Just so we’re on the same page, we think you should know that your butt is pretty glorious. It provides you with the perfect cushion when you take a seat and looks amazing in a pair of jeans.
Together, three muscles—the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—make up your booty (technically called your glutes). And you may not have realized this, but the gluteus maximus is the strongest muscle in your body, which makes it kind of a big deal: It’s both the prime extender of the leg bone and helps to propel the body forward when walking or running.
“The glutes are one of the most important muscles in the body because of its size, position, and multiple layers and functions,” says Austin Lopez, C.S.C.S. and trainer at DIAKADI in San Francisco.
But some women struggle from something we like to call “SBS” (that’s sleepy butt syndrome, for newbies). Most women with “sleepy” glutes can blame the constant desk sitting or all those Netflix marathons for de-activating the muscles in your derriere. Not much of a sit-still type of lady? Then you may have other tight muscles pulling your hips out of place, misaligning the glute muscle and resulting in an inability to activate it properly, says Lopez.
But what’s the big deal? Well, if your glutes are tired, you may be wasting your time doing all those lunges. A muscle that’s not activated won’t experience the same amount of growth, and as other muscles work overtime to compensate for the malfunction, you could be risking injury. Here are two tell-tale signs your glutes aren’t really working:
You’re not sore
Ever gone HAM on leg day, only to wake up the next morning confused as to why you’re not sore? That’s a token sign you’re not actually using the appropriate muscles during your sweat session.
“When your glutes are activated you will feel the muscles tightening and firing,” says Chelsea Potter, trainer at Solace New York. “If the main amount of fatigue isn’t where you want it during the workout itself, then you’re doing it wrong.”
Quick fix: Squeeze your buns tight to make sure your glute muscles are engaged mid-movement.
You’re not able to lift a lot of weight
We’ve already established that the glutes are powerhouse muscles. That means that typically, they can move a considerable amount of weight, says Potter. Try tackling a less complex movement that uses fewer muscle groups so you that your glutes are the primary mover, like a deadlift or weighted lunge. If you’re struggling through deadlifting more than 30 pounds, that’s a sign you’re not activating your glutes. Translation? Other muscles are doing the work and you’re potentially hurting your lower back.
Need to get your glutes in Beyoncé-level formation? Lopez suggests you tackle these three things:
1. Realign your body
Believe it or not, you can get your glutes in a more optimal position by spending time on abs and hamstring work, says Lopez. “Generally, strengthening all of the abdominal regions (think rectus, transverse, and obliques) and hamstrings, will add to a better hip position.” Also, don’t be afraid to hit the foam roller (Take a look at this Beginner’s Guide to Foam Rolling) to really get into the muscles that are tight and causing this hip pulling, like your hip flexors and quads.
2. Breathe properly
Sometimes, like before a first date when you’re mega nervous, it’s hard to take a deep breath. But when it comes to working out, breathing may just be the most “underutilized tool everyone has at their disposal,” says Lopez. Breathing well helps up your energy levels over the course of a workout and also calm unnecessary muscles, preventing them from taking over when it’s really your glutes that should be working. You hear that? That’s your glutes saying thank you for taking a chill pill.
3. Get isolated
Make glute-specific activation part of your workout warmup, or make some time for a quick, active break from your office chair during the day. Spend one minute on each of the following three exercises:
- Stationary lunge-kick back: Keeping your abs tight, step back with your right foot and lower into a reverse lunge. Squeeze your glutes as you lift your right foot, kicking backward, for one rep. Do 12 to 15 continuous reps, then repeat on the other side, kicking your left leg.
- Superman flutter kicks: Lie on your stomach and draw your belly button toward your spine to tighten your abs. Keep your legs straight, arms stretched out over your head, and palms facing each other. Arch your back and raise your arms and legs. Then begin to flutter your legs, by kicking them slowly up and down. Hold position, with kicks, for five to 10 seconds and slowly lower to the floor.
- Straight leg hydrants: Get on all fours with your knees directly beneath your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your right leg back at 45 degrees, lifting to just above torso height, then lower back toward the ground. Do one minute of continuous reps, then repeat on the other side.