Is sitting destroying your butt muscles?

Here’s the brutal truth about sitting…

We sit too much! Way too much!

Think about it:

  • We sit at work
  • We sit in a car/bus/train on the way to work
  • We sit when we eat breakfast/lunch/dinner
  • We sit when we use our phones
  • We sit during our leisure time
  • We sit on the toilet
  • We sit when we watch the television.

… That’s a whole lot of sitting!

(In fact – chances are that you’re probably sitting down as you read this.)

Here’s the issue:

Excessive sitting places your gluteal muscles in a position where they become WEAK!

If the glutes become weak, this can lead to a whole series of issues in your posture and movement.


Have you heard of Gluteal amnesia?

This is where it is difficult to recruit and engage the gluteal muscles.


The problem with this is that it means other muscles will have to compensate leading to potential postural and movement issues.

Background information

(To preserve any authority that I may have gained and to remain somewhat professional, I am going to refer to the “butt muscles” as their technical name, the gluteals.)

// What are your gluteals?

Gluteals

Image from Myfit.

Your gluteal muscle group consists of 3 different muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus

Action: As a group, the gluteal muscles are responsible for the hip movements of:

  • Abduction
  • External rotation
  • Extension

Function: Apart from providing some padding whilst you sit on it all day, the gluteal muscles play a vital role in the stabilisation of the pelvis.

This is important as the position of the pelvis is the foundation of good sitting posture.

For this post – we are going to focus on the gluteus maximus (the biggest one of the lot).


The best exercises to activate and strengthen your glutes

glutesbodybuilder

(I must admit – The above picture may be a slight exaggeration of how strong your muscles will look after doing these exercises.) 


I recommend doing these exercises every day until they become very easy. When you can do endless amounts of repetitions without feeling any fatigue, you know you have mastered these basic gluteal exercises.


STEP 1 – THE EXERCISES BEFORE THE EXERCISES

a) Stretch your hip flexors


Tight/overactive hip flexor muscles will make it very difficult for you to engage your gluteal muscle group properly.


hip flexor stretch

Instructions:

  • Assume the deep lunge position as above.
  • Perform a posterior pelvic tilt:
    • “Tuck your tail bone underneath you”
  • Lean slightly backwards.
  • Make sure you feel the stretch at the front of hip on the back leg
    • You may need to adjust your position so that you feel the stretch in the right area.
  • Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

b) Stretch your hamstrings


If your gluteal muscle group is not functioning properly, it is likely that your hamstring muscles are compensating for it. For this reason, we need to down regulate the activity of the hamstring muscles group by stretching them out.

This will allow for the opportunity for the gluteals to function without being taken over by the hamstrings.


hamstring stretches

Instructions:

  • Assume the positions as above.
  • Make sure you feel the stretch at the back of your leg where your hamstring muscle is located.
  • Hold the stretch for a minimum of 1 minute.
  • Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

c) Pelvis isometric reset

Ideally, our pelvis should be in a position of symmetry.

Due to imbalances in muscles around the area, the pelvis can sometimes twist/rotate/tilt to one side.

To prevent unequal load to your gluteal muscles whilst performing the exercises, I recommend resetting the position of your pelvis.

Video from HEPtoGo

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with both of your knees bent in the air at 90 degrees.
  • Place your hand on top of one knee, and the other below the other knee.
  • Whilst applying an opposing force on both knees, use your leg muscles to keep your knee in the same position.
    • (isometric muscle contraction)
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.
  • Squeeze a ball between your knees and hold for 5 seconds.
    • You may hear a click! That’s normal.
  • Complete 3-5 cycles.

STEP 2 – Activation exercises

Since you have completed above exercises, it is now possible to commence the activation exercises.

For many of you, there may be some difficulty activating your gluteal muscles.

Your hamstring muscles have probably been doing most the work of your gluteals for awhile now.

