The “other” Glutes!

side leg liftsIn our last blog, we discussed the merits, both aesthetic and anatomical, of a well developed gluteus maximus (click here to read!).  But since the “glutes” do get lopped together often in cueing, today’s blog will discuss their differences and similarities.

First of all, the gluteus maximus is the most superficial of the three and gives the buttocks is lifted, curvy shape (when well toned, of course.)  Underneath the gluteus maximus lies the gluteus medius and underneath that lies the gluteus minimus.  Their sizes are in the name: large, medium and small respectively.  If the gluteus maximus gives overall shape to the buttocks, then the gluteus medius and minimus can be said to give shape to the hip.

The gluteus maximus extends and laterally rotates the femur at the hip, and is responsible for bringing the torso upright from a stooped position when standing.  The gluteus medius and minimus ABduct the femur, but primarily stabilize the body when standing on one leg.  In fact, an often used “weak link” test to determine a weak gluteus medius is to see if the subject can balance on one leg.  If the gluteus medius isn’t firing properly, the subject can not stabilize the body on one leg at all.  Additionally, both the gluteus medius and minimus assist in medially rotating the femur.  However, once the hip is flexed to ninety degrees, the action of the gluteus medius shifts and it aids in laterally rotating the femur.

In Pilates mat work, the gluteus medius and minimus get their moments in the sun during the Side Leg Lift series of exercises.  This includes Side Kicks, straight forward Side Lying Abduction of the femur, Side Lying Scissors, Side Lying Bicycle, Banana, and the side lying exercises with the exercise band, Side Lying Clam and Book. However, this pair of muscles is always stabilizing in any standing exercise on the chair or cadillac and in footwork on the reformer, to name a few.

Because the Tensor Fascia Latae also abducts the hip, targeting the gluteus medius and encouraging it to fire first (as it should) can be challenging.   ActivCore and the Redcord system offer fabulous exercises for strengthening the gluteus medius safely and effectively.  Because of the unique off-weighting system, ActicCore provides direct, acheivable gluteus medius conditioning exercises that can help even the most body UN-aware person isolate the gluteus medius and strengthen it.  A strong gluteus medius improves Ground Reaction Force which helps distribute forces evenly through the body during actions such as the tennis serve (click here to read more) and the baseball swing.

More on the gluteus medius and Ground Reaction Force next time!

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July 3, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 2 comments.

Booty call! The anatomical and aesthetic benefits of the gluteus maximus

shoulder bridge pilatesWho doesn’t want a butt that seems to defy gravity and fill out that snazzy pair of jeans? Of all body parts, women AND men care about their derrieres. After all, Mia Michaels choreographed an entire routine for the third episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” (click here to watch) around the appeal of a pleasant posterior. But a beautiful backside is not all that is obtained by strengthening and toning the gluteus maximus!

First of all, human beings’ unique gluteus maximus is a consequence of upright walking. (click here to read more.) BUTT (ha ha ha), because we in the developed world spend most of our time sitting at desks, our gluteus maximuses on the whole are “woefully underdeveloped” (click here to read more.) A weak gluteus maximus not only leaves you with droopy jeans and sagging skirts, it also wreaks havoc on the lumbar spine, the sacrum, the hip joint and the lower leg!

A strong gluteus maximus not only helps tense the thoraco-lumbar fascia (thus providing additional support to the low back), but also indirectly stimulates the multifidus to fire. (click here and click here to read more.)
As the gluteus maximus should engage at the point of the heel strike when walking, when it is weak, the trunk lurches backward at heel strike on the weakened side, thus straining the lumbar spine and causing imbalances in the pelvis, sacrum and hip joint.

BUTT, Pilates offers many exercises to strengthen the gluteus maximus safely and effectively! (click here for this excellent back and butt toning workout!) First of all, engaging the gluteus maximus at all times when performing prone exercises is important. This helps to stabilize the pelvis so that the lower back (lumbar spine) does not over-extend in any prone extension exercise. For example, in Breast Stroke, only the thoracic spine is meant to extend and keeping the gluteus maximus engaged helps ensure that the lumbar spine does not extend and the pelvis remains in neutral.

For exercises such as Swan Dive and Double Leg Stretch which require full spinal and hip extension, engaging the gluteus maximus keeps pressure out of the lumbar spine and helps create even extension along the backside of the body.

If the above mentioned prone gluteus maximus exercises cause any discomfort in the lower back, try lying prone over an Arc Barrel so that the lumbar spine is in flexion. Then practice lifting one leg at a time into extension to concentrate on firing only the gluteus maximus while leaving the erector spinae relaxed. This can be challenging, but with practice, it can be done!

Exercises such as Shoulder Bridge, Hip Rolls with Heel Lifts and Heel Squeeze are excellent ways to focus on pure hip extension, i.e. pure gluteus maximus work without extending the lumbar spine. In Shoulder Bridge, the spine stays neutral throughout and the pelvis must be stabilized using the gluteus maximus and the abdominals against rotation. Hip Rolls and Hip Rolls with Heel Lifts adds articulation of the spine and while lifting and lowering the heels targets the hamstrings more than the gluteus maximus, the latter is still challenged by holding the hips in extension at the top (and stabilizing against rotation!) Finally, Heel Squeeze is a great way to practice keeping the pelvis in neutral since you can focus on all three bony landmarks – the hip bones and the pubic bone – remaining in contact with the floor as you engage the gluteus maximus. Advanced students may add a lift of the thighs as the heels squeeze ONLY if this can be performed with a neutral pelvis and spine.

Finally, standing lunges target the gluteus maximus and a slew of other muscles as well. In the classical Pilates mat repertoire, lunges and squats are not included, but if you plan on running to a gym and doing lunges/squats to strengthen your gluteus maximus, please keep the following tips in mind: 1) keep your abdominal muscles pulled in and engaged at all times; 2) do not allow your lower back to arch as you lunge or squat and 3) make sure your knees bend directly over the 2nd and 3rd toes without rolling out or in as this puts undue strain on the knee joint.

Lastly, oftentimes we Pilates instructors say “squeeze your glutes” when we really mean “contract your gluteus maximus.” This is merely for time and does not reflect one’s lack of knowledge in what the various muscles do! So please know that 95% of the time, when your instructor says “squeeze your glutes,” she/he means gluteus maximus!!

Best wishes for a terrific buttsky this summer!!

July 2, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 1 comment.