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:
  • 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 ...
  • Pain at the Kneecap March 9, 2013 By Niki Vetten Knee pain that occurs around the kneecap is usually called Patellofemoral pain and can be caused by tightness in the Rectus Femoris muscle or an imbalance between the Quadricep muscles that stabilise the patella. One way that this occurs is through weakness of the Gluteus Medius in the hip. The Tensor Fascia Latae ...
  • 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 ...
  • Sacroiliac Joints and Yoga March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten Sacroiliac problems are common in yoga – Chiropractors consider the Sacroiliac joint to be the most common cause of lower back pain, more prevalent than disc problems. The Sacroiliac joint is believed to act as a shock absorber between the legs and the spine and although its movements are very small, restrictions at ...
  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt in Yoga Practice March 10, 2013 By Niki Vetten When the hip-bones tilt forwards, creating an arch (lordosis) in the lower back, you have anterior pelvic tilt, one of the main causes of lower back pain. Some people, mainly women, have a lower back that is naturally lordotic. This is due to the shape of their Sacroiliac joints, and is not necessarily ...
View more articles by Niki

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