TO SQUEEZE OR NOT TO SQUEEZE: WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR GLUTES IN A BACKBEND
There are a few super hot topics in circus/yoga/performing arts, and this is one of them…what should your glutes be doing in a backbend? Should they be engaged, or should they be relaxed?
There are a lot of strong opinions out there on this topic…and I, too, am highly opinionated on what glutes should do in a backbend. However, I’ll reserve my opinion for the end of this post, after we discuss the cold, hard facts below:
- Anatomy of the glutes
- What glutes DO when you engage them
- Biomechanics of a backbend
Lets get started.
Glute max attachments: this muscle starts on the back of our pelvis and sacrum, then attaches on the top of our femur.Glute max actions: this muscle extends the hip (leg behind you, like an arabesque) and externally rotates the hip (like turning out in dance).
Glute med attachments: This muscle originates underneath, and slightly lateral to, the glute max: on the back/side of the pelvis (ileum). It attaches on the side of the femur.Glute med action: this muscle abducts the hip (brings leg to the side of our body, as in a jumping jack) and internally rotate the hip.
THE GLUTES START OUT ON THE PELVIS AND SACRUM, AND ATTACH ON THE TOP OF OUR LEG BONE (FEMUR)
BIOMECHANICS OF A TECHNICALLY CORRECT BACKBEND
For the sake of simplicity, we will discuss the bridge (or wheel, for those of you who speak yoga!), which is the pose pictured above. We’ll go joint by joint, and discuss (the basic version, sorry anatomy nerds…) of what anatomic position each region should be in for a technically correct bridge.
- Shoulder: end range flexion, external rotation, and scapular elevation/upward rotation.
- Cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine: extension
- Hips: extension, slight external rotation
Not too complicated, right?
ALL TOGETHER NOW
To attain a technically correct bridge, we can infer that we want to activate the muscles that cause the above joints to move towards those positions described above.
Because activated glutes cause the hips to extend, and hip extension is part of a technically correct bridge…YOU answer the question.
SHOULD YOUR GLUTES BE ENGAGED IN A BACKBEND?!
ARGUMENT #1 AGAINST ACTIVATING GLUTES IN A BACKBEND
The argument I most commonly hear from those who advocate relaxed glutes in a backbend is this:“When you squeeze your glutes, you cause more bending and compression in your low back! That’s bad, because it can lead to back pain.”
My answer: look at the anatomic attachment points, and the action of the glutes. Because they DO NOT cross, or attach on, the lumbar spine, isolated glute activation does NOT cause extension of the lumbar spine.
The next argument:“But that doesn’t make sense. When I squeeze my butt in a backbend, I feel like my low back is getting more compressed/I feel the backbend happen more here!”
My answer: You probably don’t know how to isolate your glutes from your low back muscles. Super common. Our glutes are inherently lazy, and our low back muscles tend to kick in and activate when we don’t necessarily ask them to.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
If the backbend variation that you’re working on involves hip EXTENSION, your glutes should be activated. When you activate your glutes, you’re causing more of the composite backbend motion to come more from your hips vs low back, which takes pressure OFF your low back.Want to learn more about how to properly activate your low back and hips in a backbend, so you can avoid injury? Start by reading this blog post.
Still want more? I have an active flexibility program for that…If you want to start de-mystifying your flexibility training check out MyFLEX. This is my fully customized online flexibility training program for performing artists – of ANY flexibility level – who want to learn the WHY behind smarter and safer flexibility programming!
Questions? Comments? Vehemently disagree? Leave me a note, and we can chat!