Glutes play an important role in protecting and supporting the lower back during many types of body movement, whether you're standing up, sitting down, bending forward, or moving side-to-side. When the gluteal muscles are not functioning properly, that's when your lower back can become overstressed, and you can get back pain—which is just one not-so-fun effect of prolonged sitting.
Unfortunately, for many people, sitting at a desk for eight hours (or more) a day is unavoidable. So how do you avoid weakening your glutes, tightening your hip flexors, and ending up in a world of back pain? To start, try incorporating these exercises into your fitness routine:
1. Cat-cow pose
Benefit: This is a great movement to bring a gentle stretch and increased mobility to the lower back.
- Begin by coming into a tabletop position on the floor; shoulders are stacked directly over the wrists, hips stacked over the knees; spine is neutral; engage the core by drawing the belly in and upward toward the spine; level the hips and shoulders.
- Cat pose: Take a big inhale; as you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, and allow your head to lower toward the mat.
- Cow pose: As you inhale, lift your head and chest upward toward the ceiling; allow the belly to drop toward the floor and allow for a gentle arch to the lower back; gaze toward the ceiling. Repeat the cat/cow stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
2. Glute strengthener pose
Benefit: The goal with this move is to keep the core firmly engaged to help support the lower back and create resistance to strengthen glute muscles.
- Extend the right leg directly behind; engage your right glute muscles to lift your right leg up toward hip height (Note: The key is lifting the right leg by engaging or activating the gluteal muscles and not allowing the right hamstring or momentum to do the lifting).
- With control, lower the right leg back down toward the mat; engage the right glute muscles to lift the right leg back toward hip height. As you move, focus on keeping the right hip in line with the left hip. Repeat 20 times.
- For more challenge, add on the following exercise variations: Lift the right leg toward hip height; keep the toes pointed; engage the right glute muscles to lift and hold the right leg up 1 to 2 inches; repeat 8 times.
- Flex the right foot; keep the height of the right leg up at hip height; bend the right knee as you draw the right heel in toward the glutes; extend the right leg straight again; repeat 8 times.
- Hold the bend in the right knee; right foot stays flexed; lift the right knee up 8 times.
- Extend the right leg straight and point the toes; hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
3. Bird-dog pose
Benefit: Adding this variation to the sequence helps improve stability to the spine to help reduce back pain.
- Remain in the tabletop position with the right leg extended and lifted up toward hip height; reach the left arm straight out in front of you, and lift the left arm toward shoulder height; hold for 10 to 20 seconds while focusing on keeping the core active and keeping hips level (right hip in line with the left hip).
- Option to repeat the glute exercise from part 2 while in the bird/dog position.
- Rest for 60 seconds, and then repeat the exercises in parts 1 through 3 on the left side.
4. Hip bridge pose
Benefit: This is a great exercise to strengthen and sculpt the glutes while at the same time adding in a stretch to the lower back.
- Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Legs are parallel, and feet are hip-width apart. The ankles should be directly below or just slightly in front of the ankles.
- Rest the palms by your side and flat on the floor and draw the lower abdominals in toward the spine. Keep the abdominal muscles active and engaged for the entire exercise.
- Curl your tailbone up and off of the mat while tilting your pelvis slightly toward the ceiling. Engage all the glute muscles to lift the entire seat and tailbone 2 to 3 inches off the floor. Keep the back of the rib cage on the floor as much as possible. Lift and lower the glutes up and down 20 to 30 times.
- For more challenge, add in this exercise variation: Engage the glutes to lift the hips again 2 to 3 inches off the floor; lift the right leg up and bend the right knee (into a 90-degree angle); keep lifting the hips up and down by engaging the glute muscles (you will feel this work more in the left side of your glutes); repeat 10 to 20 times.
- Option to add on a new variation: Keep the hips lifted; straighten the right leg, and point the toes; the right ankle is directly above the right hip; then rebend the right knee into the tabletop position in step 5. Repeat the bend, and extend of the right leg 10 times.
5. Clamshell pose
Benefit: This move works both the inner and outer thigh and keeps hips in alignment to ease lower back tension.
- Lie down on your left side; bend your knees to a 45-degree angle; extend your left arm on the floor straight out above your head, and rest your head on your left arm.
- Keep your hips and shoulders stacked and core engaged.
- Keep the feet glued together; lift just the right leg toward the ceiling for 2 counts, and then slowly lower the right leg down for 2 counts. As you lift the right knee up, try to focus on isolating the glute muscles and feeling the outer right seat muscles activate. Move with slow and controlled movements, and as you lift the right knee toward the ceiling, try to keep the hips stacked and still. Repeat 10 times.
- Change tempo; lift and lower the right leg down and up in single counts. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
- Rest for 30 seconds, and repeat the entire sequence on the left leg.
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