I have been using the term "gluteal amnesia" a lot in classes and training sessions these days. Mostly because I just keep seeing it. It's something that happens to a lot of my students that spend a good portion of their day sitting and/or have been running with injuries. The two categories can certainly overlap, but the symptoms are so similar. I give them an exercise where the glutes should be firing and they are stuck in their quads. I say, "Man, those glutes are burning!" and am met with confused expressions that say, "Mine aren't."
So what exactly is going on here?
Chronically tight hip flexors. Whether from high volume running, sitting with the hips in a flexed position all day, or a combination of the two, the shortening of space between your thigh bones and pelvic bones will make for some major shortening in the muscles at that crease in your hips. With one side of the body constantly shortening, the other side is reciprocally inhibited. What the hell does that mean? It's where the lengthened muscle (in this case, the glutes) ability to activate—specifically, the neurons that fire and signal the muscle fibers to contract—is compromised. In other words, when your hip flexors get super tight, your gluteal muscles become lengthened and desensitized, and won’t generate much force (or “turn on”) when you try to engage them.
Adding to the issues that will arise in the tissues after prolonged periods in a seated posture, the glutes suffer from what is often called laminating. This is where the fibers get compacted, much like a laminating press will adhere to the papers you are seeking to preserve. And much like a laminating press works, the result is a rigid, tacky fiber that loses its pliability.
Ready to have your mind blown?
One time, a trainer of mine referred to the latissimus dorsi ("lats" for short) as the ass of my back. Just like the glutes are the powerhouses of the hips, the lats do the same for the shoulders. Only guess what? From rounding our shoulders as we curl over mobile devices, laptops, and work stations, the muscles in the front of the shoulder get suuuuuuuper tight. As the chin juts forward with every eye-squinting moment of deep concentration, the muscles in the neck get even tighter. The upper back starts to get overstretched. And...bing, bang, boom! The ass of your back has become inhibited, too.
All is not lost, my friend. While the solutions to these problems are available, I must warn that they aren't terribly sexy. The work required to un-stick the fibers and the targeted exercises that will awaken those one dormant muscle groups will feel tedious and a bit uncomfortable. But the result is a body that can move uninhabited and experience much less pain and risk of injury.
The steps I follow to get things tip top are:
Roll: with an appropriately sized and positioned implement, my favorite being massage therapy balls, get into the tissue and start breaking up adhesions to open up range of motion and increase proprioception (your awareness of your body) in preparation for your workout.
Mobilize: get the major joints of the hips and shoulders moving through that newfound range and allow the muscles time to get primed for activation.
Work: activate the muscles with targeted exercises first, then move to the compound stuff. But master the basics first or risk wasting time when the inhibited muscles still don't "get" what is happening when more muscles are coming to the movement party.
Stretch: hold stretches for a solid 30 to 60 seconds in those tight, overactive areas helps to inhibit them post-workout. Stretching after targeted exercise is the nervous system's way of slapping the muscle on the back and saying, "Hey buddy, you worked really hard today, but you're going to be okay." So don't skip this. We all need a little reassurance.
This Sunday, June 25, we will be addressing some of the basic shoulder and hip rolling techniques one with ass amnesia may want to start incorporating into their routine. The one-hour workshop takes you through a series of 6 techniques. But be sure to reserve your spot in advance. We send you home with your own set of therapy balls so you won't miss a beat when applying these new rolling techniques at home. If you already have therapy balls at home, dust them off and bring them with you. But be sure to pay the event-only price as registration.
Disclaimer: Fit Club is not a medical doctor and the information contained herein should not be taken as medical advice. These are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem. Recommendations by Fit Club are not intended to replace the advice of a physician or health professional. Please consult your physician or a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program.