Friday, May 20, 2011

How Glute Atrophy Effects Posture & Performance, Pt. 2

If you missed part one of this post, check it out here. This post is actually an article I wrote a little over a year ago and its been featured on various websites. Since my blog is gaining popularity, I've decided to re-hash my material for my newer audience members. Enjoy Part 2!

So what may cause the glute muscles to be inactive and eventually atrophy?

Sway back posture is characterized as the pelvis” swayed forward and the hips in extension. The sway back posture places excessive strain on the low lumbar spine, most commonly at the lumbo-sacral joint, which becomes problematic with extension. This is often seen in those that are seated for long periods of time, that exhibit pain upon standing still. Postural gluteal contraction, particularly the glute maximus, appears deficient in sway back posture.  This is because the line of gravity drops behind the hip joint producing passive hip extension via body weight. This passive hip extension renders active extension from the gluteus maximus unnecessary and it ‘switches off’, the hamstring muscles, however, maintain activation to control postural sway. 
Gluteal atrophy is often seen in those with sway back posture, and the neural deviation previously mentioned can be a result of the “flattening” of the lumbar spine causing compression or herniation of the vertebra discs. Cosmetically, it is unsightly for those desiring a more “bountiful” rear.  For the prolonged sitter, abetting this process is the so called “ergonomic thought process”. This thought process calls for keeping all frequently used office tools (i.e.: stapler, tape, pens) in close proximity to avoid sudden movements. Such practices prevent the sedentary from moving regularly, and thus, reinforcing the gluteals to shut down.

Flat back posture is somewhat similar to sway back posture. It is characterized as a malformation in which the individual has a decreased curve in the low back region.

Taking an individual or athlete—one needs to function properly to maintain an efficient quality of life, and the other needs to perform optimally for sport—the degree of malformation in posture will greatly influence how the glutes function during common actions. For instance, an athlete with a swayback posture will often have tight hip extensors (hip rotators and hamstrings) and tight low back muscles. The athlete will often have weak hip flexors, weak lower abdominals, and weak shoulder blade muscles. These athletes are less likely to be powerful and explosive. Those with flat back posture characteristics will have tight hip muscles and weak low back and hip flexor muscles.

In the world of athletics, optimal posture and alignment help to provide good shock absorption, assist in weight acceptance, and promote the transfer of energy during movement. In other words, optimal posture allows the body to move more efficiently, fatigue less easily, and place less stress on the joints. Optimal posture will assist in the prevention of overtraining, muscle imbalances, and decreased performance. In the world of average Joe’s, optimal posture will decrease the likelihood of cumulative injury due to static positions. Typically, when an injury presents itself in a sedentary individual, it is the symptom of a problem—and not directly related to the site of pain. Posture helps determine which muscles are strong and weak by lengthening or shortening certain muscles. There is an optimum length at which the muscle is capable of developing maximal tension.
For the gluteal muscles to perform optimally—whether it is simply standing upright, or running after the ball—the length-tension relationships surrounding the area should be ideal. This includes proper lengths of the TFL (tensor fascia latae), hip flexors, adductors, hamstrings, trapezius, erectors, and multifidius. All of which are affected negatively by the seated posture. If the gluteal muscles function correctly and optimally, hip extension and rotation will occur freely without compensation and it will spare the lumbar spine. Once the lumbar spine is spared of “picking up the slack” of the glutes, pain will be avoided and the human body can become more efficient at the given tasks. 

In order to reverse the degeneration of the gluteal muscles, loaded activity should be introduced regularly. Immobilization studies (study used bed rest) in humans suggest that most of lost muscle and strength can be regained with appropriate resistance training several weeks after a period of disuse. (3)

From a functional performance standpoint, a basic program to isolate the gluteals with specific exercises and then integrate them into functional movements is key. For instance, the following basic program can be used:

Weeks 1-2
(Performed daily)
Weeks 3-4
(Performed 4 times a week)
Weeks 4-6
(Performed 1-3 times per week)
Sit to Stand Stretch
Active Hamstring Stretch
Isolated Glute Stretch
(introducing mobilization and decreasing associated “creep”)
Quadruped Glute Extension
Clam Exercise
Fire Hydrant Exercise
Bridges (2 to 1 leg)
(Moderate foam rolling performed)
Bodyweight Squats
Single Leg Squats
(Foam rolling performed before each workout/stretch post-workout)

Poor lifting habits are born through mechanical disadvantages and invalid instruction.  Both can be a result of one or the other. For instance, most indoor cyclists demonstrate enormous quadriceps development and hip flexor action. This popular fitness activity demands resisted knee flexion in a high stressful hip flexion position.  The seated position also exacerbates the inactivity of the gluteals during a class, and reinforces the degeneration of this muscle. Most participants will attest that a typical indoor cycling class also involves simulated hill jumps, whereas the buttocks are raised off the seat, which may involve the gluteals to some degree. Even so, the neural programming shuts off the gluteals simply because it cannot “undo” itself to fulfill an activity that supposedly involves its potential action in such a short time period.

In conclusion, optimal posture is ultimately determined by optimal function of the gluteal muscles. The pelvic girdle houses the center of gravity for all postural points to stem from. Attached to this center is the body’s most powerful muscle group. The function of these muscles corresponds with mother nature’s intent. Humans are meant to be upright as a species and it is the function of the gluteal muscles that allow that. As the sedentary become more and more inclined to sit, the more obvious it becomes to see the damage caused. With small modifications and changes made throughout one’s day, it is a battle that can be one in small increments through purposeful activity, and properly loaded exercises.


Berg HE, Eiken O, Miklavcic L, Mekjavic IB.(2007). Hip, thigh and calf muscle atrophy and bone loss after 5-week bedrest inactivity. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007 Feb;99(3):283-9. Epub 2006 Dec 22.

Bloomfield SA. (1997). Changes in musculoskeletal structure and function with prolonged bed rest. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Feb;29(2):197-206

 Alan D. Tyson, Ben T. Cook (2004). Jumpmetrics. New York, NY:  Human Kinetics.


1 comment:

  1. Medical treatment doesn't give a lifetime benefit but exercise can do.


Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting!