Weak Glutes!

Have you ever noticed how we start shuffling along as we age? Our steps shorten, we don’t raise our feet up, and we lose balance and stability. At the same time, we develop lower back and knee pain or injuries.

Well, all this is completely reversible and avoidable!

The imbalance and limited range of motion is almost always attributed to weakness in the trunk, legs, and hips – and particularly the glutes!

The glutes contain three muscles, the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. The glutes are one of the largest and potentially most powerful muscles in the body.

glutes

Imagine trying to lift a heavy object off the floor using just the lower back, the bottom part of the spine and the limited amount of muscles around it.

Imagine spending most of your day on your feet, with just the knee joint and the few muscles around it, supporting all your weight.

Now imagine using all the muscles from the thighs to the back of the hips assisting with these activities.

Our daily lives, consisting frequently of sitting at a desk, sitting in a car, and sitting once more when we get home, have rendered our glutes unnaturally weak. Worse than that, we have lost our mind-body connection with the glutes!

In addition to reduced activity, we do very little lateral movement – stepping side-to-side.
This type of movement, as the legs move out from the midline of the body, is referred to as abduction. The glutes are the major muscle group responsible for leg abduction.

So, now that we know the problem, the symptoms, the most common cause, and the important terms, all that’s left is the resolution.

My first recommendation would be to find any and every excuse to stand and walk. Luckily, as a trainer, I am on my feet for a good part of the day, but some common tactics for others would be:

• When you get home at the end of the day, walk outside for 15 minutes before going into your house.

• Drink more water, resulting in more walking to and from the bathroom. (This is a win-win because most of us don’t drink enough water either!)

• If you happen to be going somewhere less than a mile away, walk rather than drive.

• Get a FitBit or other step-tracking program. Some contain a social element that may also be motivating and fun.

My second recommendation involves doing direct work for the glutes and hips during training.

• The easiest movement to start with is commonly known as “clamshells”. Lay on one side, with your hips back and your knees bent. Place one foot on top of another and, while keeping the inside of the feet touching, separate the knees as far as is comfortable and slowly return. Imagine a clam opening its shell – this should be similar to the motion of your knees.

• Another easy exercise to do is “side-steps”. Assume a similar position, knees bent, hips back, feet close together, but this time, standing. Step the right leg a foot or two to the right, and slowly follow with the left leg. Count each step by both feet as one repetition, and do the same number to return to where you started.

• Finally, there are more complicated movements such as squatting with a wide stance and an elastic band around the knees, or attaching cables from pulley machines to straps around the ankles.

• I would recommend avoiding the “abduction machine” however. It puts undue stress on the joint, in an unnatural position for the abductors to engage, and allows too much weight to be used, too quickly, leading to faulty technique.

If you are a visual or auditory learner like me, you can also go on YouTube or Google and search the name of these various movements. Just remember, keep the hips back and the knees bent so they don’t pass beyond the toes.

These exercises will also have excellent transference to any sport that requires sideways motion, such as skiing and skating.

And, with that, you now know what you can do to improve your posture, gait, balance, and the health of your lower back and knees. Give it a try and see how you feel after a month or so!

Prehab – Scapula & Rotator Cuff

Hello everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the recipe last week and were able to indulge in a pizza night without the negative health consequences.

This week, I wanted to discuss one topic that I am beginning to find more and more important during my fitness endeavors – prehab movements.

We probably all know that rehab, or rehabilitation, is necessary after certain injuries or imbalances are discovered. Physical therapists are some of the best trained individuals to help with these issues. However, why wait until an issue occurs to correct a problem in the body?

A few months ago, as the weight on my presses increased, I started to have some discomfort in my rear shoulder. After some consideration, I added in more shoulder and scapular stability work using simple bodyweight or elastic band movements. My scapular stability, and rotator cuff strength, has definitely improved, and there’s no way I’m skipping these movements in the future.

Just to review, the scapula is the shoulder blade, and the strength of the upper back muscles, particularly between the scapulae, will dictate not only shoulder and back health, but also posture.

I cycle regular scapular stability and rotator cuff exercises into my client’s routines but, a useful way to determine your own scapular stability is as follows. Stand straight and hold a pencil in each hand. Let your arms rest naturally at your sides. Now look down.

If the pencil tips are pointed in, focus on strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades, using motions that involve pinching the shoulder blades back and down, known as scapular retraction and depression.

If the pencils are pointed out, work on flexibility and mobility of the upper back, specifically the thoracic spine. Foam rolling, or rolling on a lacrosse ball, can be very effective, yet slightly painful in the beginning. Just stick with it!

Finally, if the tips are straight, you are either one of the lucky ones that have perfect posture, or you’ve kept up with your scapular stability work!

As people age, we tend to develop a rounded upper back with our shoulder blades spreading apart. This is referred to as kyphosis. The main causes of this condition are: lack of upper back strength, forcing individuals to rely upon their upper shoulder and neck muscles (that have far less strength potential); as well as improper posture and muscle tightness, particularly common when seated at a desk or doing chores.

Some of the best exercises for shoulder health and scapular stability would be internal and external rotations with elastic bands, or light dumbbell’s, as well as rowing movements and face-pulls. Some slightly more difficult options would be ITYW’s, lat-shrugs, and scap-pushups. (Feel free to click any of these individual exercises to navigate to a page that describes the movement and has a helpful image.)

I will continue this theme of prehab movements in future posts, focusing on other common areas of injury or imbalance in the human body. Please feel free to post questions in the comment section, or contact me directly, if you’d like any more information for your specific situations!