How Your Glute Max Affects Your Lower Back (Exercises Included)

The gluteus maximus is such a popular muscle these days, especially on Instagram! Pretty much every one’s fitness instagram profile has 100’s of photos of them showing off their defined gluteals and their squat techqniue!

Despite the glute max being so popular, I sometimes wonder how many people really understand this muscle that they devote so much time to. Most muscles have a variety of functions and this is definitely the case for the glute max. It’s mostly known as an extensor of the hip but in reality (similar to the deltoid) it provides many more functions. If a muscle has a variety of functions, it would be intelligent to train that muscle in a variety of ways, stimulating and working all the muscle fibres. One of the interesting things about the glute max is how the upper fibres continue into the thick fascia of the lower back. The glute max also helps with sacroiliac stability (the joint between the sacrum and ilia). The mechanics of the sacrum will directly influence the lumbar vertebra (lower back) above.

There has even been research into the relationship of lower back pain and glute max inhibition. A study had shown that glute max activation during hip extension was delayed in people with a history of lower back pain.
It has been shown that hip – spine interaction is disturbed in patients with lower back pain during saggital trunk flexion and extension.

(Leinonen V, Kankaapää M, Airaksinen O and Hanninen O (2000): Back and hip extensor activities during trunk flexion/extension: effects of low back pain and rehabilitation. Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation 81, 32-37).

So potentially there may be a link to glute max activation and lower back pain in some people as the glute max helps with the stability of the scaroiliac joint (SIJ) and lower back. Of course there are many other factors that can contribute to lower back pain other than the gluteal muscles.

Knowing this connection to the lower back fascia and SIJ stability, you’d assume that people who exercise their gluteal muscles must have great lower backs – in stability terms anyway. In my experience this is not the case. When I perform the Gilliets test on clients (which is to assess independent movement of the SIJ on one side of the pelvis), it’s very often that people don’t pass the test first time round, even the ones with great bums!… Sorry I mean defined gluteals.

So what’s going on here? How can a person exercise a muscle but not improve the function of the surrounding areas?

Weak Glutes Or Strong Glutes?

There have been countless blogs/articles debunking the myth that a person’s glutes are ‘weak’ and therefore need to be ‘strengthened’. We know now that this is rarely the case and that glutes that test ‘weak’ are normally just inhibited and once their function has been improved (through a theraputic intervention or through certain exercises), when re-tested the muscle scored as ‘strong’ or pass.

So does strength work make a muscle strong if the muscle is inhibited (poor neuromuscular feedback), in spasm (dehydrated) or fibrotic (muscle tissue becomes more ligaments – tight) when being exercised? MAYBE not (big emphasis on maybe).

If a muscle is not activating at the right time then we need to improve the neuromuscular feedback to the muscle (brain to muscle connection). Performing strength exercises for the glute max won’t necessarily improve the neuromuscular feedback.

So maybe we need to prepare a muscle (or group of muscles) first before we exercise them. Giving the muscle full capacity to contract (both concentrically and eccentrically) and function optimally. Exercising with good biomechanics as a baseline will most likely make the experience of physical movement more enjoyable and fruitful.

Exercising the glute max in a manner that reinforces ‘ideal’ biomechanics can improve the function of the SIJ and there fore create a more stable foundation for the lower back.

Re-activating The Glute Max

So one technique we can try first is a Muscle Energy Technique (MET) for the hip extensors. This MET is called Leg Press. If we assume the glute max is in a state we call ‘sub clinical spasm’ then an MET can improve the glute max’s capacity to contract properly again.

Leg Press – Muscle Energy Technique:

Resist hip extension (isometric contraction – muscle contraction without movement).
Press leg into hands for 20% of your maximum effort (make sure knee is relaxed).
Hold for 20 seconds.
Repeat 4 times, then swap legs.

For more info on muscle energy techniques go to www.biomechanicseducation.com

Intelligent Conditioning For The Glute Max

Now that we’ve upgraded the neuromuscular connection to the hip extensors, we are now in a better mode to strengthen and condition the glute max. Now to define what is intelligent training is a little subjective. How a person should train is down to their goals, what sports they play, their lifestyle ect…

If you’re someone who doesn’t have a bias to a particular sport and you just want to have a great exercise routine for your glute max then in my opinion the most ideal way to train your glutes (and any part of your body) is in a varied fashion. This means changing your body positions, lines of pull and movements at the hip. The following are just a few ways to train the glute max.

