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”). 🙂

 

Tackling the upper trapezius

The upper fibers of the trapezius muscle

The upper fibers of the trapezius muscle



I have always dealt with overly tight upper trapezius muscles. Perhaps it stems from my easily stressed personality, or the fact that I was raised in a cold environment (once they cancelled school not because it was snowing but simply because it was too cold). Overly active upper trapezius muscles are common in many people and can cause trigger points which are aggravated by subconsciously contracting the muscles due to psychological stressors, anxiety, cold and postural imbalance. However, the fact that I have been doing myofascial release and cupping religiously while working on my thoracic extension (which implements the lower and middle trapezius for postural stability) made me wonder why I was still feeling excessive pain in my upper trapezius.

Since completely eliminating a problem entails knowing WHY the problem occurs, I decided to be cognizant of my habitual movements to see where I could be placing excess stress on my upper traps. I realized putting my arm out the car window while driving placed stress on my upper traps. Putting my elbows on the table while eating put excess stress on my upper traps (while I am skeptical of the relative cultural paradigm from which “table manners” arises, I stopped putting my elbows on the table after this). I stopped shrugging the phone between my shoulder and ear while multitasking and instead use a bluetooth or speakerphone. I started carrying lighter purses since it puts uneven pressure on one upper trap. While all of these actions contribute to my upper trapezius pain, I was disregarding one huge culprit.

Like most women, I wear a bra for a majority of the time- especially when I’m out and about being active. Unlike most women who are unaware that they are wearing the wrong bra size (roughly 80%), I always knew I was wearing the wrong bra size. However, since I wasn’t able to find my bra size easily (or cheaply), I settled for wearing bras which had band sizes that were too big for me. When this happens, your bra straps constantly cut into your shoulders in attempts to support the weight of your breasts, which consequently tightens your upper trapezius muscles, which can lead to shoulder, neck and back pain over time. Theoretically, your band should provide 80% of the bust support while your straps should only be giving 20% of the support. Your shoulders and bra straps should never be the sole support of the weight of your bust. When wearing a bra that’s the right size, it should ideally support your bust without putting excess strain on your upper trapezius muscles. Although getting properly fitted for a bra and spending money to buy the right size seems like a chore, if you constantly wear a bra and are dealing with pain it will be a worthwhile investment.

Tackling my upper trapezius tightness makes me realize how postural problems and muscular pain often stem from multifaceted sources. While this might seem disheartening and frustrating when attempting to find the root of a problem to fix it, I like to think of it as putting pieces together to solve a mystery.

PS: Speaking of investments, one investment I’ve already made is using a theracane to dig into my tight upper trapezius to reverse the tension!
Theracane upper trap release

Theracane upper trap release


http://www.amazon.com/Thera-Cane-JMAS5000-Massager/dp/B000PRMCJU

MFR: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That?

I remember the day I was first introduced to myofascial release. It was the day after a particularly difficult night of Randori (Judo sparring). I was unaware of this at the time, but my internally rotated shoulders caused an impingement in my shoulder which was exacerbated by the high intensity nature of Judo (gentle way my ass). Anyways, ever since I started Judo, I was used to having an excruciating pain in my right shoulder (which I brushed off due to the “no pain no gain” mentality). However, two days after that Randori session, the pain was still excruciating and I could not lift my arm. After skeptically trying myofascial release and learning how to (agonizingly) release my pectoralis minor&major, subscapularis and latissimus dorsi, I was surprised that I could lift my arms without pain simply after rubbing a $3 lacrosse ball on the right trigger points. This is when I converted to the religion of myofascial release.

Now I say myofascial release is my religion in a tongue in cheek way. I personally do not believe in blindly following dogma (live INTENTIONALLY, not habitually). HOWEVER, for the effects of myofascial release to be beneficial in the long run you need to do it religiously. This is especially important when first starting out since there will be a lot of internal restrictions in your body, and releasing them takes time. Your dysfunctions cannot be addressed through corrective exercise if there are internal restrictions present. This is why myofascial release is an important first step to any functional training regimen. Eventually, your body might not require as much time spent on myofascial release, but generally when starting out it’s imperative to dedicate time to it. Despite the fact that the trigger points are painful (I have witnessed huge, tattooed Mixed Martial Arts fighters scream like little girls when getting their trigger points released), it’s best to spend at least a couple of minutes on each trigger point. It’s funny how five minutes instantly seems like an hour when you are in excruciating pain. In general when starting out it takes AT LEAST an hour to get all the necessary trigger points released. I recommend focusing on myofascial release AT LEAST once a day when starting out. When I tell people this, their reaction is generally:
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It was honestly my reaction to myofascial release at first as well. Most of us are extremely busy, so adding one more regimen to our routine seems daunting. However, when looking at the cost benefit analysis, the physical benefits I received from doing myofascial release outweighed the time cost. I am not in pain and I am less susceptible to injury. Moreover, I feel like I get a lot more out of my workouts and training sessions if I do myofascial release before, since my body has less restrictions. Additionally, I found ways to multitask while doing myofascial release. I arrive at the gym 30 minutes early so I can myofascialize before training. I myofascialize when studying instead of sitting hunched over a desk. I myofascialize while watching tv instead of sprawling on the couch looking like Homer Simpson. And I am actually myofascializing my quadriceps on a PVC pipe while typing this blog up 🙂
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[PS: Before all you anatomy/grammar nazis get your panties in a bunch that I said myofascialize, I acknowledge that this is a word I made up and if you google search it all the links that come up are mine].

Whether you’re a UFC fighter who trains twice a day or an engineer who sits at a desk for 40 hours a week, myofascial release will be beneficial. It’s also beautiful that these techniques can be done by yourself utilizing tools such as the theracane, lacrosse ball, pvc pipe, foam roller etc. I believe that these are useful investments, especially since I hear injury rehab and pain pills usually cost money as well. Releasing the bound up fascial tissue in the body is important for pain management, optimizing movement when exercising and overall physical wellness (I’m 21 but I can only imagine what pain I would have felt at 41 if I never bothered to myofascialize). I am glad I implemented myofascial release into my training regimen, mainly because it allows me to keep training.