In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, you may be so worried about what your brain can remember that you don’t even think about the memory of your muscles. As strange as it may sound, your body really does have a memory all on its own, and it will remember and respond to your activities. This is great if you have a well-balanced exercise program, but it can spell disaster for a sedentary lifestyle. If you suffer from nagging knee, lower back, shoulder, or groin injuries, you could be suffering from a condition known as gluteal amnesia. This is a condition where your body can’t or forgets how to properly activate the gluteal muscles, whether it’s due to postural flaws or lack of use. As a result, you may lose the ability to move your hips through a full range of motion which adds stress to your knee, lower back, and even your shoulder joints! Common injuries associated with gluteal amnesia are patellofemoral pain syndrome, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, Disc Herniation, and Piriformis Syndrome. Fortunately, you can reverse this condition with the right corrective exercises.
The gluteal muscles include the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius. These muscles control movement at the hip and knee. The gluteus maximus is involved in hip extension and external rotation, and decelerates hip flexion and internal rotation. Another important job that the gluteus maximus does is assist in maintaining an upright torso. However, when you sit for long periods of time, you are not using your gluteal muscles. Prolonged sitting adds to gluteal amnesia. Your hip flexors become tighter which leads to reciprocal inhibition of the gluteals. In order words, overactive hip flexors “turn off” the gluteus maximus. Other causes of gluteal amnesia are as follows:
- Too many quadriceps dominant exercises.
- Poor sitting or static posture.
- Improper abdominal training.
- Soft tissue contractures (i.e., tight hip flexors and low back extensors).
- Articular (joint) fixations.
- Not landing properly from jumps (i.e., landing from a rebound in basketball).
- Knee or back pain sufferer.
So How Will You Know If You Suffer From Gluteal Amnesia?
One sign is a feeling of tightness in your hamstrings after you do glute dominant exercises such as deadlifts, pull-throughs, and step-ups. This is especially true if you have normal flexibility in your hamstrings. If your gluteal muscles become too weak, the hamstrings and the adductor magnus will begin to pick up the slack for the jobs that they can no longer do. This will put greater strain on areas like your knees, groin, or lower back. Usually personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts attempt to correct tight hamstrings and groins by performing an endless amount of stretches. However, tight muscles don’t always mean there is a flexibility issue, but could indicate an activation problem.
Core stability, or pelvic stability, is essential for a healthy body. You can quickly test the stability of your core by doing a few overhead squats in front of a mirror. Face the mirror so that you can see how your knees move during the squat. If your knees cave inward to the inside of your feet, you need to work on gluteal activation until you can do this exercise easily with your knees in line with your second and third toes, or the tip of your shoe. Other movement impairments to look for are the anterior travel of the knees (shifting forward during the squat), and excessive curvature of the lumbar (lower back) spine.
Posture plays an important factor in gluteal activation. A postural flaw that can lead to gluteal amnesia is known as anterior pelvic tilt. This occurs when the pelvis tilts forward and the stomach protrudes. The forward tilt of the pelvis stretches your gluteals into a relaxed state which decreases your ability to properly activate them. You can increase pelvic stability while simultaneously decreasing knee and back pain with the right exercises. Increasing pelvic stability means that you are re-training your muscles to pull the pelvis back into a neutral position so that your gluteal muscles can be activated efficiently. Pelvic lifts, or bridges, are a classic option. Lay on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift your pelvis until it forms a straight line with your back. Drop down without touching the floor and lift again. Other great gluteal activation exercises to include are clam shells, birddogs, and donkey kicks. Tight hip flexors are also characteristic of anterior pelvic tilt. If your hip flexors become too tight, they rotate your pelvis forward, overstretching your abdominal and gluteal muscles. Massaging and stretching the hip flexors can help you to better activate the gluteals. A great massage technique that you can use is known as self-myofascial release. There are several e-books dedicated to teaching SMR.
As I have mentioned before, the abdominals are also affected in an anterior pelvic tilt posture. The abdominals, specifically the rectus abdominis and external oblique, prevent anterior pelvic tilt. However, they are unable to do their job if they are in a relaxed state. Properly training the abdominals will help to bring the pelvis into a neutral position so that you are better able to use your gluteals. Planks are good abdominal exercises for reversing anterior pelvic lift. Laying face down on the floor, support your body with your forearms and toes. For a challenge, lift one leg at a time to form a straight line with your back. Pushups, dead bug variations, reverse crunches, and side planks are also wonderful choices for increasing pelvic stability and reversing gluteal amnesia.
After performing gluteal activation exercises, then it’s time to do integration exercises. You know how to fire the gluteals, now you must learn how to use them during functional movements. Hip hinges, deadlift variations, lunge variations, and pull-throughs are only some of the choices you have to further strengthen your gluteals. Having a balance of gluteal and quadriceps dominant exercises will help to protect you from injury. Getting involved in a good program that includes exercise rehab for the gluteals will help you get your body back into fighting shape so you can face the day with good posture, superior confidence, and excellent health.