Glute Max Exercise Suggestions

Squats
Romanian Deadlifts
Oysters – Pilates
Leg Lifts (lying on side / standing with a band around ankle or cable) – Pilates
Leg extension and external rotation with cable / band
Single Leg Bridges – Pilates
Hip Thursts
Walking Lunges
Squat Jumps

It’s Not All About The Glutes

Remember, one part of the body can effect other parts of the body. The glute max continues into the fascia of the back (thoracolumbar fascia), which continues the into latissimus dorsi, the latissimus dorsi inserts into the humerus. So the mechanics of the arm/shoulder can influence the gluteals (and vice versa). An issue with the shoulder can be what causes the glute max to appear ‘weak’ when assessed.
There is even a connection into the hamstrings from the glute max. For more info on the hamstrings read my blog Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings 

This is why it’s SO important to exercise your WHOLE body. Include isolated movements and integrated movements into your exercise routines. When you exercise your shoulders you are directly exercising and influencing your glutes. It makes no sense to exclude training certain parts of the body, especially if you’re exercising to be generally healthy and fit.

Happy glute training guys, I look forward to the Instagram posts!

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Tom Waldron

 

 

References:

Biomechanics Educationwww.biomechanicseducation.com

Leinonen V, Kankaapää M, Airaksinen O and Hanninen O (2000): Back and hip extensor activities during trunk flexion/extension: effects of low back pain and rehabilitation. Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation 81, 32-37

 

Better Posture & Breathing With This One Simple Exercise (Mid Trapezius/Rhomboids) Part 2

In part 1, Better Posture & Breathing With This One Simple Exercise (Pectoralis Minor) we looked at the location and function of the pectoralis minor and how if the muscle is ‘dysfunctional’ it can inhibit posture, breathing and spine alignment.

Now assuming that you’ve done the anti spasm technique for the pectoralis minor (if your pectoralis minor was in spasm in the first place), the next stage to further compliment the anti spasm and return the pectoralis minor back to function is we need to work the retractors of the shoulder girdle (the mid trapezius and rhomboids). If you’ve not done the anti spasm yet I HIGHLY recommend you do so before continuing….

Strengthening the antagonists to the pectoralis minor

If the pectoralis minor is in a ‘shortened’ position then the mid trapezius and rhomboid muscles (minor and major) will be holding onto the scapula in an overly ‘lengthened position’. Once the pectoralis minor is functional, we are now in a better position (pun intended) to strengthen the antagonist to aid in functional shoulder alignment. Below is an exercise to strengthen the mid trapezius and rhomboid muscles (again make sure you’ve done the anti spasm exercise first).

Resistance band strength work

  1. Hold onto the resistance band with both hands, arms straight.
Rachel France

2. Keeping arms straight, retract your shoulders (bring shoulder blades together) – slowly allow your shoulders to go forward into protraction (shoulder blades go apart) – Repeat.

Rachel France

3. 10 reps x 3 sets.

Producing a long lasting change

You can’t produce a desired change in the body with a single input. There’s not ‘one’ exercise or therapeutic intervention that will influence the brain, joints, muscles and fascia in a way that results in a lasting positive change. Yes you can produce a short term change as the nervous system is easily influenced, but living a life with healthy, relaxed, strong and functional shoulders is an on going process. The good news is once you understand the processes that produces positive change then you become the master of your change. There is no ‘one’ exercise for shoulder alignment and there is no ‘one’ exercise for lower back pain. The human body is far too brilliant and complicated for such simplistic strategies. The patterns we build or don’t build in our body and mind come from our daily habits. Behaviour shapes the body and mind.

From an exercise perspective, an intelligent way to train and condition the pectoralis minor is to perform the anti spasm first for the pectoralis minor, then work the antagonist (the retractors), finish with strength and conditioning work for the pectoralis minor (isolated, symmetrical, asymmetrical and integrated work) to improve the neuromuscular feedback.

Thank you for reading 🙂

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Tom Waldron

Better Posture & Breathing With This One Simple Exercise (Pectoralis Minor)

It’s spoken about endlessly in yoga and pilates about how your breathing and posture are directly related…

This teaching is correct and is backed up by the research in the field of biomechanics. However, improving both posture and breathing isn’t always as straight forward as it sounds as very few movement practises go into enough detail to explain how they are related. If we understand the mechanics of healthy function (how humans are designed to function based of evolution and biomechanics), then we are better equipped at producing healthy function in our daily lives. Quotes alone won’t help us improve our posture and breathing, we need to intellectually understand the processes of producing positive change so positive change can be a consistent and conscious experience in our lives.

