Should You Squeeze Your Glutes Backbends? Here’s why and how?

QUESTION:
Some teachers tell students not to “press” or “grab” the gluteal (or gluteal) muscles in back flexions because this will compress. the sacrum and lower back. Others say it is essential to use the glutes in the back flexions. What do you recommend?

ANSWER:
First, we recognize that different students may benefit from slightly different actions in any given posture. Therefore, the most accurate way to answer this question is to say that most students will benefit from activating the glutes in the back push-ups. Here’s why:

BUTBENDS: The ESSENTIAL ANATOMY

The gluteus family is made up of the gluteus major, gluteus medius and gluteus minor. When teachers talk about activating the glutes in the back flexions, they refer to the greater glute. When we attach the gluteus maximus (especially the lower fibers near the insertion of the hamstrings), these muscles extend the hip joint. This is good because we want the hips to stretch slightly when we do back push-ups to help decompress the lumbar spine. The involvement of the glutes also helps to stabilize the sacroiliac joint, which is valuable because many long-time yogis have hypermobile and unstable SI joints.

But, we answer the question with a little more nuance, as some back flexions are improved with gluteal coupling and others are not. Prone back flexions such as Locust and Cobra Pose probably do not benefit so much from the contraction of the glutes because the weight of the pelvis rests on the floor during these postures. This means you don’t need enough glute to lift your pelvis because it stays on the floor in the posture; nor is the stabilization provided by the glutes needed because the pelvis is supported by the floor.

In knee flexions such as Camel Pose and in supine position such as Bridge Pose and Upward Faing Bow Pose, gluteal engagement is more helpful. These postures produce a greater degree of extension of the spine, so it is even more important that the pelvis and spine move in a cohesive manner. Sticking your glutes close to the insertion of the hamstrings will help maintain this balance by rotating the pelvis slightly back above the top of the legs. This will help reduce lumbar compression, the feeling of “crunching” of the lower back. Further, the glutes help lift the weight of the pelvis in supine back flexions. If you do not use your buttocks in these postures, you may unnecessarily load less efficient muscle groups.

Some teachers and students are concerned that the use of the buttocks will cause the knees to become too tight. This is a legitimate concern, but it is easy to manage. All you have to do in this situation is to co-contract the muscles that line the inside of the thighs, the adductor muscles. Shooting the adductors while connecting the glutes will keep your thighs pleasant and neutral.

THE SEQUENCE

In the following postures, the prone (downward) back flexions are instructed with passive glutes, while the kneeling and reclining back flexions are instructed with active glutes. I encourage you to experiment with these postures and see what works best for your body.

Pose the lobster

Lie on your stomach. As you exhale, lift your upper body away from the ground. Root through the top of your feet and ground the top of your little toe. Keep your glutes passive and focus on working your spine muscles.
Lobster Posture - Salambhasana - Glutes on Backbends

Pose of the cobra

Again, start with your belly. Place your hands on the floor on either side of your chest. Squeeze the top of your feet and pubic bone while partially stretching your arms. Pull your shoulder blades back and hug your elbows to the sides. Keep your glutes passive and let your muscles and arms in your spine guide you toward your posture.
Cobra Pose Bhujangasana - Glutes in Backbends

Dog posture up

Enter the dog up Chaturanga. Once in Updog, allow your buttocks to be relatively passive. Focus on getting to the floor through your fingers, hands, and feet as you lift your thighs, hips, and chest.
Dog Pose Up Urdvha Mukha Svanasana - Glutes on Backbends

Pose of the bridge

Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet on the floor, close to your hips. Spread your feet hip-width apart. You can keep your arms at your sides or your hands under your buttocks. Press your feet down and lift your hips. The glutes will be activated to help lift the hips. Gently tap your inner legs imagining that you are squeezing a block between your thighs.
Pose of the bridge Setu Bandha Sarvangasana - Glutes in Backbends

Camel posture

Kneel on your mat and touch your hips with your fingertips. If you have a block, place it between your thighs. Lift your hip points up and stretch your thighs down. This action will begin to shoot the glutes near the insertion of the hamstrings. (One of my teachers, Richard Rosen, calls this part of the glutes the LBMs, or lower back muscles).

Bring your hands to your heels, lift your chest and hold your breath. If there is a block between your thighs, press it firmly. This sticks to your adductor muscles and keeps your thighs parallel to each other.
Camel Pose Ustrasana - Glutes in Backbends

Posture of the bow upwards

Pull your back as you did for Bridge Pose. Spread your feet hip-width apart. Get up in the posture on the exhalation. Once you are in the posture, bring your consciousness to your glutes. Given the demand for posture, your glutes will soar. Feel the support they provide as you take care to simultaneously attach your inner thighs by hugging them toward your midline.
Urdhva Dhanurasana Posture of the arch upwards - Glutes in the backbends

{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

#Squeeze #Glutes #Backbends #Heres

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