Oh those hot-cross buns – look so good you just might want to grab one! And yes, I’m planning on talking about buns, just not the ones you’ll find at the dinner table. Sorry about the pun, I just couldn’t resist – but grabbing or rather gripping of the buns that are attached to you, is more the subject at hand.
But, wait, you’re thinking – don’t I want to have the enviable tight and firm derriere? Well, certainly it is desirable both for aesthetic and functional reasons to have strength and tone in this area. The powerful muscles in your back end help you stand tall, run and jump. However, it’s when a muscle gets into overuse and dysfunction that can create a cascade of issues. Your core and your hips are at risk if you find you have this grabby habit.
“Butt-gripping,” a phrase credited to well-known physiotherapist, Diane Lee, is an over-activation of the gluteal muscles and the posterior hip complex. Why does butt-gripping happen? Actually there could be a lot of reasons, and some people clench their bottom without even knowing it. It might be going on because of pent-up stress, a postural habit of how you sit, or you may have been misinformed that gripping your buttocks is an operation of how you simply stand. Your body may be using the gripping to compensate for weakness, either in the pelvic floor, or because of some instability in the hip joint itself.
Check if you are a butt gripper
- Stand up and place your hands the sides of your body, about 4 inches below the bony part of the hip, and just behind the seam of your pants.
- Rest your hands so that the fingers and thumb point toward the floor
- If you feel a little hollowing space on each side – you can count yourself a butt-gripper
- Alternatively, can also ask someone to take a photo of you from the backside and/or from the profile. The hollowing on each butt cheek will show up on camera, and your bottom will also have a flat butt appearance.
Butt-gripping can lead to low back pain, hip pain, and to degeneration of the joint. Because of the over-activation of the glutes, the mechanics in the pelvis are altered. The syndrome inhibits the core Pilates muscle – the transverse abdominis. So as long as glutes are gripping, access to firing the deeper core muscles is lost. Bummer, right?
To get a better understanding of this, let’s take a look at the players. Then you can get to some strategies below to release your bottom.
The gluteus maximus is considered the largest muscle in the human body. It’s responsible for extending the hip joint, a ball and socket joint where the rounded head of the femur (your upper thigh bone), moves – or articulates, within the cup-shaped concavity of the pelvis. The concavity also has a name; it’s known as the acetabulum. The gluteus also moves the pelvis into a posterior tilt – or a tucking under of the tailbone. This is what gives the appearance of the flat butt as mentioned above.
With the pelvis forced into this position by the glutes, the spine is no longer in neutral, directing compressive stress on the lumbar spine, and the S-I joint in the low back. Activation of the transverse abdominis is blocked. And, even if you do a good job exercising your core when your glutes are not gripping – whenever you are in this habitual state – your core muscles will not be there to help support your back.
Now, ideally the femur and acetabulum have a great relationship – just as long as the head of the femur maintains well-centered placement within the joint space. This orientation is referred to as joint centration. To quote Hans Lindgren DC:
“All joints have a position of ideal alignment for each movement. … Joint centration is the position of … to allow for optimal load transfer and maximum muscle pull. In other words, joint centration is the ability to hold a joint in its ideal position, thereby allowing maximum loading with minimum strain.”
Think of a wheel and axle. As long as the wheel is set centered it will work efficiently in motion. You get a smooth even ride each turn of the axle. But shift the wheel off balance, and while you might still get somewhere, you’ll have an asymmetrical ride, resulting in uneven distribution of force and torque.
Release your rear to save your back and your hips!
- Awareness is the first step. So if you have discovered that you’re a butt-gripper, pay attention to how often you are doing it through-out the day. Become mindful, and when you catch yourself, focus on releasing the unnecessary tension. You might discover that you’re expending an awful lot of energy on that habit. Allow the hip joints to relax.
- Getting a core connection. To connect to your core and avoid activating of the glutes, lay on your back with your knees bent and focus on a broad and full diaphragmatic breath. As you exhale, find a low grade contraction of the transverse abdominis. Click here for the details on the Foundation of Breath
- Examine your feet. The gripping habit may have originated as a strategy from an unstable platform – your foot. Foot and ankle strength and mobility are directly linked all the way up the limb and pelvis. A weak arch may be the culprit of poor mechanics up the chain.
- Re-patterning. Once you have awareness and start establishing a core connection in the proper alignment, slowly introduce some base functional moves like a squat. It will be essential to focus on form, avoiding improperly tucking under. Ideally, do this with some one-on-one attention with a Certified Pilates Instructor or other a fitness professional.
Whatcha waitin’ for? Shift your rear in to the right gear, and come see us in the studio!