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Your glutes are more than just a cushion for your desk chair. Learn to engage these sleeping giants for a fat-burning, head-to-toe power boost
Richard Olson was just 27, but his 1.9m, 115kg body felt twice as old. His back hurt all the time, from the moment he woke up and headed to work. It hurt when he sat at his desk for eight hours straight every day, and after work when he’d step gingerly over the line at his weekly beer league touch rugby games. Just looking at a barbell in the gym sent a shudder down his spine. Olson exercised regularly and played sports all the time, but his back pain was always there, to the point that he thought something might be very wrong. Exasperated, he sought the advice
of a trainer, who pointed out the problem: Olson had a weak ass.
Olson isn’t alone. Men so commonly let their backsides slide that it’s even a syndrome: glute amnesia, when your butt muscles go to sleep and become weak. We can thank our sedentary lifestyle for letting our largest, most metabolically active muscles turn into pillow cushions. “No matter what sport or day-to-day activity you’re doing, good glute strength is crucial for endurance, power, and pain prevention,” says Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine doctor. Four months after Olson started targeting his glutes, his back pain was virtually gone.
“There were so many other positive cascade effects, too,” he says. “I was more flexible, my posture improved and I had a lot more muscle. Everything from walking up the stairs to playing touch felt better.”
Your butt consists of three distinct muscles – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus – that attach your torso to your legs along a number of points, including the sacrum, pelvis and femur. Your glutes make it possible for you to walk upright, move and swivel your hips every which way, and rotate your legs. “A weak butt puts more pressure on your lower back, knees, hamstrings and hips, increasing the likelihood of a strain,” says Dr Metzl. He sees many men in his office with conditions that can be chalked up to poor glute strength, especially lower back pain and Achilles tendinitis.
Have More Horsepower
Pro sports scouts are ass men. That’s because a strong butt is critical to any exercise requiring speed and strength. Think of your backside like an engine, says Dr Metzl. It powers you forward and helps you harness the force from other muscles for even more strength and speed. Doing your favourite activities on a weak, underdeveloped rear is like trying to run your car with a lawnmower engine. “Whether you’re lifting, jumping or sprinting, your glutes are key to tapping into that explosive push-off strength that comes from extending your hips,” says Dr Metzl. That power’s not just for smashing a tennis or golf ball, jumping for a rebound or pulling a big deadlift; the extra juice can also give you more endurance for a hike or run or even when mowing the lawn.
Supplement Your Training
The number one mistake guys make is assuming that they’ve got their glutes covered by their favourite activity or through exercises like squats and lunges, says sports scientist Bret Contreras. “To really improve your overall strength and performance, limit injury and change the way you look in a pair of tight pants, you need to train your glutes directly and more often.” (To do that, see “Fire Up Your Hustle Muscles”)
Like Olson, Tyler Fiorillo, a 25-year-old law student, knows firsthand what working the glutes can do. When he added two targeted glute exercises – a hip thrust and a standing kickback using a resistance band – to his regularly scheduled leg presses, his performance exploded. “They were such small movements, but some months later I surpassed my squat and deadlift goals by about 20 kilos.”
After Fiorillo restructured his programme by adding glute exercises, he had to buy new drawstring shorts – he’d dropped 6kg. Your glutes are the largest muscles in your body, so working them has a huge calorie-burning benefit. “I hear it all the time from guys who start training their glutes – they get more compliments from women and feel better about their physique,” says Contreras.