Focus on feeling the gluteal muscles contracting as you are performing these exercises.

a) Standing

Video from HEPtoGo

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing upright, extend your leg backwards until you feel your gluteals contract firmly.
  • Do not rotate or bend forward.
  • You should not feel any contraction in your lower back.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Alternate legs for 20 repetitions each.
  • Hold onto a support (eg. back of a chair) if you have issues with maintaining your balance.

b) 4 point kneel

Video from GetReddy

Instructions:

  • Whilst in the 4 point kneel position, extend your leg backwards until you feel your gluteals contract firmly.
  • Do not rotate your body.
    • Only the leg that is being lifted should be moving.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Feel the contraction in your gluteals.
  • Alternate legs for 20 repetitions each.

STEP 3 – Strengthen the gluteals


By now, you should be fairly familiar with what it should feel like once you have the correct activation of your glutes.

The next step is to strengthen them!


a) Resisted hip extension – Standing

Video from SKLZ

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to your foot. Have the other end tied to a stable object.
  • Whilst standing upright, extend your leg backwards until you feel your gluteals contract firmly.
  • Do not rotate your body.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Alternate legs for 20 repetitions.

Note: Hold onto a support if you have issues with your balance.

b) Bridge

Video from Mike Robertson

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  • Flatten your lower back to the ground.
  • By pushing off with your heels, lift your buttocks off the floor.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 15 times.

c) One leg bridge

Video from thespotter123

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  • Flatten your lower back to the ground.
  • Hold one knee towards your chest.
  • With the foot still on the floor, lift your buttocks off the floor by pushing through the heel of the foot.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 15 times on alternate sides.

d) Deep lunge

Video from Howcast

Instructions:

  • (see video)
  • Drive through the heel.

STEP 4 – Progression

a) Hip thrust (+weight)

Instructions:

  • Support your upper back on a bench and have your knees bent.
  • Place a comfortable weight on the front of your pelvis.
  • Push with your heels, lift your buttocks off the floor.
  • Engage the gluteal muscles and hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 15 times.

b) Lunge +weight

[see lunge video above]

Instructions:

  • Exact same method as the lunge as noted above.
  • Hold onto weights in your hands.
  • Alternate sides.
  • Repeat 10 times each.

c) Hip thrust – Standing

Video from Remi Sovren

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to a stationary object.
  • Whilst holding onto the band which is between your legs, place your body in a squat.
  • Thrust your hips forward.
  • Hold for 5 seconds as you engage your glute muscles.
  • Repeat 10 times.

d) Dead lift

Video from CrossFit

Instructions:

  • (see video)
  • Keep your back straight. Push your gluteals behind you.
  • As you extend to the up right position, make sure you engage the gluteals.

e) Supine lateral ball roll

Video from Ultimate surf training

Instructions:

  • Support your upper back on an exercise ball.
  • Keep your body straight and knees bent throughout all movements.
  • Proceed to glide to the side and hold.
  • Return to the middle and repeat on other side.
  • Repeat for 60 seconds.

EXTRA TIPS

Whilst you are walking, let your back leg remain extended for a split second longer. This will engage your gluteal muscle group. It should feel as though you are gliding as you walk.

If you remember to do this every time you walk, you will essentially be training your gluteal muscles everyday!

Since prolonged sitting can disrupt normal gluteal function, try to get up from the seated position every 60 minutes. This will help reduce the negative impact on your gluteals.

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

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48 thoughts on “Is sitting destroying your butt muscles?

  1. Hi there.
    I’m wondering where to start in terms of which exercises I should focus on and things to avoid. I definitely have glute amnesia – my hamstrings and lower back fire up before my glutes when tested in prone position. My thighs front back and sides get super tight. I foam roll these at least twice a day but am finding that either standing for long periods or seated at my desk (even with regular breaks for foam rolling) results in painful muscle cramps especially at night on all sides of thighs. When I add in some, bridging and, clams my glutes also get tight ot crampy at night even if I only do 3 sets of 10. This disturbs my sleep even with painkillers. What should I do to help me get out of this cycle and progress? I don’t know whether I should be doing more or less or getting a deep tissue massage or some other approach? Please help.

