Your gluteus maximus may be the largest muscle in your body, but is it your strongest? Known for its size and power, the glute max has the potential to be a triathlete’s greatest asset. But, due to lifestyle factors such as jobs that require prolonged sitting, this muscle often becomes stretched out and disengaged, causing smaller, surrounding muscles to pick up its slack. Over time, this causes a domino effect of compensations and injuries in areas as close to the hip as the low back and as far away as the foot.
If your gluteus maximus is not all that it was created to be, but you wonder if squats and bridges are really worth your time, these 7 benefits of stronger glutes are for you.
1. Stop knee pain. Anterior knee pain (such as patellar tendonitis), is one of the five most common injuries amongst triathletes. Because weak hips cause the knee joint and thigh muscles to work overtime, treatment for anterior knee pain focuses on hip strengthening instead of knee strengthening. Keeping your knees healthy and pain free means keeping your gluteus maximus and gluteus medius strong.
2. Prevent hamstring cramps. The July RTB blog article discussed the neuromuscular control theory for Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC). The gluteus maximus and hamstrings share common functions during the swing and stance phases of running, the extension phase of freestyle kicking, and the backstroke of pedaling while cycling. Weak glutes place an increased demand on your hamstrings, making them more likely to prematurely fatigue and, eventually, cramp.
3. Reduce back pain. Scientific research links gluteal muscle weakness with low back pain. In triathletes, back pain is most often associated with the cycling position. Due to the proximity to the lumbar spine, your hips directly impact your lower spine mobility and stability. On the bike, you need to maintain a stable yet flexed position in your spine for prolonged periods. In other words, you need the support of your strong and powerful glutes.
4. Improve your posture. When you sit for prolonged periods, your posterior hip (gluteus maximus) becomes stretched out, weak and disengaged while your anterior hip (hip flexor) shortens. Tight hip flexors cause the pelvis to tilt forward, resulting in a “hunched” or “slouched” posture that moves your center of gravity forward. This type of posture alters your running form, cycling comfort and swimming alignment.
5. Prevent plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis, a common running injury, is often blamed on tight calves or faulty foot and ankle mechanics. While these may contribute to this painful foot condition, the root cause of the problem is often a weak, elongated gluteus maximus or medius. When your hip muscles aren’t strong enough to maintain a neutral pelvic position during walking and running, compensations continue “down the chain,” all the way to the bottom of your feet.
6. Protect your Achilles tendons. Research on runners reveals a link between Achilles pain (including tendinopathy and tendonitis) and the delayed firing of gluteal muscles. When the hips are not stable, the leg rotates inward and the ankle compensates with overpronation, a position of the ankle that places excess stress on the Achilles tendon.
All glute exercises are not created equal! For a strengthening program specific to your body and training needs, schedule an appointment with a Board Certified Physical Therapist. Visit www.outpatientpt.com for clinic locations, hours and contact info.