According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the U.S. Each year we spend about $50 billion on low back related issues. Sitting has become a major contributor. My goal is to improve your low back health by helping you move and move correctly. In my office, low back pain counts for about 70% of the issues I see. It's very common. And one structure that seems to be a repeat offender is the gluteus maximus. Stuart McGill, who is a researcher and author of over 200 studies on low back pain (so you might say he is "the man" when it comes to the low back) found that patients that suffered with low back pain tend to have a gluteus maximus that is inhibited or "turned off" therefore resulting in a dominance of the hamstrings. This hamstring dominance results in a faulty joint centration of the femur and its relationship to the acetabulum (hip joint). This faulty relationship puts an increased load to the anterior capsule and labrum. And although the hamstring can be a good synergistic helper to the glute, it is not designed to be a primary mover. In addition, a weak gluteus maximus can increase the likelihood of injury and athletic performance. Low back and pelvic misalignments, low back injuries, and a sedentary lifestyle can cause gluteal inhibition. So get up and let's turn it on! Activating The Gluteus Maximus Anyone can squat (well most anyone) but can you squat correctly? And although weighted squats may be best, we need to make sure you squat with good form. So let's start there. 1. Squatting
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed outward. When you squat it should feel like you are trying to twist the ground under your feet (without your feet actually moving) with an external rotation force.
Tighten up your core.
While maintaining a lumbar lordosis (the low back curvature), descend with the buttocks moving down and backward. The motion should occur through the hip in a hip hinge.
Squat until the femurs (thigh bones) are slightly below parallel to the floor or until you can no longer maintain your lumbar lordosis. (Not everyone will be able to perform deep squats.)
Depending upon your low back and thoracolumbar mobility, your torso may move forward as you squat. During non-weighted squats your arms should extend forward to help balance you.
Once body weight squats are mastered transition to weighted or resistance squats. 2. Monster or Sumo Walks Place an exercise band around your knees or lower leg. Maintain constant pressure on the band by keeping the legs separated. Walk forward to perform the Monster Walk or side step to perform the Sumo Walk. Be sure to not let the band drop or lose tension. 3. Hip Thrusters with Band From a laying on your back starting position, have a resistance band around your knees. Next bend your knees and separate your thighs so there's tension on the band therefore activating the glutes. Then raise your hips off the ground into a bridge position.
4. Kettlebell Swings Kettlebell swings are great for glute activation and are an awesome overall exercise, however proper form is critical to your success with kettlebell swings. So please pay attention to proper mechanics. It may be necessary to get some coaching on this movement. Stand with the legs spread in athletic stance. This is not a squatting motion or shoulder exercise, it's all about the hip-hinge. Let the kettlebell start by swinging it back through the legs. As it reaches the end range, drive the hips forward. This should feel like a hip "pop". This hips control the motion and propel the kettlebell forward. Don't lift or pull the kettlebell upward with your arms or shoulders. This is a relatively advanced movement. 5. Lunges Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Step forward with one leg. Keep your chest and upper body upright and chest out. Step out far enough that when you descend your knee does not pass in front of your foot. Descend so that your femur is parallel to the ground and the front foot is flat. The rear foot will come off the ground to your toes. Do not allow the knee go medially. Return to standing.
6. Clams Lying on your side with both legs bent at the knee and the feet are together. Make sure the feet are inline with the torso. Then open your legs (like a clam shell) but keep your feet together. Only your knees will be apart. Raise the top leg about 45 degrees. You should feel this in the glute of the working leg. Perform approximately 15-20 reps. You may also place a resistance band between your knees for added resistance.