Buttocks – Seemingly Every Fitness Person’s Favorite Subject…
December 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm
Dearest Fitness Fans…You’ll please forgive me as I am about to share something that will shock and appall:
Getting bouncy buns, strong buttocks and a lifted bottom doesn’t come from what you think it does. It 100% does not come from squeezing your seat, buns, butt, buttocks or tusch. All that squeezing you’ve been doing…it ain’t doing what you think. I know you’ve been told by people with gorgeous back sides that this is “The Way”. You’ve seen dancers with bottoms to astound. You’ve seen boxers with buns of steel. You’ve marveled over carved bums of seeming marble on your capoeira master. However, my fellow fans of fit…when they all tell you they got it by squeezing their seats (or any of the aforementioned terms)…they lied. Not intentional lies…but…perhaps that makes it even worse.
Why? Why do people think that squeezing your seat is going to get you a great seat? (Yes, I’ll go with seat or buttocks…the rest are rather crass [butt is crass] or childish [tusch or tuschy…as much as I love Yiddish, no one with a tusch is posing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and none of my powerful clients who own half of your country and mine have “tushcies”. They have backsides or buttocks or seats.] I’ll go with seat, buttocks or backsides.) It’s funny to me how many people squeeze and squeeze and tell you to do so…but they do not have enviable backsides. Hmmm…if this works so well…why aren’t their buttocks so glorious? And why haven’t you thought about that?
Now, not every fitness trainer is going to look like an Adonis or the female equivalent (what is that…Athena?). That is not the goal. And please let’s recall that what is en vogue in this generation is perhaps anemic looking to another. So, may please agree to be working towards fit, strong, healthy and able…and have fit buttocks as part of that package. Still, I ask why doesn’t everyone who says to squeeze and those who do squeeze have sensational sit-upons (appropriate to body-type)? Why isn’t it working for you?
Because it doesn’t work.
NO SPOT TRAINING
First, I must share with you that there is not such thing as “spot training”. You cannot craft the perfect set of buttocks by squeezing them or working them alone. You are an organism and not a mechanism. So, you work as a whole. We can’t just work your buttocks alone. And that squeezing in each exercise is saying that you can.
In truth, you never have to squeeze any muscle to get it to work or strengthen or look fit. What you do have to do: actions that use those muscles in their primarily and secondary ways. It’s that simple, really. And it takes your whole body to allow that to happen. All the better!
Taking the buttocks for our primary example, but this relates to all muscles and muscle groups, let’s consider what the buttocks are in the human body. They are gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. And what do these muscles do as their primary actions? (I say “primary” because all muscles work all of the time. Yes…all of the time. Even your resting muscle tone (RMT) is not complete inactivity. [That is what death is…complete inactivity.] However, all muscles work all of the time with primary actions, secondary, terciery and so on. Based on where they are and the desired action they either assist in mobility or stability of a joint in the action. And every single muscle in your body is actually working for that to happen. There is no agonist and antagonist as our old biomechanics has led us to believe.)
So you can’t get great buttocks by squeezing them. Simply, you must work the entire body and allow the glutes do their actions naturally. That’s how it works.
OVERDOING BREAKS DOWN RATHER THAN BUILDS UP
If you do squeeze your buttocks constantly in all exercises, it actually causes more harm than good. This can hurt you. You see, when you squeeze your seat/sit bones/narrow your sit bones, etc., you are actually causing a tremendous amount of compression of hip joint/ball & socket/acetabulofemoral joint, the sacroiliac joint, L5-S1…and it simply does not look good. As I asked in a seminar a couple of weekends ago: When you look in the mirror at your bare buttocks and squeeze…does it look good? I ask this because I know how we all are. We all look in the mirror and check out what is or is not working. Tell me, especially the ladies…what does it look like? Nothing good. If you have some cellulite and most women and even men do…it accentuates it, doesn’t it? So, just common sense and the visual tell you that it doesn’t work.
So…why does everyone say to squeeze and worth those glutes? Because it’s an easy muscle or muscle group to get into in that fashion. It’s not actually that easy to train, but it’s easy to squeeze. It must be entirely accessible as “fight or flight” muscles. If you were crouching in the cave and a saber-toothed tiger/cat came your way, your gluteus maximus will help you leap up, run and climb. However…it would already be strong because you’d been climbing, walking, running, swimming, squatting in life all of the time. Sitting on a chair actually aides in deterioration (atrophy) of the gluteals. So…they are not as easy to access as they once were.
TEACHER TO TEACHER
Here is what I just wrote to a colleague who asks for a true understanding of what to do with our glutes. She says she now understands completely. I hope you will, too. Here it is
“Glutes. It’s not an eternal question to me. It is quite clear. Like everything else in the human body, we must seek efficiency. And muscles ought to work with effort only when needed. What I mean by this:
All muscles work all of the time. Even when you don’t think so.
That is The Truth.
