your back. You should feel the hamstrings and butt muscles on both sides engaged. Try to hold for five seconds, and then repeat 10 times.
There’s also lots of creative variations you can play with when it comes to glute bridges. A more advanced version (pictured below) is to place your heels on the ball.
Three – Romanian deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts go a step further than glute bridges, and involve adding weights to condition the glutes and posterior back muscles. This move also improves your “bend” movement pattern.
Here’s how: Start with your feet hip width apart. Choose weights of your choice (kettebells, dumbbells, even a broomstick or shovel works on the fly). Then, with a slight bend in your knees, hinge from your hips and lower the weights toward the ground while keeping a long, straight spine. Now, return to your standing position and squeeze your butt muscles. Keep your weights close to your body the whole time and remember to engage your core. It’s also super important to make sure you are never rounding your back.
Combat butt amnesia with CA
After years of prolonged sitting, reactivating your glutes can be a challenge. However, it’s far from impossible…especially when you enlist the expertise and support of one of CA’s qualified trainers.
The first step is to fill out our referral form, which gives our fitness training supervisors background on your goals and preferences so they can find the right fit (we have more than 30 trainers across three fitness clubs!). Once you fill out the form, either the fitness training supervisor or the personal trainer will contact you to discuss setting up a free consultation.