    1. Hi Rache,

      I would first make sure your pelvis is in a good position as to make it easier to engage the glutes:
      Anterior pelvic tilt
      Posterior pelvic tilt
      Lateral pelvic tilt
      Rotated pelvis

      It sounds like you might need to start with non-weight bear exercises for the glutes. (any variation of hip extensions, clam shells). Make sure the pelvis does not move with these exercises.

      If you are getting cramps, perhaps only go for a gentle contraction to begin with and progress from there.

      Mark

  2. Hey Mark!
    I have dealt with a lot of QL pain (both sides) for about 5 years now (I’m only 20) presumably due to incorrect usage while doing sports (cheerleading and polevaulting). That being said, I’ve been to PT multiple times and nothing has helped. My doctor said my glutes are misfiring and that is causing my pain. It makes standing for long periods nearly impossible, sitting uncomfortable, and I always have some level of pain. Do you think my glutes are solely responsible? Might it be a combination of glutes + other factors? I’ve been working on my posture but I very well could still be doing it wrong as it hasn’t helped at all/sometimes increases my pain.

      1. Hi Mark! Thanks so much for the quick reply. I checked out both articles briefly, I don’t think I have an anterior pelvic tilt, although I had trouble figuring out where my “back pointy bones are” so my assessment may be wrong. For the Hyperlordosis it does not seem to be there when I am standing, but I did the lying down test and it is obvious there. Is that conclusive enough to determine that I have hyperlordosis? Thanks!

        1. Hey Elizabeth,

          Hyperlordosis in conjunction with weak glutes (and probably anterior core muscles) falls in line with the area of pain that you have.

          Mark

  3. Hi Mark,
    DO student here and I just want to say I LOVE your site and direct as many people here as I can! OMT is amazing but I’ve found that without this kind of balance training (plus actual engagement) folks just keep hurting themselves.
    So onto me 😉 I have flared ribs, winged scapula, hyperlordosis, flat feet and chronic medial knee pain. Yay! I’ve been doing your ribs/lumbar routines 3-5 times a week for about 6 months and I’ve really started to notice improvement. Thank you!!!!
    I unfortunately still have knee pain. When I do glute bridges, I actually get pain/cramping in the distal quad (not hamstring or glute). Any ideas what might be causing this?

    1. Hey Laura,

      Distal quad pain sounds like it could either be the:

      1) distal quad insertion point at the superior patella
      or
      2) superior border of the joint between the patella on the femur.

      Do you have tracking issues or position problems with the patella? This is where I would start looking.

      Mark

      1. Hi Mark,
        Thanks for your reply! I do have patellar tracking issues, but so far PT hasn’t been able to correct it.
        L

        1. Hi L,

          Here are some things you can consider:
          – Patella mobility: Make sure your knee cap has full range of motion. It should move pretty easy if you wobbled it around.
          – Patella position: Ideally – the patella should sit fairly central with no tilt/rotation/glide (the PT can check this easily). Failure to achieve this position can cause the bones to rub against each other when the knee flexes.
          – Distal quad tightness: Over-activity or tightness of the distal quad can pull the patella into the femur causing the bones to rub also.
          – Knee valgus/varus: Poor positioning of your knee may also affect your condition.
          – Use taping: You can use taping to a) help place the knee cap in a better position and/or b) off load some stress on the anterior knee.

          However – with knee pain, I find that the main causes are arising from the feet and/or the pelvis/hip region. Make sure the PT addresses that too 🙂

          Good luck

          Mark

  4. Hi Mark,
    I have got tight quads and weak glutes.
    Can I do Clamshells ?????
    I don’t know the science thats why asking. I don’t wanna strengthen my quads.

