The vital glutes
Our glutes are an incredibly important set of muscles. They stabilise the pelvis and spine, prevent injury, improve performance and help you look good in your jeans. It’s why we talk about them so much during our Nordic walking classes.
If you don’t yet know what (or where) your glutes are, they are the group of three muscles in your buttocks. The biggest of these is the gluteus maximus. It has the honour of being the largest and most powerful muscle in our bodies.
Unfortunately the glutes can quite easily ‘switch off’. If they do, it can cause all sorts of problems, from back ache to knee and foot problems and even (for one of our walkers) shin pains. This is because our bodies try to compensate for inactive glutes by bypassing them altogether and recruiting the lower back and/or hamstrings instead.
So I thought I would recap on why our glutes might not be functioning properly, how you might be able to tell if yours are weak and what you can do about it.
What causes gluteal weakness?
The most common reason that our glutes don’t work properly is inactivity. Even if you go for a walk, a run or to the gym every day, if you spend the majority of the remainder of the day sitting down your glutes are simply not being used enough. They are prone to inhibition and can easily switch off. The old adage ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ is particularly true for this set of muscles.
Even if you are reasonably active, your glutes might not function correctly due to previous injury, postural imbalances or sheer structural issues, like having one leg longer than the other. So the odds are stacked against us.
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. However, if you can’t isolate your buttocks - i.e if you can’t squeeze one side without the other joining in, then your glutes definitely need some attention. A physio or other health professional should be able to run a series of tests for you so you may want to book an appointment with someone if you think you might have an issue. In due course, I hope to run a specific glutes workshop in conjunction with an expert, along the lines of the neck and shoulder workshop I’m running next week with Marion Averill of Clifton Physiotherapy. I’m hoping that such a workshop would include glute imbalance diagnostics and well as strengthening exercises.
How can you strengthen your glutes?
There is a whole raft of exercises that personal trainers and physios use to re-activate 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 fitness-plus-exercises classes - why not come along and see? 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!
The proud owner of a defibrillator
For some while I have been thinking about buying a portable defibrillator. Not because I am worried about the health of you, our walkers! In fact, studies consistently show that regular brisk walking is great for your heart health. It’s just that I am walking out and about such a lot, often in places where it would take a long time before help could arrive. I’ve always thought how desperate it would be if I came across someone having a heart attack and I didn’t have the kit to help them.
All of us Nordic walking instructors are trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and renew our training every three years. It’s here that the facts and figures really struck me:
- When someone has a cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces their chances of survival by 7-10%.
- If a defibrillator is used and effective CPR is performed within 3-5 minutes of cardiac arrest, survival chances increase from 6% to 74%.
- Without immediate treatment, 90-95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims will die.
So I am now the proud owner of a HeartSine defibrillator. It fits nicely into my backpack and is coming with me on all my walks.
I hope never to have to use it.