And all muscles assist in all movements. Even when you don’t think so.
Also The Truth.
There is no agonist or antagonist no matter what books say that there are. If people still think this and think this way…they are ready to study more. Modern biomechanics is well beyond this. If we worked this way (agonist/antagonist) we would certainly fall apart.
However, there are primary movers. If you straighten your leg/extend your knee…indeed the quadriceps are the primary movers. They instigate this motion.
As for the glutes or gluteus maximus in particular…it must work…but it’s primary movement is not to squeeze. No no no. Like all muscles, it should have excellent RMT (Resting Muscle Tone). What are the primary actions of the gluteus maximus? This anatomists are correct: “Extension of the femur from the flexed position in the hip joint; lateral stabilization of the hip and knee joints; external rotation of the femur” (a quote from the reliable source of Wikipedia. No…really…Wikipedia is great for this sort of stuff…straight anatomy.)
Now…gluteus maximus is best for external rotation of the femur when in extension because it’s primary action is really extension.
It is a superficial muscle, true? Not deep. Have we a more deep muscle or set of muscles that we must concentrate on? Yes yes yes yes (I don’t want to type it more, but yes to an infinite degree): Quadratus Femoris, the Obturators and the Gemelli. Study them and then it will be clear why our community of Pilates teachers are confused about what the feeling at the “sit bones” is. That everyone says “squeeze your sit bones”. Do not squeeze your sit bones. Hug your darned heels together with legs ideally parallel and together (heels and big-toe knuckles/bunion knuckle) so that these muscles can train and eventually you can live your life with true parallel (as normal people should be) with incredible strength from deep muscles.
Now…back to gluteus maximus…it’s best in hip extension. That doesn’t mean just when your leg is behind you, but it works when you are going up any level…like a stair (going up front) or seeming like it (press down front). Any time you are trying not to let your hips flex while kneeing or standing…that’s gluteus maximus (kneeling chest expansion, thigh stretch and arm circles) are great examples of this. Any time you lift your hips/pelvis in an exercise, it’s the action of hip extension even if your legs don’t actually go behind you like Shoulder Bridge Prep or Full, Jackknife, The Roll Over, Short Spine, Long Spine, Overhead, etc. Even keeping your legs level with your pelvis when you are lying prone (on your stomach) in a swan preparation, in Pull Straps in 2nd Long Box and so many other things…that is the active resistance of falling into hip flexion…and your gluteals do that.
And do you have to squeeze your buttocks to do this? No no no no no no (to the infinite degree)…they are the only muscles that can do it. So you just have to unconsciously ask them to do it and they engage only in the degree that is needed. You just have to send a signal that you want this action of the bones to occur and the correct muscles work. If it doesn’t happen, the muscles aren’t strong enough. That doesn’t mean you squeeze them. That means you have to find an easier exercise to train the action.
NEVER SQUEEZE YOUR SEAT. Of course, if you want to impinge your sacro-illiac joint, jam your lumbar spine, force your femoral head into your acetabulum or many other things. Then squeeze all that you want.”
WHAT DOES SHARI DO? So…what do I do for myself? How have I crafted my own backside? (This feels silly to even discuss…) Do I do as I say or do I do something else? The Truth…The Truth…I have not squeezed my buttocks for years and years and years! I remember feeling like I was the queen of squeezing it! Boy, oh, boy, could I get people an myself to squeeze! Ohhhh and I could even refine it to just the sit bones. Wow!!! But…now that I have studied and know the down side of it…now that I see the better results on my clients and on myself…I simply do not squeeze. I allow my gluteals to engage when they need to. I don’t try to release them if they are doing their job. I just made sure, by my stable pelvis and action of my lower abdominals and back muscles together that my glutes can extend my femur in the hip or take me out of hip flexion.
I often guide my clients sharing in an exercise like The Half Roll Down on the mat:
“From your lower abdominals, rotate your pubic bone upwards. Keep that action/connection as you roll your pelvis backwards. You’ll feel your glutes engage…but recognize how you don’t squeeze them…they just do it on their own?”
or Shoulder Bridge Preparation on the mat:
“From your lower abdominals, rotate your pubic bone upwards. Keep that action/connection as you roll your pelvis upwards. You’ll feel your glutes engage…but recognize how you don’t squeeze them…they just do it on their own?”
We don’t want to relax our buttocks. (Yes, I know I used to teach that well before I knew better. I should hope we all learn even more over time.) That was in the back-lash of wanting to not squeeze the glutes, etc. Now…I know…you want them to engage when they’re supposed to. They do it on their own. Our bodies are extremely efficient and work when given the correct environment.
Can I go on and on about this? Yes and I shall…in another article. However, this is enough for you to chew on now. Please comment on this. Ask questions and read the comments. And join me in face to face (even via computer) discussions. I do promise to share more!
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– Shari Berkowitz
The Vertical Workshop
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