    1. If you are quad dominant, focus on getting your glutes to activate.

      Once your pelvis is more balanced, you can focus on strengthening everything (including quads)

      Clam shells are fine to strengthen the external rotation fibres of the glutes.

      Mark

  5. Hi Mark,
    I have the Dead Butt Syndrome aka Gluteal Amnesia.My gluteal are super weak and my hamstrings are little bit tight.What I noticed that my abdominals are also very weak. So i find deadbugs to be a bit difficult exercise for me.
    So could you recommend some other easy core acitation exercises??

    1. Hi Ronnie,

      I recommend doing a regressed form of the Dead bug exercise. (Eg. don’t drop your legs/arms too long)

      As you progress, then you can start to lower them more.

      Mark

  6. Hi Mark,
    While doing Clamshells my shins take over as a result of which not able to feel much contraction in the gluteus medius.Shins pain!
    Any suggestions???

  7. HI Mark,
    I would really appreciate if you help me on my condition.
    I am experiencing glutes problem for more than 5 months now. I have tried exercises many times but not able to get any relief.
    I have done MRI couple of times, and all of them came clean, no issues with the spine and SI. I do sit a lot due to my work for 5-6 hours.
    My symptoms are as follow:
    -Pain while sitting just above the hamstring, on the left side.
    -Pain on both the sides of hip, feels too tight after getting up from the chair.
    -Sourness in right glute always towards TFL and painful trigger points in both glute medius both the sides.
    -The tightness of right QL, unable to extend towards left side much.
    -Right knee pain when bending.
    -Tingling sensation when I do pigeon stretch or whenever there is pressure on glutes.
    -Numbness in the glutes after sitting for a long time.

    Eric

    1. Eric,

      Based on the information that you have provided, the first thing that comes into mind is that it sounds like your hip external rotators are to blame:

      (See image)

      Generally – most people have tightness in these muscles and may benefit from a good release and stretch to begin with.

      As your hips control your leg, inefficiencies here can lead to knee issues as well.

      Your sciatic nerve also runs through here which can lead to numbness/tingling:

      (See image)

      I would also check:
      – Sitting posture
      – Chair ergonomics

      Mark

      1. Hi Mark,

        Thank you for your reply.
        I often tend to slouch on the chair after seating for 4-5 hours straight, I am pretty sure that has caused this issue 🙁
        Something like this: http://images.wisegeek.com/asian-man-slouching-in-chair.jpg
        I get the tingling sensation in the legs when I try to sit cross-legged, doing a full squat, sitting on a hard surface such as toilet seat.

        I also have tight hip flexors and now starting to get stiffness and slight pain in the back too.

        I often get a bad cramp in the left hamstring on doing some exercises like the single leg squat, pole hanging and psoas muscle stretch.

        Putting a lacrosse ball on piriformis area gives me shooting pain doing the leg sometimes.
        Could you please help me with the exercises. Should I stretch my external rotators or strengthen them?

        Thanks,
        Eric

        1. Hey Eric,

          I would try to stretch it out first and see how it goes.

          If it gets better, then you are probably on the right track.

          If it gets worse, you can see how you go with strengthening.

          The positions you mention that aggravate it can happen in either case.

          I would also do some nerve glides (within comfort levels):
          (See image)

          Mark

  8. Hi Mark,
    Can I foam roll my hamstrings and hip flexors prior to stretching them???
    Can I use my Wilson tennis ball for trigger points instead of a lacrosse balls??

  9. Hi Mark ,
    I have Anterior pelvic tilt. While reading your blogs I came through gluteal amnesia.
    So while doing the Brigde exercise my hamstrings take over and feel cramps.
    So it is a result of tight hamstrings or weak hamstrings ???

    1. Hi Ronnie,

      If you have anterior pelvic tilt, you probably have weak hamstrings.

