With Christmas indulgence well behind us, the enthusiasm of the new year resolution at its all time low, it is time to make a step forward towards your goal.
So no time to waste!
I am not going to discuss diets or giving boring lectures on Nutritional regimes, I am sure you know what the biggest mistake you are doing is.
Start by ditching that mistake!… whilst you come to terms with this first step….
I will give you the best exercises (in my opinion of course) to tone up your backside – such an important muscle section of your body, whether you are a woman or a man, to keep improving your figure and health.
Why the glutes?
Not only are they the powerhouse of the core, they also are incredibly important to stabilize the pelvis, reduce/prevent back pain and making sure we stand and walk in a solid upright posture.
Finally… when they are toned and strong, they simply look great!
The exercises can be practiced pretty much anywhere (space is never an issue, but rather the willpower to do so, am I right?).
I decided to split the article into 3 parts so that we can make sure every concept is well acquired and mastered:
1) RELEASE of tightness preventing your glutes from working,
2) ACTIVATION of the glutes
3) TONING of the glutes.
The big mistake:
What most people (and some trainers) still do not understand is the incredible correlation between hip muscles/quads and Glutes.
When one is tight the other is stretched and vice-versa.
Majority of us end up in an ongoing, consistent hip flexed position (let’s thank the evil sitting for this).
What does this mean?
Hip flexors are tight → Glutes are stretched.
Hip flexors act like a handbrake, an obstacle for your glutes which cannot contract to their full potential
Furthermore, the hips, especially your lumbar muscles, won’t like that pulling action on the front.
I won’t go into the low back pain issues (another post maybe)… but I just say it will do you good
regardless of the purpose.
And for the last time let’s let this picture sink:
- Tight Hips
- Tight hamstrings
- Loosen flabby buttocks
Not a great picture isn’t it?
To add insult to injury, you can work glutes, squats etc as much as you like.
Until hip flexors are unlocked, quads and hamstrings released and flexible, your backside will always work at 30% of its best, which means you will get a third of the result you could.
All the following exercises are meant to be a general advice and do not take in consideration any specific structural issue you might have, hence – if in any doubt – consult a physician before using the exercises below.
STEP 1: RELEASE
The general guideline for the following routine is:
- 2min on each exercise at least (minimum of 15min total workout)
- find the right time of the day to get it done
- Just do it!
I advise anyone to get familiar with FOAM ROLLING.
The roller is your personal masseur and if you learn to use it with purpose (not just for the sake of doing it) you will find it extremely beneficial for the entire body.
Rolling is like a treasure hunt for me, trying to get those tender areas where most likely we have knots in the muscles and tightness in the connective tissue (FASCIA) surrounding the muscle.
To put it simply, when the Fascia gets “dry” (generally due to lack of movement, hence blood flow and oxygen thirsty) you start feeling tension across quite a few areas; same with muscles: sometimes muscle fibres get “tangled” and this leads to knots.
If untreated swiftly, this leads to several referred pain spots.
The stroke, roll and movement will encourage blood flow and with it oxygen to areas that are normally deprived by both. This helps flushing of the toxins out and let new fresh nutrients in.
OK… exercises now!
Foam roll the Glutes (particularly the Piriformis)
Sit on your Foam Roll and start from one side (left or right).
The side you sit on has the leg bent and across the other leg (foot on the knee), which is instead supporting us in balance. We use the foot on the floor to guide us rolling back and forth as we explore our back side muscle in its entire area, trying to create some circles whilst rolling.
We can alleviate the pressure pushing off the standing foot or the hand on the floor (like in the pic) if the rolling results painful. Once you feel the tension/tenderness subsiding, switch onto the other leg. Make sure starting position is correct.
This time we go in the prone position -stomach down – with both or one thigh on the foam roll…
If working on a single leg, the other will again serve as support/guide for the roll.
Same story here: we roll and move the body in order to explore all areas of the front thigh.
From the hip down to the beginning of the knee. I like splitting the work in the two section, working 30s-60s hip to mid-thigh, 30-60 mid-thigh to the knee.
Repeat both sides
Foam roll the ITB
This is the one exercise, everyone will benefit from.