Pectoralis minor and healthy posture

The pectorals minor originates from the coracoid process (the scapula), attaches to ribs 3,4 and 5 and lives underneath the pectoralis major (separated by the clavipectoral fascia). During concentric contraction (when the muscle shortens), this muscle brings the shoulder girdle forward and down (protraction/depression).

Bearing these functions in mind, if the pectorals minor is ‘stuck’ in a ‘shortened position’ breathing, shoulder and spine alignment will be greatly inhibited. It’s very difficult to quantifiably say why the pectorals minor becomes ‘tight’ in the first place as a human being’s life has too many factors involved to be completely sure (injury, lifestyle, exercise, diet, mindset ect…), but I think it is safe to say that one of the factors that can contribute to a ‘shortened’ pectoralis minor is consistently adopting a slouched posture in daily life. So of course being conscious of this pattern and choosing to adopt a more preferred posture for ideal shoulder alignment is always going to help with producing a positive result at the pectoralis minor, but this strategy may have it’s limits.

If the pectorals minor is in spasm, which essentially means that the muscle doesn’t have the capacity to fully contract due to lack of proprioception (lack of sensory input from the nervous system), then something as simple as a ‘sub maximal contraction’ can do wonders as a first step towards better posture, breathing and shoulder alignment.

What is a sub maximal contraction?

A sub maximal contraction (in the Biomechanics Education world) is when we apply 20% effort and hold it for 20 seconds (repeating this for 4 sets). This isometric contraction (a contraction of a muscle without any movement taking place), also known as an anti spasm technique, can improve the sensory input into a muscle, giving the muscle permission to have the capacity to contract fully again, making the muscle more functional.

How can I apply this to the pectoralis minor?

Let me show you…

Hand on shoulder

  1. Place your left hand on your right shoulder
  2. Press your right shoulder forward and down (protection/depression) against your left hand.

    Rachel France
  3. The pressure produced from your shoulder should only be 20% of your maximum effort.
  4. Because your left hand is resisting the contraction, there shouldn’t be any movement happening, just pressure from the right shoulder.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax.
  6. Repeat 4 times in total (20%, 20 seconds, 4 sets)
  7. When completed do the same on the left shoulder.

After you’ve finished the anti spasm I encourage you to take the pectoralis minor into a little ‘stretch’ to allow the filaments to fully slide apart. Taking the muscle into it’s full range can help compliment the anti spasm.

This is the first part of a process to improve the function of the pectoralis minor as there are other components such as working the antagonist to the pectoralis minor (the retractors) as we need regain the strength ratio between protractors and retractors of the shoulder girdle. Training and conditioning the antagonist to the pectoralis minor will be out on Thursday 2nd March –Better Posture & Breathing With This One Simple Exercise (Mid Trapezius/Rhomboids) Part 2 and we will go through the next stage of returning the muscle back to healthy function.

For now practice the anti spasm technique for the pectoralis minor as I promise it will be fantastic for you posture and breathing if this muscle is in spasm and you’re constantly adopting the ‘slouched shoulder’ posture.

Thank you for reading 🙂

For further reading go to….

www.franklinmethod.com

www.biomechanicseducation.com

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Tom Waldron

The Problem With Physical Rehab (Hamstring Strains)

Physical rehabilitation is awesome! I love conversing with my friends in the health and fitness industry (coaches and therapists) about their strategies when it comes to client rehab (and prehab = injury prevention). As a health professional, it’s essential to have these open conversations with other professionals in order to maintain an open mind and to ensure the best treatment of care possible for your clients.

There’s no one way to optimally train or rehabilitate the human body and anyone who claims their method is the ‘best’ way is either trying to sell you something or doesn’t know enough about other physical practices. Any black and white statements about the human body or with certain physical practices should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

Despite my love for rehabilitation, there are issues that I have with ‘traditional’ physical rehab that I want to address…

Not addressing the whole story

Let’s look at a very common injury amongst physically active people/athletes and how this injury is treated. YOU might have even suffered with this at some point in your life… Hamstring strains.

  • 80-85% of hamstring strains occur during the swing phase of high speed running when eccentrically loaded (as your hamstrings ‘lengthen’).
  • 80% of hamstring injuries effect the long head of the biceps femoris (most lateral hamstring).
  • Research shows eccentric strength exercises are best to prevent hamstring injuries and recurrences.
  • Hamstring exercises such as the Nordic Hamstring Curls are great for hamstring rehabilitation and injury prevention. 

The above is a brief example of how a coach or physical therapist might carry out hamstring rehabilitation after the hamstrings have been strained. This is a very ‘traditional’ way to treat hamstring strain. I have no issues with this thought process but there are components missing that I believe are essential to producing a long term change.

