Bubble Butt- But how?
Learning what the Gluteus Muscles are and how to work them!
It’s about this time of year, while squeezing into those jeans again, that we become dreadfully aware of what our butt does or doesn’t look like. Know what I’m saying? Ever thought, “My butt looks so big/saggy/flat/cellulite-y”? Well your Gluteus muscles, (as I’ll be PC and refer to them from now on as), have an important role to play in stability and strength, as well as just (hopefully!) looking great in those jeans. Today, I’ll explain the gluts important role from a physiotherapy perspective and then break it down into how to achieve your desired derrière.
The Gluteus muscles are made up of three layers, each with a slightly different role to play around the hip joint. The deepest muscle layer known as “Gluteus Minimus” is the closest glut muscle to the hip joint. It’s role is to pull the hip joint capsule away from the joint as it moves to allow controlled translational forces within the joint and less compression on the hip socket. This muscle is meant to activate first, prior to the superficial gluts.
The next layer on top of the Gluteus Mimimus is called the “Gluteus Medius”, which is located postero-laterally behind the greater trochanter, or hip bone. This muscle is responsible for mediolateral, or side-to-side, stability within the pelvis and hips while upright and moving. It also helps to abduct the thigh, which means to move the leg outwards from the midline.
The outer layer of the bottom muscles is called the “Gluteus Maximus” and this is the largest glut muscle overlying the back of the hip and it spans from the back of the pelvis to the bottom crease above the hamstrings and to the lateral hip bone (greater trochanter).
In a normal, fit and active person, the Gluts should all work well together in synergy to provide power while walking and running, stability while standing and moving around and allow a person to stand in a neutral pelvic tilt or “good posture”. However, due to the increase in our sedentary lifestyles, like sitting at a desk 8 hours per day, and lazy postural habits, we are starting to find marked weakness in these important glut muscles and furthermore, resultant pain and injury.
Weak gluts can show up as lower back pain, hip pain, knee pain, foot or ankle pain due to their important role in biomechanics and controlling the lower limb motion while moving. Weakness in the Gluteus Maximus will lead to poor hip extension strength (or push off) while walking and running, forcing other muscles to take over and become tight, like the hip flexors and quadriceps. Weakness in the Gluteus Medius will allow too much side to side movement in the pelvic and can cause common problems such as tight ITB band, tendinopathy, greater trochanteric bursitis and hip osteoarthris to name a few. Weakness in the Gluteus Minimis can cause hip impingement and increased wear and tear within the hip joint to name just a few.
So how do we get all these Gluteus muscles working in synergy the way they should and also achieve a firm, strong backside?
If you have any injuries or pain it is important to receive hands-on physiotherapy to treat the issues that may be causing weakness or inhibition of the Gluteus muscles. Getting the neural connection firing to the muscles by regaining normal movement in the body and learning how to connect to the muscles mentally is the first step.
Pilates exercises mixed with physiotherapy motor control training is one of the most successful ways to get those glut muscles working again.
You can learn to switch on your Gluteus Minimus by lying on your side with two pillows or a foam roller between your knees, with the legs bent at a 30degree angle. Feel the bony side of the hip and then move the fingers up and backwards ever so slightly to the flesh. Without using any muscles at the front of the hip, imagine you are going to lift your entire upper leg up into the air until you feel a small amount of tension behind the hip. It may feel like it requires the smallest, 1 %, movement to feel it activate. If you feel the front muscles tense, relax and go slower and gentler, it’s a tiny, tiny squeeze. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat x 10.
You can also learn to be aware of your Glut Miminus while performing other exercises eg squats and bridges. To do this, standing, imagine your hip bones are connected internally by a horizontal wire. Gently pull the two hip bones together along that line and feel how you get a small amount of squeeze behind the lateral hip bones as above? Try to maintain this visualization as you move through your squat range for improved awareness of the Glut Muscles.
Allsports Pilates Brisbane is equipped with a diagnostic ultrasound machine which is used by the physiotherapists to show you where the Gluteus Minimus is located and how to activate it.
