I have known for quite awhile now that my mom blessed me with a few things relating to my anatomy besides a nice smile and a non-functioning thyroid she also passed on to me her anterior pelvic tilt. I have a strong suspicion that this is a major contributing factor to the mysterious chronic and migrating hip pain that I have been suffering from over the past year. I am in no way self-diagnosing here, but after having been to physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors and an orthopedic surgeon (who thought I had weak hip flexors????
WTF??) I’m definitely doing a lot of self-educating in my quest for answers.
What have I found?
The problem of tight hip flexors and weak glutes (“sleeping butt syndrome”) is a lot more prevalent than I thought. It never fails – when I go to give a presentation I have all my workshop participants lie on the ground and do a glute bridge to test who has “sleeping glutes”. There’s usually quite a bit of laughter and then I ask “who feels this in their hamstrings?” and more hands go up then when I ask “who feels this in their butt?”. It’s hugely common.
You might notice an increase in the amount of hip and glute posts from me in the near future; this is a major contributing factor to that. Be you a desk jocky, musician, weekend warrior or seasoned gym goer, the likely-hood of you suffering from some degree of this is high, so I feel it my duty to report on it! I’m happy to see a lot more articles and attention being given to the subject and I’ll do my best to lead you to them. In the meantime, I’ll also share what I know.
What does this cause?
Lots of things, most notably:
- An excessive low back arch
- Tight hip flexors
- Weak glutes
- Stretched hamstrings
- Possible low back pain
- A J-Lo type bubble butt 🙂 (no, that’s not the technical term, but you had to have a visual because I’m not posting a pic of MY butt!)
- Weakened core mucsulature, especially abdominals
- Knee pain
How do you know?
First off, how do you KNOW you have an anterior pelvic tilt? Your first clue: examine the pictures below and then compare yourself to them:
If you look in the mirror,
The natural position your hips determines leverages of the muscles that control the hip. This is trainable. The hip flexors pull down on your pelvis while the lower back pulls up. The Abs pull up while the glutes pull down.
This is an excellent and comprehensive post on the problem and goes into great detail about testing and exercises, some of which I will cover in this series.
SECONDLY, IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE SLEEPING GLUTES AND NOT HAVE AN ANTERIOR PELVIC TILT?
In a word, yes, it is. There are a series of tests you can do to find out if your glutes are firing properly or you have muscle compensations. But first, a word about what the glutes do; if not stated previously, the glutes are involved in hip extension, abduction and external rotation. In layman’s terms, that means they bring the leg straight back, out to the outside of the body and around. If they do not fire correctly, other muscles are forced to take up this job.
Tests to see if you have sleeping glutes:
Lie face-up on a bench and bring both knees to your chest. Grab your right knee and hold it at your chest. Let your left leg straighten, then lower it by relaxing your hip. Test both legs, and if either leg can’t lower to the bench.
YOUR PROBLEM IS…
…tight hip flexors, which can result in hamstring strains and back pain.
Two More Tests: Prone Leg Lift and the Bridge (double-leg)
The double-leg bridge is not only a test to find out if your glutes are firing properly, but if you find they aren’t, it is also one of the exercises to help fix it. Lie on your back with feet very close to your butt, almost directly underneath your knees. Put your arms on the ground to the side with palms facing up (to get a little extra pec stretch 🙂 ). Tilt your pelvis toward you (so lower back flattens a bit) and drive your heels into the ground and lift your hips until your body is forming a straight line. Squeeze your glutes for all they are worth, keep tension in them as you return to the ground ( do NOT let them “loose”) and repeat. If you feel a burning in your hamstrings, this is a sure-fire indication that you have a muscle imbalance and your glutes are not firing properly. You may call yourself “Sleeping Booty”.
Two More Tests From:
Fundamental Movement Patterns
Before we get to the tests themselves, it’s important for you to understand that everyone should be able to do them without a struggle, as they’re based on fundamental, bio-motor (human movement) abilities. This means that if you’re unable to successfully perform one or both of the tests, you essentially lack a basic ability that you need for healthy and efficient movement. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very common to find these tests difficult to perform, so it’s nothing to worry about; you just need to be retrained.
