Your butt has been asleep in the Catskills for over 20 years. It missed the revolution.
Hip activation and hip strength is fundamental to good living. When people have difficulty connecting to strength training form, technique, or even enjoyment, a lot of times it has to do with SGS (sleepy glute syndrome).
It’s no surprise. And it’s nothing about which to feel shame or guilt. We put ourselves in hard chairs, seated in a flexed hip position for all of our schooling and formative years and often continue the trend beyond those years.
Constant, persistent, chronic sitting IS hip flexion. The hip flexors (psoas major, minor, ileacus), therefore, are short (and still possibly weak), while the primary hip extensor (glute max) is long and weak. We doubly confuse the situation by taking two other hip extensors and shortening them. And the rest of the butt is practically dead while we place direct pressure into it by sitting all the time.
This is no small issue. Your butt is sleepy. In 100% of movement assessments, I don’t see optimal control of hip extension and abduction. I haven’t met one distance runner yet who has great hip control. Yet, control of hip extension, abduction and rotation would prevent back pain, various knee issues, and even upper spine, ankle and foot problems.
Loss of balance and the propensity to fall as we age is connected to ever-weakening hip musculature. People with strong glutes don’t fall. They don’t break hips. They don’t get joint replacements. They don’t have back pain. They don’t have knee pain or ankle and foot issues. They live better and longer lives.
So what do we do now? Well, probably bridge to begin with, and only in a way where you can feel the glute firing hard.
In 15 years of movement analyses with thousands of people, most people are barely safe to stand. The glutes are so asleep that when they squat even a little all they feel is quads, knees, and back. So people will avoid squatting and do leg press or walking or hiking. But this amplifies the problem. It doesn’t solve it. Because you simply chose a movement which plays to your weak glutes and keeping them inactive.
So I say start with bridge. If you have a very solid strength coach, you can performs squats and lunges and deadlifts pretty early in the program. But if you’re going it alone, 99% of the time you’re going to irritate back, knees, and ankle even with a basic squat, EVEN when your form “looks” perfect. The look is wholly immaterial. You must connect with your hip extensors while you complete an exercise that IS hip extension.
I don’t mind hip thrust and step ups and any other form of activity. Just keep in mind that your butt has been asleep for at least 20 years. So there’s no obligation to wake it up now through activities like cycling, running, or group workouts. I know many people who injured themselves doing extremely light group workouts because the instructor SAW “good form.” That’s a red herring. Correct activation and proper sequence of firing is the definition of proper technique. These are proprioceptive loops tied into your own nervous system’s skill and tactile feedback. Visual confirmation does nothing in a lot of cases.
There are some tell-tale signs with extreme lumbar extension, inward collapse of knees, over pronation, arch flattening, etc. But in a group or on your own, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll miss this. I mean, I have clients who were collegiate D1 athletes and their current control of hip is a joke. The average person who pulls up a YouTube workout video or attends a group workout has odds stacked against them.
This is no indictment on groups or instructors. It’s the nature of how we in the industrial modern world have gone out of our way to detrain standard human movement. Your butt has been asleep; and no amount of hope or hearkening back to the pre-revolution days is going to bring you up to speed.
There was indeed a revolution, by the way. People in the fitness industry and the exercise science communities have been increasingly raising awareness about the importance of glute control for two decades. However, even amongst the initiated, they generally still spend more time in a sleepy hip flexed position. Prospects seem dim.
But if you can spend even a modest amount of time paying attention to this critical ability, prospects are great. Strong hips improve life. Awaken your Rip Van Winkle-Butt from its slumber.