Fitness Tips

Watch Out for These 3 Telltale Signs of Weak Glutes

Photo: Getty Images/Nuch Cri Hmad Stul/EyeEm
Last year I spent the final few weeks of 2021 sitting on my couch, riding out the latest wave of coronavirus in New York City, and watching an obscene amount of Netflix. When I did finally get up, I decided to shake off my sedentary rut by going for a miles-long power walk. In retrospect, this was not such a great idea. I woke up the next morning with more than a few signs of weak glutes—and proceeded to tell people for the next month that I felt like I broke my butt. Happy New Year to me.

I'd pushed my glutes too far too soon when they weren't as strong as I'm used to them being—it doesn't take as long as you may think to lose strength and muscular endurance, something I learned the hard way. The experience also reminded me just how important it is to strengthen your glutes in the first place.

"Having strong glutes can really make all the difference in your day-to-day life," says physical therapist Laurence Agénor, PT, DPT. "Your glutes are actually composed of three muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Each is responsible for producing or assisting with a particular motion at the hip joint. Building or maintaining strength in this particular group of muscles can help to alleviate pain, as well as improve your functional capacity and quality of life."

That's because the glute muscles are some of our primary movers, powering us through all sorts of activities. "Strong gluteus medius and minimus muscles, for example, could mean less knee pain with stairs," says Dr. Agénor. "Strong gluteus maximus muscles can aid with propulsion if you’re running to catch the bus or trying to keep up with your children."

One of the best ways to figure out if your glutes are strong enough to support you is by being aware of the red flags that might signal weak glutes, which Dr. Agénor delves into below.

Telltale signs of weak glutes

1. Pain in your lower back or pelvic area

Often, lower back pain is associated with a weak core. But something most people don’t realize, that Dr. Agénor points out, is that your core is more than your abdominal muscles. “Your core is made up of several muscles, including your glutes,” she says. The whole shebang needs to be strong and stable to support our everyday functions.

Often, weak glutes can be tied to pain in your low back or SI (sacroiliac) joint, which connects your lumbar spine to your pelvis, Dr. Agénor explains. “Decreased strength in the glutes can alter your optimal postural alignment and the pelvis’ position in standing or when exercising,” she says. If your backside isn't strong enough to keep everything in place, you could end up with a hyper-arched low back, "potentially causing a feeling of compression and pain in the lumbopelvic region.”

Your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC) is another name for your core, and it contains dozens of muscles and bones in and around your pelvis, hips, and lumbar spine. It supports your upper and lower body, so any weak link in this chain can cause disruptions above or below.

2. Having a hard time with stairs

Seeing as your butt muscles work like an elevator, helping you lift and lower yourself up stairs or hills, it's no wonder that having trouble with this action is a clue that you have weak glutes. “With stronger glutes, you may notice less pain and discomfort going up and down the stairs,” Dr. Agénor says. With weak glutes, the opposite is true.

Back in December, I was powering up steps while hiking trails through a park near my home, and I noticed that the real pain in my butt started around the point in my walk when the elevation amped up, which tracks with Dr. Agénor's description.

3. Feeling fatigued from standing briefly

Weak glutes are a common side effect of a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to dead butt syndrome, aka gluteal amnesia. This can manifest as numbness in the glutes, or a feeling of wobbliness as you try to stand up, Dallas Reynolds, DPT, COMT, a physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy in Illinois, previously told Well+Good.

“If walking prolonged distances or standing for longer than 10 minutes causes discomfort in the low back or SI joint region, strengthening the glutes can also be helpful in alleviating this type of pain,” Dr. Agénor adds.

Exercises for stronger glutes

There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it: The best way to address any of any sign of weak glutes is by resistance training. “Some of my go-to exercises to strengthen the glutes are bridges, step-ups, reverse lunges, and side-lying hip exercises such as hydrants and leg lifts,” says Dr. Agénor. “I sometimes incorporate a side plank in with the side-lying exercises to further strengthen the core.” Remember, your butt is the base of your core, and it’s connected to your abs and back by various connective tissues, tendons, and muscular structures.

“Not only are these exercises challenging, but they help with function,” Dr. Agénor adds. “These exercises are also a wonderful opportunity to activate your transverse abdominis, one of your deep core stabilizers, which will ultimately provide more support to your lumbopelvic region.”

This workout programmed by Dr. Agénor is a great place to start on your glutes strengthening journey:

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