Glute Activation Test 1: Straight Leg Hip Extension
This test enables us to test the level of glute activation one can achieve in the straight leg position. This same straight leg hip extension occurs on both sides in the gym during exercises like two legged and single legged Romanian deadlifts.
So you’ve got the foundation of this test and how it relates to fitness training, now let’s talk about how it’s done.
- Begin on your elbows, with one leg fully flexed at the hip and the knee. This leg should be tucked up as far as possible into your body with your thigh in contact with your ribs.\
- The other leg should be extended straight back behind you and resting on the floor (see photos). The extended leg is the one that’s going to be tested.
Performing the Test
To perform this test, lift your extended leg off the ground as high as possible. Be sure to keep that leg fairly straight and avoid bending it. A slight bend (<15 degrees) is okay, however. Additionally, do not allow your ribs to loose contact with your thigh on the opposite side.
If you can lift your extended thigh and knee at least one to two inches off the floor without struggling, you pass.
If you cannot lift your rear leg without shifting your body or deviating from the starting position, or you find yourself struggling to do so, you have some work ahead of you.
Glute Activation Test 2: Bent Leg Hip Extension
First off, don’t even think of skipping this test just because you either passed or failed the first test. This test was adapted from my good friend and sports physical therapist Gray Cook, and it tests the glutes in a different manner; it’s important that you try both.
The bent leg test mimics how the glutes are recruited in sports during a different aspect of locomotive activities (running, skipping, etc.). Bent leg hip extension is also required to effectively perform gym exercsies like Bulgarian split squats and lunges.
- You’re going to need a tennis ball for this one. (Tennis balls are the latest in cutting edge fitness equipment.)
- To begin the test, lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the floor, resembling a traditional sit-up position.
- Place a tennis ball below your bottom rib, then bring your knee up and use your hip flexors to squeeze the tennis ball between your thigh and bottom rib.
Performing the Test
Without deviating from your starting position or losing the tennis ball, lift your hips as high as possible off of the floor.
In order to pass this test, you must be able to perform ten consecututive repetitions at a controlled tempo, without losing the pressure on the tennis ball or having it roll away altogether.
You also must be able to bridge high enough that your hip, knee, and underarm form a straight line.
If you’re successful at maintaining the tennis ball but fail to reach this hip height, you need some additional help from the specialized exercise progressions laid out below.
There Are Two Sides to Every Story
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it just in case you need to hear it: Don’t forget to test both sides of your body. Just because one side’s working well doesn’t mean that the opposite will, too.
With that said, if neither one of your glutes is working well, just give each side some extra attention with the corrective training exercises provided here. However, if one side’s working great and the other isn’t, you’ll have to make some programming adjustments.
In that, performing bi-lateral exercises like squats and deadlifts will create unnecessary and possibly dangerous torque forces within your body as one side pulls harder than the other.
Imagine what would happen if you bent over and someone came along and forcefully twisted you to one side. If you have an imbalance, a similar action is happening every time that you deadlift, or squat.
If this describes you, then in addition to performing your corrective training as laid out below, I suggest you start learning to love unilateral exercises like single leg squats and single leg Romanian deadlifts â€” these will be much safer and more effective with imbalance conditions.
For Those Who Passed With Flying Colors
If you’re one of those rare finds who’s able to successfully pass both tests equally on both sides, congrats; you aren’t a charter member of the weak glutes club.
So how did you test?
Whether you have an anterior pelvic tilt and/or tight hip flexors or you tested just fine for both, in part 2, I will address some methods to help you alleviate your tilt and activation exercises to help you wake up those sleepy glutes! In the meantime, leave a comment below, tell me if this applies to you: do you have the tilt? Are you hip flexors screaming at you every time you get out of the car? Is your lower back killing you? Have you done anything to help? I’d love to hear your feedback.
Stay tuned for Sleeping Booty Part 2.