The Method

Why We Have Beautiful Glutes

March 7, 2009

“The Westerner’s Gluteals are woefully underdeveloped, with drastic consequences in terms of pain and poor function…”  From: Easy Vigor by Bruce Thompson

Around two million years ago the rear ends of our ancestors began to grow.  As we climbed down out of trees to become human, our swelling buttocks played a key role in transforming us into bi-pedal creatures capable of moving fast over long distances. Our back sides also turned out to be a perfect location for storing some extra emergency fat, since they’re conveniently just out of the way of our scissoring legs but not so high on our torsos to cause top-heaviness.  These distinctly human backside muscles — large, high and somewhat fatty – are now what most set our legs apart from those belonging to other primates.

Today our hard-working glutes perform many tasks.  They keep us upright when we stand, stabilize and balance our bodies when we walk, power us forward when we move fast, and make us women look fabulous in a thong bathing suit (if we happen to be in shape).

So why is this part of our body, one that is so important both as a core stabilizer and fabulous fashion statement, such a basket case on most civilized homo sapiens today?  The answer is three-fold.  First and most obvious, we sit too much.  By no fault of our own our lives usually revolve around chair-oriented work and leisure activities, resulting in some pretty straightforward problems: Our rears get loose, our hips get tight, our posture wilts.

Second, when we do exercise, we choose activities such as jogging that spare our buns. “Glutes are essential to a powerful and full leg drive. Jogging doesn’t do it,” writes Art de Vany, professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine, in Sports Medicine.  To fully engage the glutes, says de Vany, you have to “do more vigorous exercise.”  He and other scientists also cite seated leg extensions and squats for paying lip service to these tireless muscles.  Meanwhile, donkey kicks and lunges, both purported to strengthen the glutes, really only get as far as the hamstring, still missing their mark.

Third, let’s face it, most of us didn’t grow up transporting logs, stones, game, pottery and the other stuff our bodies took the trouble to evolve the capacity to handle.  The up side of this situation is that we have lots of time to invent new technology.  The down side is that we end up with weak muscles down our back sides, neck to ankles.

Unfortunately this down side doesn’t stop with secretary’s spread.  Walking around with weak glutes subjects our spines to lateral looseness, thereby putting our backs a greater risk for injury.  Our arches are also more likely to fall inward, sending a chain reaction of instability up to our knees and hips.  And because our rears are pretty much out of our range of vision, we will tend to lose sight of them altogether.  When I ask my beginning Bar Method students to engage their glutes, for example, most of them will contract their lower backs, bend their knees, or lean back from their waists.  It takes them a few classes to learn to contract their rears, even though they’re dealing with the largest muscles in their bodies!

For this reason the Bar Method’s first task is to teach students to locate this heretofore under-used muscle group on their own bodies, and then to work it without inadvertently recruiting others around it.  This first skill, namely that of finding a particular muscle, is vital if you aim to work it deeply and then to keeping it working for you throughout the day.

A Bar Method glute workout, therefore, starts out by teaching students to isolate these hard-to-find muscles.  Once they succeed in getting into position, they sustain it without breaking until their muscles begin to give out.  At this juncture the Bar Method delivers its coup de grace.  Just as the holding pattern becomes difficult to maintain, students add small, rhythm bursts of motion to it, never releasing the underlying position.  These fiery little pulsations enable everyone in the class to sustain their pose without flagging while they work even more deeply into it.  The results are noteworthy.  Students gain joint stability, become more coordinated and begin to look totally awesome in jeans.

glute workThe Bar Method’s “seat” exercises aren’t the only ones that work this strong, gorgeous, sexy trio of muscles.  They’re also recruited during strength work for the arms, thighs and abs.  This emphasis on our nether region serves to remedy its general mass neglect, and on a more positive note, helps students more deeply feel and take pleasure in their innate human grace.

If you would like to try isolating your own glutes, here’s a simple exercise you can do at home in about a minute.  Stand in front of a chest of drawers, kitchen counter or other stable surface, bring one leg off the floor and move it about 12-15 inches out to the side and slightly towards the back of your body (as illustrated).  Now adjust your pelvis to be 1. upright, 2. level and 3. facing forward.  To accomplish this pelvis alignment, you’ll need to use the muscles in your standing leg.  Don’t cheat.  Really get your pelvis into place! Once you do, hold the position for 30 seconds.

If you do succeed in finding the correct position, you will be engaging all three of your glute muscles (maximus, medius and minimus).  You might even be a bit sore tomorrow.

Click here for more about Bar Method’s core strengthening exercises.