TO SQUEEZE OR NOT TO SQUEEZE: WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR GLUTES IN A BACKBEND

TO SQUEEZE OR NOT TO SQUEEZE: WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR GLUTES IN A BACKBEND

 

Featuring Catie Brier, contortionist and contortion coach

​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:

  1. Anatomy of the glutes
  2. What glutes DO when you engage them
  3. Biomechanics of a backbend

Lets get started.

ANATOMY

​We’re going to talk about the two main glute muscles, for the sake of brevity: gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.

In layman’s term… 
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).

…huh? The aBRIDGEd version (see what I did there?!)

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)

Glutes do not attach on, or cross, the lumbar spine (low back). When glutes activate, they do NOT cause any movement at the low back. They cause the hip to move backwards, and rotate in/out.

BIOMECHANICS OF A TECHNICALLY CORRECT BACKBEND

Catie Brier, perpetually adjusting and improving my bridge. Thanks, Catie!

 

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?!

​​YES, yes they should.

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.

ARGUMENT #2

​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 plan for that…check it out here.

Questions? Comments? Vehemently disagree? Leave me a note below, and we can chat!


 

Comments

Kay Susie  January 12, 2018
I was looking for an answer to this, thanks! (Unfortunately the link to the blog post doesn't work.)
webmaster  January 12, 2018
Thanks! The link to the blog post where?
Ian Necor  January 4, 2018
Wow!