IT Band (Ilio Tibial Band) is a connective tissue that connects the side of the hip to the side of the knee. Especially if you are a runner (whether recreational or serious) you want to make sure it stays supple and looked after.
You can imagine how something that pulls from the side of the knee (at the bottom) or the hip (from the top) will not lead to anything nice.
To stay on topic though (bums) Tight hips lead to tight IT Band and tight IT Band leads to tight hips – however you want to see it, tight hips do not help us recruiting back side muscles.
Lay down on the side of the leg and make sure the other leg goes across and onto the floor (like in the pic) providing support (it might be very tender) for your leg when you start rolling.
Also here I recommend splitting in two section:
Hip to mid leg and Mid leg to knee.
Stick to side rolling and do not roll over the foam roller. Or you will not release the right tissues.
Remember: if too tender push off standing foot and arm.
Kneeling Hip stretch
Put the knee on the ground, make a big step forward with your other leg planting the foot far enough to allow you a shift of the entire body forward without having the front knee going over the toes.
Hold position and keep pressing until you feel a release into the hip flexors.
The mistake you do not want to do is to overarch your spine, putting too much pressure on your lumbar section.
Keep spine neutral and shift everything forward (chest included) when pushing the hips into stretching.
Wall Hip/Quad stretch
Once hip flexors are unlocked we can move on and stretch a little further down
We will use the same kneeling position of the previous exercise but this time we will place our back shin and foot against the wall, the knee on the floor.
How far or close will the knee be from the wall?
That totally depends on your starting flexibility. The point- as in any stretch – is not to take it as a competition, but simply like a process of improvement.
No matter how tight you are, there will be an improvement. How big? As much as your consistency.
Holding a low Squat
If you have tight hips chances are you cannot squat particularly deep and correctly, plus a Squat will also display an incredible amount of weaknesses:
Your back might round, your knee might cave in (valgus), your ankle/foot might pronate (roll in).
Finding a support to get into a deep squat position, will allow us to reach a bigger range of motion.
It also allows us to reset and improve the bottom position of the squat (pushing the knees out, tightening the med glutes, keeping ankles aligned and torso upright)
Hold that position for at least 2min, to begin with, and day by day increase the time spent in that position. You will see an incredible adaptation in your hips.
Band hamstrings stretch
Now with this final stretch, we take care of another byproduct of sitting: tight hamstrings (other cause of injury and low back pain).
We can use a towel if you do not have access to a power band. This is a three stage stretch (Front – Across – Side)
We pull until there is enough tension in the hamstrings and trying to keep the hips straight (keep your neck relaxed on the floor whilst doing so).
Stage 2: After a minute or so grab the band with the opposite hand respect your foot and pull it across, trying to keep your knee straight and locked for a minute
If the tension is too strong, or you bend the knee, then let go a bit of the band until you find the right measure so you can keep the knee straight and leg across the body (almost like a Cross).
The other leg is straight, the upper body is facing upwards (no rotation of the hips).
You will “enjoy” a good stretch that irradiates to your lower back.
After 60s change side.
Stage 3: Finally you move the leg back upright and grab the band with the same side arm, pulling out, adductors and hamstrings will stretch. As usual the rest of your body to stay flat.
Whatever position you are in, make sure there is enough tension on your hamstring.
If it fades away then re establish it, pulling a bit more.
This is the last one of the exercise to help you release your hips.
It is very popular in YOGA, from which I stole the name 😉
As in the Pic above, we kneel down on one side, then slowly slide the front leg down on the floor, with your shin parallel to your tummy/hips (if very tight you will have to compromise and have the angle between the thigh and the shin at much less than 90 degree) once you are in that position you might already feel some stretch in your front leg, especially in the Glute area, groins and psoas.
Concurrently you will be stretching your back leg behind you, promoting and reinforcing hip flexor and quad stretch.
If you can, you can lean forward to bring your chest down to your shin and increase the stretch. It is also used to relieve sciatica pain and release impinged piriformis.
Once the tension subsides, time to swap (gently) side.
TIME TO PRACTICE NOW!
OK, this is it for now. Try and practice for 30 days 3-4 times per week. let me know how it goes.
I cannot wait to hear how much more free and light your hips feel.
Next Articles we will go through the Activation Phase!