The Glut Medius (med) muscle can also be activated while lying on the side and gently lifting the knee, as with a “Clam” exercise. Special care is to be taken so as to not activate the Tensor Fascia Lata muscle at the front of the hip joint while doing so. Research has found that in cases of advanced hip joint pathology, Gluteus Med is atrophied (Grimaldi et al, 2009).
The role of the Glut Med is really to stabilize the hip and pelvis while in an upright, weight bearing position and therefore, more functional upright positions are the preferred method of training this muscle.
Exercises such as Bridges, squats, lunges and step ups are particularly useful glut med training tools, but it is important to make sure the knees align with the middle toe, hip and shoulder while performing these to achieve optimum activation. Single Leg standing and squatting with particular attention to keeping the hips aligned and the knee pointing forward also uses Gluteus Medius and you should notice a good burning feeling in the side of the gluts when you are doing these exercises correctly.
Try standing next to a wall with tall posture and slightly bent knees, bend your closest leg and press gently into the wall without letting the body move. Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat x 20. You should start feeling a burning on the standing leg!
Achieving a strong and stable Gluteus Medius will tone the lateral part of the gluts to achieve that rounded bottom you are aiming for.
The Gluteus Maximus (max) is divided up into two portions, the top half and horizontally aligned glut max fibres and the bottom half, the vertically aligned fibres. These two halves work slightly differently, the top half is responsible for abduction (sideways) movement of the leg, and the bottom half is responsible for hip extension and propulsion while moving. It is the lower half of the Glut Max that is often the weakest, showing up as a floppy or saggy lower bottom cheek, particularly if you have hip osteoarthritis, lower back pain or knee pain. Often to compensate for a weak Gluteus Max, the hamstrings become overactive and tight and the lower back extensor muscles do the same. This is also a common presentation for people with recurrent hamstring tears.
Research into the function of the glut muscles in hip pathology has shown that the more advanced the pathology, the more weakness can be found in the lower Gluteus Max fibres and the more hypertrophy in the upper glut max and tensor fascia lata muscle (Grimaldi et al, 2008).
Exercises such as Bridging can target the lower gluteus fibres well if you palpate the bottom part of the Glut Max while you do so. To feel an extra “burn” in this area, try only coming down halfway and then bridging back up again repetitively. Also adding hold time up the top of the bridge can help you feel these more.
Step ups, Squats and Lunges have also been shown to be particularly good at targeting the gluteus max, however important attention must be paid to making sure the trunk is leaning forward from the hips and the pressure is through the front heel. This forward lean produces an increased amount of hip flexion, which has been found to be the best position to gain glut activation and awareness.
Pilates offers a large range of equipment exercises that isolate and target the Gluteus muscles better than any other gym exercise. For example the Standing Sidesplits, Scooter, Side Lying Glut series, Lunges and Step Ups on the equipment to name a few. See our Instagram and Facebook accounts for video examples of these exercises.
Q Pilates Best Butt Workout Includes:
- Pilates equipment and floor exercises (eg Scooter, Sidesplits, Side lying glut series on the mat and reformer, clams, side leg lifts, circles etc)
- Squats (attention to knee alignment and bending forward from the hips)
- Wide Squats
- Squat Holds and pulses
- Bridges (feel underneath the lower glut max for optimum activation)
- Single leg Bridges are a great way to increase the burn too!
- Single Leg Squats or Deadlifts (NB knee and hip alignment)
- Lunges (with forward trunk lean and weight through front heel)
- Slow and controlled Step Ups (with forward trunk lean and correct knee position)
- Side lying clams, single leg lifts, leg circles etc (not to be used as the only form of glut exercise)
- Gluteus minimus awareness while performing the above (drawing the hips towards each other in an imaginary line to pre-activate)
- Grimaldi et al (2009). The association between degenerative hip joint pathology and size of the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and piriformis muscles. Man Ther. 2009 Dec;14(6):605-10
- Grimaldi et al (2008). The association between degenerative hip joint pathology and size of the gluteus maximus and tensor fascia lata muscles. Man Ther. 2009 Dec;14(6):611-7
- Image Sources: