Gluteus Maximus

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Whenever I see “fitspo” pictures on Tumblr and Instagram, a lot of them consist of pictures of butts with captions that indicate that the perfect & “sexy” ass is attainable by working out. While this might be sound in theory, it isn’t necessarily valid relative to our dysfunctional environment. What people don’t realize is that a culture that revolves around sitting leads to muscular imbalances that directly affect your workouts by comprising your goals (like working on a “sexy” butt). But more importantly, these dysfunctions impair athletic performance consequently leading to injury. When you are constantly sitting, this shortens your hip flexors, which leads to reciprocal inhibition of your gluteal muscles. In layman’s terms, your butt stops working. When your body is stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt with a lordosis type curvature, your posterior leg muscles (especially your gluteus maximus) lengthen and deactivate, which makes muscles such as your quadriceps (especially your rectus femoris) shorten to work harder to bear the brunt of the tension during your squat (rather than your gluteus maximus). This is a key concept not only for those who are solely concerned with the aesthetics of their rear end, but more importantly, for those concerned with exercising and adapting efficiently to the environment around them. Overly active quadriceps are directly linked to injury, knee pain and back pain (which are very common in our culture). Moreover, your gluteus maximus is one of the most powerful muscles in your body, so it is clearly going to help your biomechanics if you are able to recruit this musculature in your movements.

 

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When I have people do squats, I have them pay attention to where they are feeling the activation (whether it’s their quads or their glutes). If they feel more activation in their quadriceps, I will have them roll their quadriceps on a pvc pipe (preferably) or a foam roller before focusing on the mechanics of their squat. They complain about it because they don’t think rolling out the front leg muscles will help them work on their gluteal musculature but that’s when I have to explain the science to them. When you engage in myofascial release, it stimulates your golgi tendon organs, which inhibits the excitation of the quadriceps (otherwise known as autogenic inhibition). This can help in enabling your glutes to activate during your squat (among other exercises), rather than solely relying on your overactive quadriceps.

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I know I’ve worked my gluteus maximus muscles (rather than my gluteus medius or minimus) when it is the most painful thing in the world to sit down. I swear after working my gluteus maximus muscles, every time I take a piss I wish I was a man so I wouldn’t have to sit down. However, I am glad that I am finally able to recruit and emphasize my gluteus maximus muscles when exercising because it makes me more efficient and less prone to injury. While I understand a lot of people are solely interested in fitness from an aesthetic perspective, I’m more into working out to make myself more adaptable and efficient relative to my environment, and once I started engaging my gluteus maximus musculature (along with my transverse abdominis), I feel more explosive in my movements and have been less prone to lower back pain (which to me is personally more important than looking “sexy”). 🙂

 

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Want a flat stomach for summer? DON’T DO CRUNCHES!

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People tend to get more ab focused in their workouts the warmer the weather gets. It’s understandable since it’s beach season and flat stomachs are culturally perceived as “sexy” (this is a whole other subject I will avoid ranting about). However, a lot of people go about gaining a flatter stomach by doing hundreds of situps/crunches and other similar variations of these popular abdominal exercises. The problem is that these exercises further ingrain postural deficiencies, as well as exacerbate pain by placing excess stress on regions such as the lower back. Moreover, popular ab exercises tend to work your rectus abdominis. However, in terms of specific core muscles to target when focusing on the abdominal region, the pivotal but often ignored muscle is the transverse abdominis (TVA).

I like to think of the TVA as a corset, since it is the innermost core muscle whose main function is to compress the abdomen, but also stabilizes the spine. Corsets were historically worn to hold in the torso in order to emphasize the hips and chest (creating a more optimal “womanly” figure). To me it’s crazy to think that on the quest to look skinny, people ignore the muscle that basically acts  as a natural corset. I’d like to note that I am not endorsing the notion that skinniness is the ideal we should all be chasing, but realistically skinniness is what a lot of  people go to gym to attain (hooray for skewed cultural perceptions of “sexiness”).

