An exercise to help you find your butt muscles - Upright Health

An exercise to help you find your butt muscles

woman's butt

Are these the butt muscles you were looking for? (photo by Titus36 via Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t think I go a single day in the office without seeing someone with a set of butt muscles that have punched out and decided to just let the spinal erectors and/or hamstrings do all the work. This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart (and butt) because I’ve been in the same situation and can sympathize with the sense of knee weakness/pain; foot pain; hamstring cramping; and aching stiffness in the back that can result.

One term I’ve heard for this that I like is “gluteal amnesia.” It’s like your butt has forgotten how to work and like your brain has forgotten that you have butt muscles that can work.

One of the recommendations you find all the time on the internet and from a lot of trainers is to do lots of squats and lunges. While these exercises may help you get your glutes going eventually, I’ve found that exercises are just too demanding for most people to do  in a way that actually activates the glutes. It’s like telling someone who can’t activate their biceps to help you lift a heavy suitcase into the trunk; they’ll be able to do it, but they’ll be using any other muscle they can recruit to do it. With squats and lunges, which are generally more quad dominant exercises to begin with, the glutes stay dormant.

That being said, I know it’s possible to feel squats and lunges in your butt eventually if you can gradually reestablish a connection between your butt and your brain.

One exercise that I find quite useful for awakening your glutes is an Egoscue exercise called Prone Ankle Squeezes. It is pretty simple but for many people can be remarkably illuminating.egoscue prone ankle squeezes

Here’s how it goes:

Lie on your stomach with your hands interlaced and your forehead on your hands. Place a pillow between your ankles/feet and bend your knees so there is a 90 degree bend at your knees and maintain this bend throughout the exercise. Squeeze the pillow with your ankles/feet and release.

Initially, it’s likely you’ll feel this in your inner thighs or hamstrings, particularly if your butt muscles are especially crafty sandbaggers. As you continue, though, you should gradually feel the adductors and hamstrings “butting out” (pun intended) as the butt muscles start waking from sleep. I would say that it usually takes around 30 squeezes before people really start to feel the compensatory contractions easing off and the butt muscles actually doing the exercise.

For some people, you may actually immediately feel one butt cheek firing and the other lying dormant. Keep going until you feel that snorin’ Norman working. Once you feel it working, do another 3 sets of 20 to really send a strong message to the those butt muscles of yours. Eventually, you want the glutes firing equally and in synchronicity. It can take a week or two of consistently doing this exercise before you feel your butt cheeks actually getting the picture on a consistent basis, but once you feel it, it’ll be time to move on to some harder exercises.

This is obviously not a Herculean task; it’s a low-key exercise that helps rebuild that neuromuscular connection before you start trying to do harder, more challenging exercises. It’s like laying the foundation for the house that butt built.  You’ll be better able to find the right muscles when you’re doing bridges — a pretty good next step — squats, lunges, or those Bret Contreras hip thrusts.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

Angela lowrey - June 5, 2013

Wow Matt, a little risque’! Nice example of a functional butt. Yes, I see many,many with the “no butt” syndrome in the chiro office. keep up the great posts!!!

Jason - July 22, 2013

Is the squeeze one second or two seconds long? Is the squeeze with the inner borders of the feet or with the medial malleoli or heels??

    Matt Hsu - July 22, 2013

    I usually have people do this with just one or two second holds. Usually the easiest way to squeeze is with the inner part of your heels. Depending on the shape of your pillow/cushion/ball, you may need to adjust the part that’s doing the squeezing. Ultimately, you want to try to get the butt muscles helping you get the rotational force that actually does the squeeze.

Jason - July 24, 2013

How did you determine that the inner part of the heels is where the squeeze should be? I have been to several different egoscue therapists and have been told “the feet”, the “medial malleoli”, and no one has said the inner part of the heels.

Matt Hsu - July 24, 2013

The inner part of the heel is a cue that seems to work well with people I work with. This is NOT the same as the UNDER part of the heel. If you can actually squeeze in at the medial surface of the calcaneus without also squeezing in at the medial malleolus, you have some very interesting foot/ankle interplay and/or the pillow is an odd shape. I’ve also found focusing on squeezing at the medial malleolus tends to kick in the adductors.

In the end, use whatever cue actually gets you to use your butt.

Jason - July 28, 2013

Last question on this. I promise. Lol. Do you ever have clients out their hands/fingers on their glutes while they do the exercise to has them feel it? Thanks Matt.

Matt Hsu - July 28, 2013

That’s a perfectly good option. A lot of times I’ll just put my fingers on the butt muscles so they know exactly where to feel it, and after a few repetitions, it’s usually no problem from then on.

Rhonda - July 31, 2013

Where did you get that picture of my butt? Seriously thank you I will use this with clients.

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