      You will need to regress your glute exercises so that you can feel the glute firing off as much (or better yet, even more than the hamstrings).

      Mark

  10. HI Mark,
    I have read about the ideal sitting posture in your Web page. Well that’s very informative.
    Could you please give some similar tips for standing and walking too ?
    Thanks

  11. Hi Mark,
    I experience severe cramps in the hamstrings while doing the Brigde evercise which means that these muscles are compensating and not letting the glutes fire up! That’s what called glutes amnesia.
    So how to deal with it? Which exercises to do ?
    Please help!!

  12. My v. elderly mom has kyphosis , weak hips, the whole package….she also stands with bent knees (I think this is tight hamstrings ), and takes mini steps. I plan to work in your suggested exer. as she is able, but what are your suggestions. She has major health problems.

    1. Hi Flan,

      If she quite elderly, I would recommend seeing a health professional so that she can get the appropriate supervision.

      Last thing you would want is that she injures her self doing the exercises!

      Mark

  13. Hi Mark,

    So I have been doing almost all of the above exercises at the gym every second day. I have APT so i know that my glutes are very weak. I know its normal to feel muscle soreness the next day after working out however after doing these exercises i feel the soreness mainly in my hamstrings. I still feel it in my glutes but mainly my hamstrings. Is this normal since i have ATP?

    1. Hey Sam,

      Your Glutes and Hamstrings both share the same role of bringing your pelvis into a better position from an anterior pelvic tilt.

      You should feel both engage.

      Mark

  14. “Whilst you are walking, let your back leg remain extended for a split second longer. This will engage your gluteal muscle group. It should feel as though you are gliding as you walk.” could you elaborate please?

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Basically – it means to take longer strides to allow your back hip to extend more than it would if you were to walk with smaller steps.

      With hip extension past hip neutral, the glute muscles are more so engaged.

      Mark

  15. I’m 8 weeks postpartum and had frequent adjustments during the pregnancy for a tilted pelvis. I’m stretching my hips flexors and hamstrings. I believe I have an anterior tilted pelvis and an working on that as well as core since it’s likely very weak. My question is I’m still not feeling any glute activation except a small amount doing clamshells with a resistance band. I did yoga and do currently so I’m unsure why the glutes are so weak! Any suggestions on what I can do?

    1. Hi Brenda,

      If you have an Anterior pelvic tilt, the glute muscles are placed in a elongated position which makes it very difficult to engage them.

      Try this:
      – Whilst standing, tilt your pelvis backwards (posterior pelvic tilt). Think about tucking your tail bone underneath you.
      – Lock this position in with your core engagement.
      – Whilst placing the weight on the left leg, proceed to tap your right leg behind you.

      Can you feel the glute muscle firing there?

      Mark

    1. Hey Gino,

      Within the first couple of weeks, you should notice that you can perform many of the exercises with less difficulty.

      As you become familiar with how your body responds to what particular exercises, you can start to omit some exercises. This will allow you to focus on the main ones that you feel you get the most benefit from.

      Mark

  16. I know for sure that my glutes are not firing properly which has developed in pain around the glute med area and some plantar fasciitis pain. I definitely sit a lot because of my desk job, although I try to move around as much as I can by taking frequent breaks.

    What I am confused is if I should stretch the glutes or do activation exercises while focusing on stretching the tight areas (i.e- hip flexors, TFL etc). I have read that stretching inactive/weak muscles doesn’t help with the pain/soreness.

    your input will be appreciated.

    1. Hi Alec,

      I guess it really depends which fibre within the glute muscle is tight. (The glute muscle is responsible for hip extension and external rotation). The External rotation fibres tends to be more commonly tight.

      But to keep it simple – You do want to stretch your glutes in general, but strengthening (especially hip extension) should always be your #1 focus as they are weak from excessive sitting.

      Mark

  17. I stil get mixed messages about stretching hip flexors? Also, surely these exercises trengthen and further compress an already tight muscle?

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