The best advice you can ever get is probably written on a sign at your favorite restaurant, “Please Wait To Be Seated.”
Numerous recent scientific studies have found that even if you can get an hour or two of daily physical exercise, the non-activity of sitting for most of the rest of the day, even if it’s at your ergonomically correct desk, is causing you great harm. The studies never give a conclusive reason why sitting will be the downfall of the human race, but it seems rather obvious that the reason is not just the sedentary trends, but more so the fact that we are suffocating our butts.
Slowly but surely, man is devolving and a big reason for this physical de-evolution is that butts are being extinguished on a daily basis.
Over the years, many people have come to me for personal training seeking reparations and sometimes solace for a butt that appears to be traveling south and is no longer pulling its own weight. When I address said butt and ask: “Why are you not willing to firm up and be here now?” It replies in a lackadaisical tone: “I have a prior engagement.”
When the butt replies in this way, it does not realize that I have it just where I want it—the butt believes that it is in control. The tables turn when you realize the control is in your brain, not your butt, and the brain must control the rules of engagement.
The passage of time is not the sole conspirator in the decline of your bottom—what is certainly under your control and the place where you should put your focus—is in the manner of engagement of the gluteal muscles. Proper gluteal engagement is synergistic and incorporates the inner thigh muscles and abdominals. Integration is the key that will make the gluteal muscles (a.k.a. the butt) the masterpiece of your posture and functional anatomy.
The secret for training the gluteal muscles and keeping them under your control is to go deep, first. Underneath the three gluteal muscles of each butt cheek are six deep hip muscles. These six short, small, yet strong, hip muscles must have complete range of motion to allow the hip socket freedom of movement, so the butt muscles can live up to their full potential.
The ultimate butt is firm on the outside and loose on the inside.
Chances are that if the scientific experiments about the dangers of prolonged sitting were done with the subjects sitting with their legs crossed in half or full lotus, the results would have been different. The lotus pose can only happen if the six deep hip muscles are flexible and the lumbar spine is limber. In societies where excessive body weight, sedentariness, bucket seats and sofas are not a part of life, there is much more squatting and sitting around on the ground with legs crossed.
Modern sitting suffocates the gluteal muscles and damages the six deep rotator muscles in each hip that include the piriformis muscle which is infamous for impeding the work of the sciatic nerve.
Step one for reviving your butt: work on the flexibility of the deep six hip muscles and cross your legs like Sitting Bull more often while sitting.
I took an informal survey and asked people: why do humans even have a butt? How did we evolve to have these buttocks anyway?
Over 75% of the people that I surveyed said that the butt has evolved for us to sit on. OMB! The real reason the human buttock has evolved is to maintain and sustain our verticality. In the book titled Human Evolution, T. M. Greiner states: “Human gluteal morphology is a consequence and not a prerequisite of the upright bipedal posture.” We need our butts to be upright for goodness sakes! Not to sit on!
It was not until I underwent a rigorous Pilates mat and apparatus training course that I gained a full and well rounded appreciation for the gluteal muscles’ role in overall functional fitness and posture. I used to not concern myself with the glutes, because I thought they could take care of themselves; you just had to squeeze them once in a while, or better yet, do 80’s style squat thrusts with an extra butt squeeze at the top of the movement.
I soon came to realize that butts don’t like to live in isolation. Butt-centric classes and high rep butt exercises that put the butt in solitary confinement will not build total body awareness and an integrated core.
Step two for the revival of a functional and integrated backside: Tango Stance!
Stand upright with heals together, with a slight turn out (rotating hips out, approximately one inch of space between the big toes). Center your weight mid-foot. Squeeze your heals together slightly to engage the inner thighs. Gather up all your glutes and engage them while maintaining a relaxed hip socket. Button up your belly button and inhale to lengthen your spine upwards. Allow the gluteal muscles to center your gravity, not your lower back. Do not over-squeeze anything, but maintain the engagement of the inner thighs, glutes and abs until they feel like one unit that connects to the ground. Do maintain a free-flow of breath while practicing the Tango stance, Pilates stance or Tadasana, the mountain pose.
Feeling the glute muscles engage in a standing position without clenching while integrating them to the inner thighs and abs will expand your gluteal awareness in all activities.
In an article in The Journal Of Experimental Biology titled: The Human Gluteus Maximus and It’s Role In Running, it says: “Evidence for when the gluteus maximus became enlarged in human evolution is equivocal, but the muscle’s minimal functional role during walking supports the hypothesis that enlargement of the gluteus maximus was likely important in the evolution of hominid running capabilities.”
So then, one big reason the human butt grew so large was the need to run for survival. That need has now largely disappeared. We modern humans only run for fun. Little kids run all the time but then at some point, maybe in college or much earlier, they stop.
