Could relaxing your glutes in yoga, be the cause of your pain? If you are like me you have one side in pigeon that feels like butter, and one side that feels more like concrete, this can indicate more than imbalance in flexibility, it could be indicative of efficiency of firing of the gluteus maximus and the deep 6 rotators. Many of us have one gluteus maximus muscle that fires more easily than the other. So what does that mean and how do you balance them out?
To gain a better understanding of the movements caused by engagement of the Gluteus Maximus, see the video above. In short, the three movements are hip extension, moving the leg back behind the pelvis; external rotation, thigh bone rotating away from the mid line; and and abduction of the leg, when the leg moves out to the side, away from the midline.
In the practice of yoga, I often hear well meaning teachers us eat cue “relax the butt”, While I get the intention is to decrease the risk of lumbar spine compression in back bends, but is is really doing that, or is it simply reinforcing a weak back body chain? Remember the glute max is responsible for hip extension, and when the thigh bones moves behind the pelvis, like in back bends, the GM’s job is to fire. Therefore, if you are performing hip extension but relaxing the GM, you are asking muscles who’s primary responsibility is not hip extension to perform the action. What you are actually doing is training the wrong muscles to complete the action, and as a result those weaker muscles become overloaded and fire even when you don’t want them to. This then becomes a chain of misappropriated actions, and chaos. It is also important to remember that those muscles that are now doing the actions of hip extension are not as strong as the Gluteus Maximus, nor are the equip to do it’s job and there own, so somewhere, jobs don’t happen, usually jobs of stabilization, and when our skeletal structure is not stabilized, we tend to develop pain, pain in the butt, the low back, the hips, to name a few. If not corrected, this pain can lead to injury.
So now what? Well first it is important to observe your practice and your patterns. One pattern I like to observe, and explore the process further in the video above, is the action of activating the Gluteus Maximus in standing poses, poses such as high lung, Warrior I & II. This activation occurs by pressing straight down through the front heel until you feel the under side of your butt fire up. This activation takes some the strain out of the quadriceps muscles and allows you to strengthen the back body chain. Another exercise I like to utilize to re-develop the firing of the Gluteus Maximus is bent knee hip extensions on all fours, also included in the video. Once you have determined what it feels like to activate the gluteus maximus, you will find you can practice muscle activation while walking, running, and climbing stairs. The process of retraining the body takes some time, but I am confident that once the glute max is firing in hip extension, issues of tension and pain you might have previously felt in and around this region, will begin to dissipate.