The sun is shining, the skies are blue, the flowers are blooming and summer awaits us just around the corner!
Spring is a time for the renewal of the natural world, and with the improving weather, we often fancy a bit of that renewal for ourselves, by making more time for exercise. Exercising makes the body feel and become fitter, healthier and lighter, and gears it up to take on new challenges.
Knowing how the mechanics of your body work and exercising different muscle groups means you can get fitter in a way that is healthy for the whole body, and also help you to avoid injury.
I’ve decided to dedicate this post to giving some tips on how to strengthen your glutes, also known as the buttocks, because – lets face it – everybody likes a good bum! You might laugh, but actually the poor old bum is often overlooked when we think about exercising and strengthening our bodies. If you want to know how and why you should perk up those bum cheeks of yours, keep on reading!
If you’ve been following my previous posts, you might have seen me mention a certain knee injury I got in India. Well, to cut a long story short I’ve got pain in my knee, but it turns out that the way to reduce the pain I’m experiencing is… you’ve guessed it, to strengthen my glutes!
This starts to make sense when you remember that all of the muscles in our bodies are connected; to each other and to different bones. The body is basically one big old web of muscle, connective tissue, nerves, and bones.
Lets look at how this works in terms of my injured knee. The glutes and pelvic bone are connected to the knee by a tendon (the Rectus Femoris Tendon in the picture), which runs along the outer side of the thigh. If the glutes are weak, the pelvic bone can tilt forward (curved lower back) and pull on this tendon which, lets not forget, is connected to the knee. Putting tension on the tendon thus leads to knee pain and there you have it; weak bum muscles resulting in a painful knee!
So, by making sure you have nice strong glutes, it is possible to reduce a number of different aches and pains you might be experiencing and also help you to fix your posture. Having strong glutes stabilizes the hips. This helps you when walking, running or climbing. Strong glutes can also prevent injury in the knees, hips, lower back, hamstrings and groins. Fixing foward-tilted hips (curved lower back) also draws your abdomen back in, reducing the visual illusion that you have a belly (yes, that’s right, that belly may just be an illusion!).
So, clearly having a good strong bum has a range of potential benefits. Now lets take a closer look at it! The buttocks are actually made up of three different muscles; the gluteal muscles. There is the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and last but not least the gluteus minimus. Together they make up one of the bodies largest muscles. Because the glutes are such a large muscle group, it easier to burn fat when we exercise them because muscles use stored fat for energy.
Before we go any further, it’s important to mention that every body is different and not all poses work the same way for each of us. Try the poses mentioned below and see if they benefit your body. If you are feeling any sharp pain or tingling sensations, reduce the duration or repetitions. We want to feel the muscles working but we don’t want to feel actual physical pain, so listen to your body’s signals! Also, if you have any injuries, please consult your doctor before practicing yoga.
Below are some exercises you can practice to strengthen your glutes. Suggested practice would be to do the exercises once every second day, with back stretching in between.
Get into the pose: Come on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend the legs back and come onto your toes, drawing the heels back and down. Try to align your ankles, hips and shoulders in one line, spread the shooulder blades. Squeeze your quadriceps and glutes and lift the right leg. Point your toes towards the ground and extend through the heel. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. You can start with 5-10 of these on each side and build it up as you go.
Benefits: The plank pose strengthens your core and tones your abs. It also strengthens the quadriceps and glutes. It stretches the muscles around your shoulders and shoulder blades as well as your hamstrings. As the whole body is stretched in this pose it can also help to elevate your mood.
Contraindications and caution: Be careful or avoid this pose if you have carpel tunnel syndrome or shoulder injuries.
Get into the pose: Stretch your arms forward in front of you, bring your legs together so your feet are touching. Rise up on your toes and lower your buttocks down into a squat, making sure to activate your quadriceps and glutes, press the legs in towards each other. Try to straighten the back and lower the abdomen towards the top of your thighs. Make sure your knees are behind your toes. Hold for 5 breaths, slowly lower your heels down to the ground and come back to standing upright.
Benefits: This pose tones the legs, strengthening the quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, calves and ankles. When done correctly it can stretch the chest and shoulders.
Contraindications and caution: Be careful or avoid this pose if you have knee issues, headache or low blood pressure.
Get into the pose: Lay flat on your back. Bend your knees and bring your feet as close to your buttocks as possible. Press the palms down on the mat and raise the hips up. Try to keep your knees parallel and make sure they are not dropping out to the sides.
If you are comfortable here, clasp the hands and walk your shoulders in towards each other. Shifting your weight onto the left foot, raise your right leg straight up into the air, extending through the heel and point the toes towards your face. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Hold for 5 seconds on each side and repeat 5-10 times, building up with time.
Benefits: The main muscle being used and strengthened in this pose is your gluteus maximus. The gluteus minumus, hamstrings, core and quadriceps are also worked.
Contraindications and caution: Make sure that you are not putting any weight on your neck here by tucking the chin in towards the chest and grounding well through the shoulders and feet. If you have any neck injuries, avoid this pose.
Get into the pose: Laying flat on your belly, bring your arms behind your back and clasp your hands. Draw the front part of your body up by drawing the hands down towards your feet. Pressing the pelvis into the mat, activate your glutes to raise the legs. Hold for 5 breaths and release. Repeat 5 times and build up as you go.
Benefits: The pose is a mini backbend which strengthens the back muscles and the core. It can help with back pain. If you spend most of your day sitting, this pose bends the spine in the opposite direction, opening the chest and keeping the spine flexible. Lifting the legs activates the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps.
Contraindications and caution: Avoid this pose if you have a serious back injury. If you have a neck injury, look down at the floor instead of raising your head. If you have a headache, this pose can increase it, so exercise caution here.
Get into the pose: Laying flat on your back, bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor. Place your left ankle sideways just above the knee. Activate the top leg by pointing the toes towards the ankle, knee. This activation protects the knee joint and is crucial in this pose. Lift the lower leg and clasp your hands behind your thigh. Activate the lower leg too by pointing the toes towards your face. Keeping both legs active and your back flat on the mat, hold this pose for 5-10 breaths and feel your glutes stretching.
Benefits: This is a good pose to do at the end of your practice. It stretches the hamstrings, glutes and opens the hips. This is also a good stretch for a tight lower back. It is also a soothing counter-pose for backbends such as locust and bridge which we did earlier.
Contraindications and caution: Avoid this pose or do it very gently if you have a knee injury or sacroiliac issues. Exercise caution in case of lower back injuries, hip injuries and spinal disc injuries.