The Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle in our bottom, and is usually responsible for powerful movements like deep squats, and for speed (think sprints).
These glute muscles actually link into the pelvic floor, and when our pelvic floor and deep core aren't working well during pregnancy (and post birth) we start over using them - as postural muscles.
When these muscles are being used postural (instead of for power as designed) we tend to grip with them; squeezing them in order to stand on the spot, pick up our kids, and stabilise our back.
Not sure if this is you? Kneel on the floor and stay still. Notice if you start clenching your butt cheeks, just kneeling there. If you aren't sure, let them relax - if they're able to relax, they were holding tension.
After all this squeezing, gripping and clenching, our gluteus maximus tires, and stops working fully. Then we get atrophy - which is muscle deterioration.
Visually this looks like a flatter backside - or a butt that 'disappears' from half way down into the top of the leg (they design mum jeans that way for a reason right?).
Training the gluteal muscles in conjunction with correctly activating the pelvic floor can alleviate this.
If you've been experiencing this, you're probably finding you have surrounding muscles that are tight and compensating (like quads, hamstrings and piriformis).
So to activate the gluteal muscles again in the way they are meant to function - this is a GREAT place to start:
It activates the feet, works pelvic alignment and spinal stabilisers.
It uses gravity to enhance complete core function: the transverse abdominis (TrA) and pelvic floor activate more easily from this position so you start to get a better range.
It doesn’t require any equipment or special clothes – as long as you have a floor you can get it done.
When the glutes aren’t working properly a lot of the load is also taken by a tiny muscle called the piriformis. It can pull on the lower back when it’s too tight and cause SIJ (sacroiliac joint) pain.
It can also make you feel like your glutes are actually tight and sore – even though the rest are asleep!
If this feels like you – before you try to exercise below – stretch your piriformis first – if you’re not sure what that is – check out this post first at the blog.
1 – Only do as many as you can each session with complete pelvic floor activation. If your pelvic floor begins to let go during the exercise, it’s time to stop.
2 – Once you can complete 20 repetitions – with great technique – you are ready to progress. How long this will take you can vary – there’s no rush. Sacrificing technique to get reps out won’t give you the benefit.
3 – Do a diaphragmatic breath between every single rep for this one. It can seem laborious – but teaching your pelvic floor and tva to work, and then release, then work again is a key component to successful and lasting rehabilitation.
4 - Make sure you EXTEND FROM THE HIP to lift up. Do not use your lower back, rolling up through the spine or thrusting up from the ribs. It's called a hip extension because that's the joint that has the glutes work best!
This exercise can be done during pregnancy at any stage, and is great for post natal recovery. It can also be done if you have a pelvic organ prolapse, as long as you are symptom free during the movement. Just keep the movement small (and always check with your medical professional regarding any exercise).
Kristy Ahale is an exercise scientist specialising in postpartum strength and conditioning, and rehabilitation.
She is the founder of The Postpartum Method - Core and Pelvic Floor Programs.