If you’ve been walking with me this week my blog won’t be a surprise: it’s all about the most powerful set of muscles in our body – the gluteals.
What are they?
Our glutes are a set of three muscles located in the buttocks, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. All three work together to move the hip and thigh which means that they’re involved with practically every action involving the lower body - walking, sitting and climbing stairs to name a few. They stabilise the pelvis and spine, prevent injury, enable you to walk faster and help you look good in your jeans (just ask Kim Kardashian).
Why should we care about them
The glutes are an incredibly important set of muscles and if they are not working properly our clever bodies reroute and get other muscles such as our back, thighs and hamstrings to do the work instead. Obviously they’re not designed for this job so it causes all sorts of problems, from back ache to knee and foot problems and even shoulder and shin pains.
You would think that a muscle that we use so much would always work properly, but therein lies the problem. The glutes are a like a grumpy teenager – they switch off easily, once asleep are difficult to wake and even if awake they might not function correctly. Sitting down for long periods, previous injury, postural imbalances or sheer structural issues like having one leg longer than the other can all impact on how well our glutes work.
How can you tell if your glutes aren’t working properly?
The bottom line is that it’s not always possible to self-diagnose whether or not your glutes are functioning fully. To do this you would need to go to a physio or other health professional who could run a series of functional tests. However, there’s a fun little test you can do by yourself which goes like this:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, tummy pulled in, hands on your bottom.
- Squeeze one buttock and then the other (you should feel your hand move when it tightens).
What happened? Could you squeeze each buttock in isolation or did the other want to join in as well? Were both sides as strong or could you squeeze one side better than the other? Even if you could isolate each buttock it doesn’t mean that they will perform properly when you start to move.
How can you strengthen your glutes?
There is a whole raft of exercises that personal trainers and physios use to reactivate and strengthen glutes. They include exercises that you will probably have heard of such as single leg squats and lunges plus exercises that might be new to you, like ‘clams’ and ‘bridges’. We often focus on glute strengthening exercises during our Nordic walking workout classes as we know the importance of a pert buttock! In our regular Nordic walking classes useful exercises which we often include are:
- single leg grass wipes where you stand on one leg and scrape the grass with your other foot, much like if you were wiping dog mess off sole of your shoe (keep your leg straight though)
- single leg pulses, again where you stand on one leg and pulse the other leg backwards so that your glutes engage and switch on
- the Ros Tigger Bounce (at least that’s what I call it) where you push off with your toe upwards at the end of your heel/toe roll
- hip 'opening' drills to stretch the hip flexors and enable the glutes to do their job.
The good news is that you don’t have to be Nordic walking to do these exercises - they can be done at home or whenever you walk. Right now even!