In particular, your gluteus medius—located on the lateral side of the hip—is one of the main pelvic stabilizers, and if it’s not strong enough or doesn’t have the range of motion that it needs to keep your hips in place as you move, your lower back will end up putting in overtime. “If you have weakness in one or both sides, your back muscles have to overcompensate and work harder,” she adds.
- Natalie Sampson, DPT, owner of Symmetry Physical Therapy in Calabasas, California
Everyone experiences lower back pain differently. It might feel achy or sharp. You may even find that your pain starts off being sharp, and then transitions into being dull and achy. It’s very individualized, but any pain should alert you to pay attention to your body.
One of the instances when you might notice it most is when you’re walking. “When you’re taking a step with your right foot, your left foot comes off of the ground. Your gluteus medius on the right side is keeping your pelvis from dropping, and your low back muscles on the left are also helping,” explains Dr. Sampson. “It’s a crisscross pattern. Right sided glutes come on, and the left sided low back comes on. If the right glute is weak, the left side of the lower back has to work even harder to stabilize you.”
Of course, weak glutes are just one reason you might experience lower back pain. Another common cause is tight hamstrings. “It’s called the glute-hamstring complex,” says Dr. Sampson. “If [your hamstrings are] tight, you can’t access your glutes. They become disabled, so your low back will make up for it.”
Dr. Sampson suggests these three exercises that use a resistance band to activate and strengthen your glutes. You can do them on their own, but they can also be helpful to practice before walking, running, or hiking to get your glutes firing before activity so that they're primed to do what they’re supposed to once you're on the move.
A squat is a movement you're probably familiar with. “Adding resistance bands will allow you to activate the gluteus medius,” says Dr. Sampson.
- Place your resistance band around both shins. Create tension by starting with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees to lower your torso, placing the weight in your heels.
- Drive through the heels to bring yourself back to a standing position, squeezing through your glutes at the top.
- Do 10 reps three times.
Keep the tension in band through the entirety of the exercise, not allowing the knees to collapse in.
Make sure your squat form is on target:
“Sometimes your glutes aren’t activated, and if you give them more range, they’ll work for you,” says Dr. Sampson. Working the lateral motion with a resistance band can help.
- With the band around your shins, start with your feet hip-width apart. Push your weight back through your heels into a semi-squat position.
- Step out to the side five times to the right, and then five times back to the left.
- Repeat three times.
Make sure you “keep your trunk from leaning to the side, keep your feet parallel and lead with the heel as you step out,” says Dr. Sampson. “If you can’t keep the trunk from leaning, reduce the range of motion."
Banded Front Step
This move will add strength to your glutes to prevent overcompensation.
- Start with the band around your shins, feet hip-width apart.
- Step forward five times and backward five times.
- Complete three sets.
Keep your knees over your feet, and your legs parallel. “Make sure to take a big reach back with the foot,” Dr. Sampson says.
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