The next paradigm

Research has also shown that hamstring issues can originate from pelvic asymmetry. Because the hamstrings attach onto the sit bones of the pelvis, problems with alignment of the pelvis can effect the hamstring’s ability to eccentrically load (‘lengthen’) during the swing phase of running.

If there is an asymmetry at the pelvis and an individual is then performing hamstring strengthening exercises, the potential cause leading to the hamstring injury in the first place has not been addressed. This can leave the person open to recurring injuries in the future. The irony is any ‘weaknesses’ in the hamstrings might also be an end result of the pelvis being misaligned, and bringing the pelvis back into a functional alignment can result in the hamstrings testing as ‘strong’. Making it unnecessary to do strength exercises for the hamstrings in the first place!

The next next paradigm

What I’ve addressed here is just one potential outcome. The mobility of the sciatic nerve, the feet’s ability to deal with ground reaction force and even your shoulder movements can all be the reason why the hamstring’s ended up injured.

Doing strength exercises because a muscle appears to be ‘weak’ may be the right course of action… And it may not. If the goal is to produce a long term change, then we need to view the body as an integrated system. One part of the body effects another part of the body and so on… A muscle might test ‘weak’ because of a functional issue somewhere else. On the other hand, a muscle might still need strength training even after other areas have been addressed and worked on… It’s all case by case and dependant on the individual.

What’s the point?

I’m not knocking strength training or rehabilitation. My point with this blog is to get you ask yourself the question, ‘WHY?’

Why am I doing what I’m doing? Am I taking into consideration the whole system when I’m training a specific muscle group? What are my goals with exercise?

If you would like to continue this discussion please comment down below or private message me on my facebook page, Movement Biomechanics (click on the icon below).

Thank you and I look forward to connecting with you 🙂

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Tom Waldron

 

STOP Stretching Your Hamstrings!

‘Tight’ hamstrings is a BIG issue for a lot of people. ‘Tight’ hamstrings can result in all sorts of symptoms from lack of flexibility at the hip joints, shoulder misalignment and lower back pain…

One of the more common symptoms to ‘tight’ hamstrings is lack of flexibility at the hips. The typical school of thought to this issue is to do hamstring stretches to ‘lengthen’ the ‘short’ hamstring muscles, almost viewing muscles like play doe that need to be reshaped and lengthened. Now this is a very old school way of dealing with muscle ‘tightness’ and to be honest a superficial and short term tactic. It’s not that stretching doesn’t have it’s place, it most defiantly does! But it’s very rare that an individual has experienced improved mobility at a joint from only stretching, especially if we’re aiming to produce a long term change.

YOUR hamstrings and the integrated system

The reason why just stretching your hamstrings is a superficial way of dealing with hamstring ‘tightness’ (and could potentially make the situation worse) is because the body is any integrated system. What does integrated system mean? Well here’s an example…

You have three hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimebranosus, biceps femoris) that originate from the sit bones of your pelvis (ischial tuberosity) down the back of your thigh bone (femur) and attach onto the back of your knee (posterior/medial condyle of the tibia and the head of the fibula). That’s a pretty simple explanation of the location of the hamstrings but here is where things get interesting…

Fibers of the biceps femoris (one of your hamstring muscles) continue into the sacrotuberous ligament (a ligament that connects the sit bones to the sacrum). The sacrotuberous ligament continues into the thoracolumbar fascia (lower/midback area) and the thoracolumbar fascia continues into the latissimus dorsi (big muscle across your back) which attaches onto the top of your arms (the humerus)…

Your right hamstring muscles attach all the way up into the top of your left arm (diagonal connection). This means that an issue in your shoulder for example can be felt as an issue in your lower back, hamstrings ect… Hamstring issues can be an end result of something happening somewhere else. This is why just focusing on stretching the hamstrings is a short term tactic that most likely won’t produce long term results.

Producing a long term result for your hamstrings

Commonly, the hamstrings can go into a ‘protective spasm’ when the sciatic nerve is ‘tight’. This ‘protective spasm’ can result in having a restricted range of motion when it comes to hip/lower back flexibility. Your sciatic nerve is a big nerve in your body that runs down the back of your legs. If this nerve becomes ‘tight’ your brain will instruct your hamstring muscles to go into a ‘protective spasm’ (reducing your hamstring’s ability to fully eccentrically contract) in order to lesson the likelihood of damaging the sciatic nerve. Your brain would much rather you experience hamstring ‘tightness’ and lack of mobility at the hip joint than risk damaging the sciatic nerve. What I’ve seen with a lot of my clients is when the sciatic nerve has been mobilised they gain back hamstring flexibility. Now I’m not saying that the sciatic nerve is the whole story but it’s more times than not part of the equation. Of course an individual’s lifestyle also needs to be taken into consideration.

