Assets of Performance

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Sitting is our worst enemy when it comes to many health and fitness issues. No “butts” about it, after watching the Olympics, it is obvious that athletic power, speed and overall performance are rooted in the area most of us use mainly as a seat cushion. Physical therapists, including my own, are always emphasizing strengthening and activation of the gluteus maximus. When it comes to athletic performance, avoiding injury, and looking good in jeans, form equals function regarding this particular physical asset.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. With its surrounding team of smaller muscles, it is the powerhouse when it comes to movement and performance. A major player in the posterior chain of muscles (lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves), the function of the glutes is hip extension, abduction and rotation. Also responsible for mobility and stability of the legs and torso, these muscles are not only important for running, jumping, and cutting from side to side, but also for the rotational force created by the uncoiling of the hips, core, and torso needed for throwing and hitting.

If this muscle is such a big player in so many movements you would think it only natural that it would be getting a regular workout in your everyday training. Unfortunately it is often the case that it’s taken out of the game before you even start. Most of us tend to spend the majority of our waking hours seated and that does not bode well for maintaining optimal function of movement. Specifically, for the glutes, it is the seat of weakness and the contributor to athletic performance related problems. Extended time in a seated position causes tightening and shortening of the hip flexor muscles. This can lead to inhibition of the glutes by pulling of the pelvis into a forward tilt. In addition, the constant pressure, combined with minimal use while sitting, contributes to weakness, forcing the surrounding muscles to compensate when the glutes fail to perform.

When it comes to injuries, the glutes can often be a silent player responsible for overuse in other areas. In the situation of inhibition, the glutes are on extended vacation and don’t activate properly to contribute to the movements of normal life and sport. In the situation of weakness, the glutes are activating correctly but they are not as strong as other muscle groups. Thus, in both situations smaller muscles take over and do the job your glutes should be doing. In the short term, this decreases the efficiency of movement and performance and in the long run may develop into some type of pain or injury. Most likely the pain or injury will occur somewhere else in the chain such as the low back, hamstrings, knee, lower leg or foot.

Regardless of your sport or fitness activity, you will benefit from giving your glutes a little attention in the form of a healthy workout. Your glutes can never get too strong, but before you can work on this asset, you have to get off your ass!

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