The gluteus or “buttock” muscles are often an object of interest for beauty or fashion, as essential padding for something to sit on, or perhaps a place to paddle disobedient children. But did you know the buttocks are essential for your health, physical performance and longevity?

Indeed, they are a big part of what makes us distinctly human. Your gluteal muscles (glute maximus, medius and minimus) are among your body’s largest and strongest muscles, and are what enable upright human posture and locomotion.

Over the years, cultural trends have favored the look of these muscles being tighter or smaller, and other times bigger, but their function in controlling the hip and posture, helping extend your leg backward and out to the side, or to rotate your thigh are essential to your health and quality of life. Consider all of the things you do without even thinking about it, like walking, standing upright or using the stairs.

Without your glutes these movements would be impossible. Let’s dive deeper into the dangers of having underdeveloped glutes and the benefits of having stronger ones.

What causes weak glutes?

In today’s world we spend less time moving around and more time sitting. According to a survey by ergonomic manufacturer Ergotron, 86% of full-time American workers sit the majority of their day at work. Combine those long hours at the desk with evening activities that often include more computer time and TV watching and you have a recipe for weaker glutes and potentially tight hip flexors (the muscles that are always shortened when you sit). Neglecting exercise for the glute muscles, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to complications beginning at the hip and spanning down to the foot, or up to the cervical spine, since all of these tissues connect and influence each other.

Protecting your lower back

Have you ever heard of gluteal amnesia? This is when too much sitting and inactivity causes your brain and body to establish patterns of “turning on” muscles in your hamstrings or low back to compensate for what the glutes should be doing (but lack of use has caused them to “forget”).

When your glute muscles become tight or weak from lack of use, there can be a tendency to try and use your lower back to pick up the slack in hip extension movements. If you try to get extra motion from your lower back, rather than hip extension through your glutes, you can strain your lower back and get low back pain.

In contrast, when your glutes are strong, and you perform hip extension first through your glutes, you help take pressure off the spine and can significantly reduce or eliminate any lower back pain you may be experiencing.

Improving balance and posture

Since the muscles of the buttocks help you maintain balance and stability when you move your legs, strengthening them helps prevent injuries from a lack of balance, such as falls or sprains.

According to a study by the American Chiropractic Association, more than 31 million Americans suffer from poor posture. Having weak or underdeveloped glutes can have detrimental effects on your posture, as they are part of your body’s stabilization system. If the muscles on the front of your hip are tight and the glutes are weak it can pull your pelvis into an unnatural alignment. This can cause both poor posture and pain. Strengthening your glutes can help improve this and any discomfort associated with poor posture.

Injury prevention

Stronger glutes and hamstrings can also help prevent knee injuries. Many sharp turns with the leg have caused an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury that strong glutes may have helped prevent by being able to decelerate the forces put on the knee. But underactive glutes can also put the hamstrings at risk for pulls and tears if an athlete or exerciser ends up overusing the hamstrings to compensate (again) for lack of powerful hip extension with the glutes. Therefore, strengthening these muscles is extremely important to protect your body from injuries.

The bottom line

A well-toned rear end not only looks great, the benefits go much deeper than appearance. Having strong glutes is actually an integral part of your body’s overall health. Powerful glutes are crucial in how efficiently your body moves and help limit the amount of stress put on surrounding muscles above and below your hips.

It is vital not to overlook the glutes when working out, so make sure to add some glute-strengthening exercises to your current routine. Quality gyms like the Bradley Wellness Center carry special equipment just to train these muscles, like the leg press, hip abductor and a multi-hip machine to work all the angles the glutes work. Home-based exercises like a glute bridge, deep knee bends and lunges also work very well.

If you want to learn more ways to improve your glute strength or how to live a healthier lifestyle, contact any personal trainer at the Bradley Wellness Center. We will be glad to help you.

Aaron Mendez is a fitness consultant at the Bradley Wellness Center.

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