The Take Away

I hope this blog gives you a clearer understanding on how the body is truly an integrated system. If there is an issue in the body (lack of mobility, pain ect…), it’s possible that the issue is a symptom of something else going on. Just focusing on the issue is often not enough to produce a desired result. The famous quote, ‘those who treat the site of pain are lost’ is incredibly accurate in most cases.

If you would like more information on how to improve hamstring issues, private message me on my Facebook – Movement Biomechanics (link below).

Drop me a message and let’s connect 🙂

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Tom Waldron

STOP Training Your CORE!!!

As a pilates instructor and biomechanics coach, a big thing I get told a lot by new clients during initial consultations are, ‘I need to strengthen my core muscles’.

Normally they have been told this by a physical therapist (more likely a miss-interpretation of what the therapist was actually saying), or they have done a bit of casual googleing on the internet which has led them to the conclusion that their ‘core’ is ‘weak’ and it needs to be ‘strengthened’.core-energy

Stating that a muscle or a group of muscles are ‘weak’ is an over simplification to say the least. How do you know a muscle is ‘weak’ and not just inhibited or in spasm? If a muscle is inhibited or in spasm, the last thing you want to do is ‘strengthen’ the muscle with exercises. Surely that will just reinforce the underlying issue instead of addressing the causes behind why the muscle appears to be ‘weak’ in the first place?

Following this paradigm that there are ‘weak’ muscles and ‘strong’ muscles can eventually lead to injury as the inner mechanics of the body have been ignored. If we want our outer form to be strong, we need to develop inner structural integrity.

But training my core helps my lower back

A common reason to training the core muscles (besides the aesthetics) is to improve the stability of the spine. If someone is suffering from lower back pain, it is a popular belief that the spine is ‘unstable’ and so it needs to be ‘stabilised’ by the muscles that help with stability of the spine = the core muscles… Makes sense right?

Unfortunately the human body is not that simple. Having ‘strong’ core muscles doesn’t automatically result in a pain free lower back or greater spine stability. As a biomechanics coach, before I start working with a client I give them a full head to toe screening. Assessing for any dysfunctions (from a biomechanical perspective) up and down the body. One thing I almost always comes across in these initial screenings are pelvic asymmetry, muscle spasms (muscles around the pelvis), tight nerves (sciatic nerve) and a lacking in appropriate mobility at certain areas of the spine (mainly lower back and mid back). pelvic-asymm-tfl-stand-col-resize

Taking into consideration the person’s current inner mechanics. If I start straight away with exercising the core muscles, all that person will be doing is reinforcing all those dysfunctions.

‘Why?’

By ‘strengthening’ the core muscles, all those issues will be further ‘glued’ together, adding on top of the already existing issues. It’s like building a good looking house under poor, uneven foundations. At some point the structural integrity of the house will run into some issues. When exercising you want to also be taking into consideration your intrinsic biomechanics for the same reasons.

In fact if those issues were dealt with first, the core may be absolutely fine as a result! The disengagement of certain core muscles may have been an end result caused by the mis-alignment of the pelvis and the ‘tightness’ of certain nerves in the first place.

So should I be training my core?

It depends…Even if the pelvis is in good alignment, there are no muscle spasms, no ‘tight nerves’ and the spine can move with healthy range, the core muscles may still need to be looked at. In most cases, it’s more about improving the feedback loop from the nervous system to the core muscles (proprioception), instead of exercising the core in the traditional sense. From there it’s up to YOU how much you train your core and that is down to your health and fitness goals.

abs-of-steelI have zero issue with someone wanting to exercise their core muscles. It’s your body and how ever you want to train it (or not train it) is your choice and it’s a choice that should be respected. All I’m saying is it makes sense to be mindful and take into consideration how the body is working intrinsically and how the intrinsic workings will directly influence how we look, move and feel.

How can I start to improve my intrinsic mechanics so I can exercise my core safely?

The pelvis is a great starting point. Below is a link to a short video that gives you a quick and easy way to assess the symmetry of your pelvis (from a biomechanical perspective) and how to perform an anti spasm technique to help with the alignment of your pelvis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Lkur9ZcNXw

If you would like more information email me at tomwaldron57@yahoo.co.uk

Or contact Rachel from Biomechanics Education at rachel@biomechanicseducation.com

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Tom Waldrom
Tom Waldron