The Gluteus Maximus and Backbending


The Gluteus Maximus is often used incorrectly in yoga and in life.The gluteus maximus, our big butt muscle was largely responsible for pulling the body up to stand from all fours. If you imagine a quadruped, they have no butt. The gluteus maximus is a distinctly human muscle. It is an extensor muscle that lengthens down the leg, and for me healthy posture is essentially a search for the balance of flexion and extension.

Today’s question is what should your gluteus maximus be doing when you backbend? It is working but I find that people are often engaging it in the wrong direction or with the wrong emphasis. One thing I teach is that everyone grips there butt and most people have no idea that they are doing so. Especially when standing. In upright posture the gluteus maximus should be doing nothing but if you tuck your pelvis under it turns on by default. Only by bringing the pelvis to a neutral position can the butt relax in the hopes of working correctly. Imagine though, if you go through life always tucking your pelvis when sitting and standing you will have an overworked unhappy butt.

Here are a couple of things to try in bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana)  to see what your butt is doing and how it is working.

Gluteus Maximus Experiment #1
  • Lay on your back with the knees bent and your feet flat on the floor (you can put a block between your thighs if you’d like)
  • Lift your hips into bridge paying attention to how you go up.
  • The tendency of most students it to lift the pelvis off of the floor by tucking it under to go up.
  • Try doing the opposite. Bring your lower back into its tiny natural curve, power up your core and lift the hips off the floor without tucking under.
  • Try it both ways to feel the difference.

Going up to bridge with a tucked pelvis doesn’t allow the gluteus maximus to extend and jams the SI joint externally rotating the thighs. This takes us out of our core preventing the psoas major from working its magic.

Gluteus Maximus Experiment #2
  • Lay on your back with the knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift your hips into bridge without tucking your pelvis under.
  • Without actually moving your feet drag your heels towards your hips. You should feel the extension of the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings as they lengthen towards the heel.
  • Just to feel the difference use your butt to left your hips higher. This should be the opposite feeling of drawing your heels towards your hips.

The gluteus maximus should lengthen down towards the heels not grip up towards the throat. Start paying attention to how you use your butt.

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The Psoas Major and Backbending
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7 Comments
  1. I am a huge fan of your writings am disappointed to miss your actual backbending class at Yogamaya.

    For all of your work, however, I have one big question: don’t many people suffer from “sway back” (excessively lumbar curve) as opposed to an overly tucked / overly flatted spine? If so, for such people, beginning to tuck the tailbone might be closer to a neutral position, no?

    Tim

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for your support of the blog. Technically the term swayback refers to a flat lumbar curve and a trunk that falls behind the line of the hips. But I don’t think many people have an actual swayback, nor do I think that many people have an overly curved lumbar. It all relates to the position of the pelvis, which, when correct, tends to line up the spine pretty well. Finally there is a big difference between tucking the tailbone and tucking the pelvis. Tucking the tail is fine but the pelvis shouldn’t move with that action. Tucking the pelvis is almost always bad. I’ll write a post about it in the near future. Best,
      Jonathan

  2. Dear Jonathan,

    Well I am deeply curious to learn exactly what “tucking” means. It is in fact a very ambiguous term that gets used casually in yoga classes as if it were like saying “open your eyes”

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