Or, How Strong Glutes Help Us

I was sitting on my Uplift stool, wobbling away on its rounded base while documenting my patient’s progress. She was a colleague whose sense of humor was quickly ushering her into friendship territory. Nevertheless, I wasn’t prepared for her next statement. “You have a high butt!”

Insert the sound of a record screeching inside my head. Undeterred, she continued, “How do you get your butt so high?”

As if one, the stool and I spun reflexively in her direction so that I was directly facing her. Realizing she may have stepped over a line, she apologized with “Sorry,” and then quickly erased the apology with, “But I want that.” And lest I misunderstood “that”, she added, “a high butt. So, if I do the program, you promise I’ll look like that?” and she pointed to my derriere.

Nowww I was finally clueing into what she was talking about, because I can tell you, initially, I had no idea.

I began to laugh. “But what is a ‘high butt’?”  I needed clarification.

“Well,” she paused, slowly but deliberately wading into the waters, “you’re sitting on that stool, with such great posture, and your hips are supported, so I’m thinking, ‘I need to get a stool like that!’  but then you stood up, and your butt didn’t sag down. It’s still high like you’re still sitting on that stool!  THAT is a high butt. How do you do it?”

The “It’s still high” comment, coupled with the “how do you do it?” question, made it sound like a circus trick and pushed me over the edge. Mirth bubbled up within me and I burst into laughter until the tears came and I couldn’t breathe. She also joined in the laughter, further fueling the hilarity of the moment. Finally, I caught my breath. Wiping my eyes, I thanked her. “No problem,” she said. Then insisted, “So how do I get a high butt?”

Indeed, how does one?

From Straight Skirts and Pancake Butts to Jet Packs, Struts and Sleepy Butts

I don’t mind telling you that in my experience, most of the junior high and high school southern California fashion was all about the pencil skirt and a flat butt. This was pre-Jennifer Lopez, who I will forever thank for making the bubble butt not just a thing, but the desired goal. My genes made it difficult to find a pair of jeans and a decent-fitting swimsuit in the ’80s without my cheeks hanging out (also not a thing yet). It was an act that required the patience of Job and the endurance of a marathoner. Although I am petite, my hips did not fit the rail-thin fashion, and I was forever frustrated, trying to slim those hips down so I could wear a cool pencil skirt. It never happened.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate that God gave me my dad’s glutes.  Later I would thank them both. But clearly, glutes were not designed for straight skirts and vice versa.

The glutes or gluteal muscle group consist of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and minimus. Max lies over the top of the other two and gives that bubble shape.  Dense and powerful, I liken the glute max to your jet pack or a booster rocket: it powers your movements, anything, really, from running and climbing to throwing a ball or swinging a golf club efficiently or carrying a heavy box, and walking up or downstairs. And since I come from a car family, I liken the glute medius to the struts on the chassis of your car: it absorbs stress and provides stability. (Here I nod to and thank my brothers Ray and Steve.) The gluteus minimus essentially provides a supporting role to both max and medius. Working together, all help to promote balance, keeping your posture upright while supporting your back. This is because the gluteals and the extensor spinal muscles on your back, insert next to each other. They essentially share neighboring fascia (connective tissue), and consequently, they both talk to each other. Think of neighbors hanging out over the fence, chatting it up with each other. Both can influence each other’s behavior or activity.

Most importantly, the gluteals provide a profound supporting role to the spine. And our sitting blows it all to crap. Why? Because when sitting, we aren’t using our butts. They have nothing to do. They have their heads in their hands, drumming their little fingers on the table, bored as can be. There’s a picture for you. How do you know this? Try squeezing your glutes while reading this. Did you get a little taller? That’s because their tiny little myofibrils just contracted, bunched up, and are working. Yay! Previously, they weren’t. They were snoring. Can you squeeze one cheek and then the other? Like you are playing ping pong with your butt cheeks? No? You should be able to. If you cannot, then you have a Sleepy Butt. But have no fear, it can be cured.

The Problem With Sleepy Butts and What You Can Do

But first let me tell you what a strong butt will give you, other than accolades from happy patients and maybe random strangers. It will strengthen your back and you will minimize back pain. You will also minimize knee pain. And yes, it will help you with your shoulder pain and your foot pain. Really. A sleepy butt, that is, a weak gluteal muscle group, will look great in a tight skirt, but won’t get you walking across the parking lot or get you up and down stairs pain-free. I have worked with elite athletes to self-proclaimed “non-athletes.” Both have challenges with activating their glutes. The best way initially, in my opinion? Get down on the floor, and do progressive bridging.  On your back, bend your knees, tighten your abdominals, squeeze your glutes, and lift your butt. Feel your butt working?  Say “hello” to your gluteal muscles. Hold for 10-15 seconds, then lower down.  Repeat for 1 minute. The nice thing about this Bridge exercise, is that it also engages your core abdominals and back extensors, as well as your quads (front of your thighs) and your hamstrings (back of your thighs). No muscle is an island; they do not work in isolation but as a functional family. (Emphasis on functional.) Next, to further get in touch with your glutes and challenge them, try this: continue the bridge, while pushing down through your left heel and lifting your right knee. Count to five. Hold that. Feel the burn in your left butt cheek? Say “hi” to your left gluteals. They are appreciating this. Alternate this for 30 to 60 seconds. Next, straighten your right leg into these two positions and hold each for 5-10 seconds, alternating for a total of 30-60 seconds per position.

Feeling the burn in the butt? Good for you! Welcome to your gluteals! Now, if you were feeling a strain in your back, back off. We don’t get extra points for pain. But we do get extra points for identifying a weak area. In which case, we want to gently do a butt lift, activate the glutes, do a little weight shift to each heel, and see if we can gradually load each cheek without bringing on back pain. The goal is to be able to perform the above positions. These are foundational exercises. My elites athletes tell me, “I never knew my butt could work this well.” It is a basic exercise that I recommend doing first thing in the morning. To summarize:

  1. Basic bridge: lift and hold 10-15 seconds. You can move your knees in and out to further challenge it. Lower, breathe, lift. Repeat for 1 minute.
  2. Marching bridge: while bridging, hold each knee up for 5-10 seconds. Alternate and repeat for up to 1 minute.
  3. Straight leg bridge: while bridging, extend your knee and hold 5-10 seconds. Alternate and repeat for up to 1 minute.
  4. Straight leg hamstring stretch: while bridging, extend your knee and raise your leg with the goal of pointing your foot upwards toward the ceiling. Hold 5-10 seconds. Alternate and repeat up to 1 minute.

Finally, we have the squat. Squats are the best way of strengthening your butt. Your squat should have your butt pushing backward with your abdominals kicking in. You should be able to see your toes when you do this. You can do squats in a myriad of ways.  Here are two ways I suggest for getting started: 1. Up and down for 20 seconds with a 10-second break, and do for 3-5 minutes.  2. Hold for 10-15 seconds with a 5-second break. Do again for 3-5 minutes. You can do either way or both. (sock on/sock off is deliberate.  But did you notice?) For the record, yes, I do bridges (butt lifts) and marches every day to remind my gluteals to come along with me for the day. I also will bust out 5-10 minutes of squats during the day, to re-activate and challenge my sleepy gluteals. Consequently, my back pain is minimal and I can run/walk 20 miles weekly pain-free. And evidently, someone thinks I am the poster child for a 55-year-old “High Butt”.   https://www.verywellhealth.com/gluteus-medius-muscle- anatomy-2696374     https://anatomyinfo.com/gluteal-muscles/