Early man, way before sneakers were invented, never stopped running. As soon as they were able, they ran and kept running until they died. If you happened to stop running and now want to start again, it is best to first rebuild your butt, inner thighs and abs before venturing too far. Running is great, but there are many other ways to save your butt.
Step three: Walk—don’t run—then run and run and run.
Exhale jump back, inhale upward dog, exhale downward dog, inhale all the way up to warrior 1, exhale warrior 2, inhale reverse warrior, exhale chaturanga dandasana, inhale upward dog, exhale downward dog…ahh, feel the glutes!
Did you feel it? Warrior poses are very gluteal—but only if the hip sockets are relaxed enough for you to sink down low and enjoy the stretch of the deep six hip muscles. The way to find the glutes in warrior is to go deeper into the hip stretch. The most gluteal moments in yoga are in the transitions, staying low and allowing the glutes to be your anchor so the abs pull you up into warrior 1, not the quadriceps. Warriors and many other yoga moments are great for gluteal development and there is nothing better for opening up the hips and releasing the six deep hip rotators than a methodical hip opening yoga practice.
Each side of your body has three gluteal muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus. A slow meditative walk with complete awareness of your posture may have more benefit and muscle activation than speed walking.
The early developers of Tai Chi Chuan and Zen Garden walking may have intuited the need to maintain the function of the hip and butt throughout the human lifespan with introspective full body awareness as a practice. Another activity that builds awareness of the proper engagement of the buttocks is Salon Style Argentine Tango, the essence of which is walking around a room like a cat while in a close embrace with a partner.
When the tango walk is mastered, it has a similar gluteal engagement as the locust pose in yoga or the Swimming exercise in Pilates.
Butt gadgets abound in the fitness market place, but it’s best to stick to the motto: if it’s not broken, don’t get a butt gadget to fix it. My theory is that it is possible to maintain the elevation and performance of the human buttock for its entire lifespan, if you have a full understanding of the functional use of the muscles.
As the buttock gets older, it must get wiser. In the early stages of the butt’s life, it is virtually maintenance free, but sometimes—around midlife (this may be when the most suffocative sitting happens)—all hell breaks loose. In the beginning of your butt’s life, you simply have to learn how to feed it, ascertain the right jeans for it and put it to bed at night.
Later on, when things fall apart, we have no awareness of the actual function and integration of the muscles, so we reach for the nearest gadget instead of assessing the situation and learning how to engage. In the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times, Pema Chodron says:
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
Wow! Did she really say that? Right on! I am talking about training the glutes, but obviously this applies to anything at all, especially things that were moving along so swimmingly one moment and then for no apparent reason implode.
The best thing is to see that everything has a cycle of ups and downs, births and deaths, here one moment and gone the next. When Things Begin To Go South, we must find our own bearings, get our wits about us, take out the compass and chart our own course back to the proper elevation without depending or hoping for an outside quick fix.
No, there is no magic bullet, perfect butt gadget or a human buttock that does not hit bottom once in a while, but if I were to pick one butt-elevating gadget it would be the Versa Climber.
This gadget does not fold neatly under your bed; it does take up some space and is not inexpensive, so why bother? You may not need to purchase it, but do try to experience it at your local studio or gym under proper guidance.
Just like all the best things in life, the Versa Climber teaches the body the proper engagements of the Gluteal muscles and their relation to the inner thighs and abs. If the Versa Climber is used in it’s full range of motion, the deep six hip muscles must be relaxed. The Versa Climber is a vertical climber like no other, a giant stepper with handles that make you stretch and provide just enough assistance that allow you to target your glutes and not overuse your quads.
Cardio junkies will use half the range of motion and go like mad, that’s good for cardio but not so good for glutes, balance and integration.
The Rebuttal Plan:
1) Deep six the Standard American Chair.
2) Free the deep six hip rotator muscles.
3) Make a firm plan to gain full awareness of the functional use of the gluteal muscles in all activities of daily life.
4) Make your buttock “la piece de resistance” of your core.
5) Visualize, sense and feel your synergistic butt as the keystone of your sustainable posture.
6) Spend a little time in full lotus pose.
7) Tango till the cows come home.
Humans have the gift of butt, but it is sometimes underappreciated in its pivotal role in functional fitness.
The gluteal muscles and the flexibility of the deep six hip muscles are the centerpiece of a pain free low back, upright posture, core strength and sustainable whole body wellness.
All glutes must unite to save and sustain the easeful, relaxed-yet-firm posture that will carry us into a bright future. Here’s to your total body awareness, bottoms up!
Rodolfo Mari is a Yoga Teacher, Pilates Instructor, Craniosacral Therapist, Tango Dancer and Personal Trainer. He is the owner of a small boutique fitness studio called Mystic Bodyworks located in Mystic CT.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise