Wake Up Your Butt! 3 Exercises that Will Save Your Back and Knees

By Pooja Virani for Yoga Medicine®.

When students come to me complaining of chronic back or knee pain, the first thing I check is whether they are activating their glutes while they exercise.

Your gluteus maximus is the largest and strongest muscle in your body. Along with the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, it allows you to extend your leg back in space, externally rotate your hip, and move your leg from side to side. In other words, these are the set of muscles you use when you jump, run, lunge, climb stairs, and stand up from a seated position.

How does this relate to pain? Our gluteal muscles need to contract while we are engaging in yoga and other forms of movement in order to stabilize our hips and prevent compensations by other muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and erector spinae. When the glutes are forgotten, the result is often low back and knee pain.

Current lifestyles and work situations only exacerbate this problem. Sitting for long periods of time can lock the glutes, adductors, and hamstrings in a long (overstretched and weak) or short (tight and weak) position and can adversely affect posture through the curvature of the spine.

To prevent this, we need to teach our glutes how to fire properly. Try these three exercises before your yoga practice or a run to wake up your hip extensors!

Here’s the How


Exercise #1: Donkey Kicks
  • Loop a resistance band around the balls of your feet.
  • Come to all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  • Extend your right heel towards the ceiling keeping your lower back neutral or even
    slightly rounded.
  • Do 5-15 reps.
  • Switch sides.
Exercise #2: Clamshells
  • Loop a resistance band around your legs above your knees.
  • Lay on your right side with your legs bent and feet touching. Keep your head in line with
    your hips and feet. You can support your head with your hand or a yoga block.
  • Keep your right knee on the ground and lift your left knee towards the ceiling while
    maintaining contact with your feet. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Slowly bring your knees to touch and then drive your left knee back towards the ceiling.
  • Do 5-15 reps.
  • Switch sides.
Exercise #3: Bridge
  • Loop a resistance band around your legs above your knees.
  • Lay on your back with your feet hip-width apart and walk your heels close to your hips.
  • Push your knees out until you feel resistance from the band.
  • Flatten your lower back against the ground and then lift your hips.
  • Three variations for your feet (choose the one that turns on your glutes!):
    1. Press the four corners of your feet into the ground.
    2. Lift your heels.
    3. Lift your toes.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Slowly bring your hips down to the earth and then drive them back up again.
  • Do 5-15 reps.

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