Many people tend to have a weakened TVA due to sedentary lifestyles and improper training of the core (focusing solely on crunches). A weak TVA can cause bulging of the abdomen wall which causes the pelvis to rotate into an anterior pelvic tilt thus contributing to an increased lordosis in the spine. From a vain standpoint, an anterior pelvic tilt is not good because protruding bellies do not look good in a two piece bikini.  But more importantly, anterior pelvic tilts aren’t good because they lead to lower back pain, lots of sub-optimal  muscle compensations, and increased risk of  injuries if you are an athlete with an anterior pelvic tilt.

Ever since learning this line of reasoning, I stopped doing crunches in order to solely focus on TVA activation. The easiest way to activate my TVA is by sucking my belly button into my spine while lifting my ribcage. The best thing about this is that strengthening my TVA can be done anywhere. I do it while walking to class, while standing in line etc. Optimal posture requires a strong TVA. Moreover having a strong TVA helps with bio-mechanical performance, whether you’re running, doing Muay Thai etc.  When I focus on TVA activation when doing padwork, I immediately feel like my punches have more power. Having a strong TVA is also key in helping reduce lower back pain, which is a connection that most people are unaware of. So while doing crunches can increase back pain and not necessarily make your stomach look flat, the TVA activation will reduce back pain while making your stomach look flat.

So, from a superficial limbic brain train of thought, activating the transverse abdominis seems like a better alternative since it helps you attain a slimmer looking body. However, from a logical neocortex train of thought, activating your transverse abdominis still seems like a better alternative since it reduces lower back pain and helps give the body structural support to attain optimal posture.

Path to fitness.

Regardless of whether you’re a Psychology major or not, the nature vs. nurture debate is probably one you’re familiar with. Although it is evident that they are both important, I think that people underestimate the influence that culture has on behavior. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, since this blog is supposed to be about getting fit again. It’ll all tie in I promise. Examining the culture that surrounds us is essential because our culture tends to “frame” the individual choices that we make (whether we’re conscious of it or not). Therefore, our health related behaviors arise out of the socio-cultural contexts of our environment.
 
Personally speaking, after recovering from an eating disorder five years ago, I made the decision to get fit. So I got a membership at LA Fitness and spent six days a week doing weightlifting, cardio on the treadmill, body weight exercises such as push ups. Relative to our cultural perceptions of what “fit” is, this was a seemingly logical course of action. It’s a course that most people take: becoming a gym rat who blindly does the same traditional exercises while repeating the “no pain, no gain” mantra in hopes of attaining health and wellness (and a “sexy” body).
 
For awhile, I thought I was doing great. I had a nice muscular tone, was seemingly strong for my size and was in shape to spend a grueling two weeks training with the best Muay Thai camps in Thailand (try doing intense pad work in the sauna, that’s kind of what Thailand feels like). Although people who blindly follow the “traditional” workouts might achieve results, it is most likely not sustainable for the human body in the long run. Especially when coupled with the dysfunctional stressors present in our environment.

For example, I had chronic back pain which stemmed from the fact that I spent all day sitting in school, tightening my hip flexors, and shortened my upper abdominals which contributed to an anterior pelvic tilt. However, I would still go to the gym after and place excess stress on my lumbar doing exercises like sit ups. My chronic shoulder pain stemmed from my internally rotated shoulders, since I was constantly hunched over the computer and then went to the gym to further that dysfunction when doing bench presses.

From an objective perspective, I realized something had to change in order for me to implement a fitness lifestyle that’s sustainable in the long run. I needed to make the change to my workout regimen so I can continue to train martial arts, so I can be physically healthier, but most importantly so I can live a pain free life. When one decides to abandon the current inefficient cultural paradigms, it’s essential that a better alternative exists. Luckily for me, I have Functional Patterns. And this is a documentation of my journey towards functionality and fitness, so I can hopefully one day instill relevance in others and bring value to the world.

PS: I suppose this whole post is an elaboration on how the notion of “live intentionally, not habitually” directly impacted my life 😉