In this post, I want to talk about a very easy and gentle way to start strengthening the gluteus maximus.
Most of us are familiar with this muscle– it’s the largest muscle that makes up our butt cheeks!
(Just calling it what it is!).
This muscle is really important to stabilizing the SI joints, because it’s right there, and it’s responsible for many of the primary motions that directly affect the SI joint.
In the picture below, you can see what a large muscle the gluteus maximus, and how it originates from the hip bone, all along the surface where it interfaces with the sacrum. Essentially, this muscle runs right out of the same space as the SI joint:
And then it connects down onto the femur, or leg bone, via a band of fascia called the iliotibial tract.
This allows the gluteus maximus to move our leg backward, straight out behind us (the technical term for this is extending the leg, or leg extension).
However, even when we are not actively extending our leg, the glute max is also an important muscle for stabilizing our pelvis and lower back. It also assists the other hip muscles (such as the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and the lateral rotator group) in producing some of our other hip movements.
So… you can see why it is so important for this muscle to be strong.
How to work the gluteus maximus:
Many people are familiar with the glute bridge exercise shown in the video below:
However, in my experience, moving the pelvis in this motion pattern can actually be too stressful on the SI joints, if the ligaments have been sprained.
So, back in the day, my physical therapist Paula explained a much gentler, easier way to start out:
Isometric glute squeezes.
The word “isometric” is key here. Translate from the Latin roots, it literally means “same length.” So we are talking about a “same length” muscle contraction.
What this means is we are squeezing our muscle– contracting it– without actually changing its length, or the position of the joint it spans across.
In the case of the gluteus maximus, we can produce an isometric contraction just by squeezing it. That’s right– just by clenching our butt cheek, so to speak– we can begin to wake that muscle up, and get it to start firing.
The way my physical therapist Paula explained it to me was that I could be lying on my back, as if I was actually about to do the bridging exercise in the video above… but not actually do it all the way.
Instead, all I had to do was to visualize myself, as if I was about to go into that bridge, and tighten my butt cheeks as though I was about to do it… but then not actually do it.
Essentially, I was only performing the beginning of the whole movement pattern, but not actually changing the position of my hips or pelvis– making it an isometric contraction.
So… I looked and looked, and could not find a great video to show you guys how I do this.
And I’m sorry. I’m just not quite ready to put a video of myself squeezing my butt cheeks onto Youtube just yet. (Sorry!!!!).
But there are plenty of great videos showing how to do an isomtetric glute squeeze while lying face down.
I personally prefer lying face up, because it’s easier to visualize going all the way up into a bridge. I also find lying on my back, with my knees bent, to be one of the most stable positions for my SI joints.
But these videos, of course, allow you to actually see the person’s butt cheeks, aka gluteus maximus muscle, so they are a great thing to include here.
So here’s one from Physio Fusion Dublin:
Again, I personally feel more comfortable when I’m lying on my back (because then my pelvis really doesn’t move).
But these videos give you a great idea of what you’re looking for.
My goal is to share what worked for me personally- and the scientific concepts behind why it worked- so that you can see if it’s right for you, too.
For a long time, I was stuck because I didn’t know the right things to do- and none of the practitioners I saw in the beginning knew what to tell me either!
That’s why now I’m determined to share my story and help you break out of that cycle, so you can experience the same recovery I finally did 🙂
For one-on-one support, I offer coaching calls where we can go over all aspects of your recovery program in detail.
Hope you found this helpful!
2 thoughts on “A great exercise to try: Isometric Glute Squeezes”
Do you ever lift the leg to do single leg raises or isolated glut squeezes? Also, did you find one glut to be weaker than the other? My right si joint is more hyper mobile and my left side locks up. The right glut is weaker than my left. Did you have that problem?
Oops, hi Amanda– I’m so sorry, I just saw your comment now. I don’t think I ever noticed a huge difference in strength between my two sides, to tell you the truth. The beauty of the isometric glute squeeze is that it should allow you to activate the glutes without having much of an impact on the SI joints themselves.
I really recommend to everyone that they work with a PT who can really evaluate this in person. However, my suggestion to anyone in this position who does feel that one glute is stronger than the other is that you can still do a one-sided isometric glute squeeze– should be much gentler than lifting the leg 🙂 Hope this helps!