How Hinging From the Hips Creates Weak Gluteal Muscles

By Niki Vetten

Yoga practice usually starts with some form of Surya Namaskara and most sun salutations include moving from Samasthitih or Tadasasna to Uttanasana and back upright many times. These movements are often made by keeping the back straight and folding forwards at the hips, with the knees locked and rising back to vertical in the same position, lifting the head first.

  • Keeping the back straight to bend forward involves a strong contraction of the Erector Spinae muscles and eccentric lengthening of the Hamstrings (Hamstrings contract to control the movement and lengthen at the same time). The Iliopsoas works very hard as well, because it acts an antagonist and stabiliser of both muscle groups.
  • Returning to an upright position involves contracting the spinal muscles, and concentric contraction of the Hamstrings.
  • Another side effect of hinging from the hips is that the Iliopsoas becomes overactive, causing pain in the midsection of the body.

The problem here is that the Gluteus Maximus is barely used and repeating these movements many times reinforces a habit pattern which weakens the butt and lower abdominal muscles. The Gluteus Maximus is one of the strongest muscles in our body and Gluteal strength is essential for correct posture and stability in the Sacroiliac joint. The combination of weak Gluteals, weak lower abdominal muscles and overactive hip flexors is referred to as Pelvic Crossed Syndrome

Weak Gluteal muscles are very common in yoga and yogis may wonder how it can be possible.

Neurological usage patterns determine which of the muscles are utilised when making movements. For example, it is possible to extend the leg backwards – as in Dighasana – without engaging the gluteal muscles: the Hamstrings and Erector Spinae do the work instead. The body can use many muscles besides the correct ones to make movements, but the end-result is pain and injury.

The way to ensure that the Glutes are being used during movements is to engage the lower abdominal muscles to pull the pubic bone up towards the rib cage, as well as hollowing the belly (Uddiyana Bandha).

Hollowing the belly protects the spine, but it can also allow the pelvis to tilt forwards and anterior pelvic tilt reduces the contribution of Gluteal muscles. Some other side effects of anterior pelvic tilt will be looked at in more detail next.

Hinging forward from the hips with a straight back is not a problem for some people, but yogis who have hip problems should try this instead:

  • Bend the knees very slightly and roll up and down through the spine, while maintaining a strong gluteal contraction and engaging the leg and lower abdominal muscles for support
  • When returning to standing, movement must begin at the sacrum and NOT by first lifting the head and shoulders. This is accomplished by a strong contraction of the Gluteal muscles.

A small change of emphasis in movements can make a big difference with chronic hip problems

Reading Sources: De Franca, 1996, Pelvic Locomotor Dysfunction Sharkey, 2008, The Concise Book of Neuromuscular Therapy

Author: Niki Vetten

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Visit Niki’s Website: Yoga Anatomy for the Perplexed

Here are some of the other articles posted here by Nikki Vetten:
  • Reciprocal Inhibition and the Hips March 9, 2013 By Niki Vetten Reciprocal Inhibition is a process that the body uses to create movements. All movement is controlled by opposing sets of muscles, called Agonists or prime movers, and Antagonists that create the opposing force which returns the part being moved back to its original position. Movement is also aided by other surrounding muscles, called ...
  • Hip and Hamstring Flexibility March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten Hamstrings and hips get a lot of stretching in yoga, because everyone wants to do Hanumanasana, and also get their feet behind their heads, preferably both feet at the same time. For many, this will never happen, precisely because they try so hard and focus only on one set of muscles without understanding ...
  • Lower Back Pain: Some Yoga-Related Causes March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten The causes of lower back pain are varied and complex. Physiotherapy texts state that in most cases it is impossible to pinpoint the exact body tissue that causes the pain and because humans have an upright posture, it is virtually guaranteed that everyone will have an episode of lower back pain in their ...
  • Hip Pain and Injury in Yoga March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten Hips are vital in all body movements because the body’s centre of gravity is located in the hip area, about 4 finger-widths below the navel or belly-button. Healthy hips are also the key to a pain-free lower back and knees. Flexibility in the hips is determined by strength and overstretching the hips in an ...
  • Using hip muscles effectively in yoga practice – part 1: bridging and back bending March 7, 2014 By Niki Vetten Weak Gluteal muscles are very common amongst yoga students and teachers alike and cause Sacroiliac pain and dysfunction, lower back pain and hamstring injury. Causes and symptoms are covered in the article on yoga butt and this post looks at the effects of various hip movement cues taught in yoga. Different instructions are ...
View more articles by Niki

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