Chances Are High Your Butt Is Asleep, and Here's How to Wake It Up

Jun 19 2018 - 8:20pm

You sit on it every day and might even take the padding on your backside for granted, but chances are high your butt is sleeping on the job. Lazy glutes have become so commonplace that Ohio State University physical therapist Chris Kolba PhD, MHS, coined the term dormant butt syndrome [1] to explain the issue. This problem, however, has long been acknowledged by personal trainers, and when training Pilates clients I referred to it as glute amnesia — the muscles have simply forgotten what to do, which is to turn on and engage to help absorb the impact of each step as you walk and run. When your glutes aren't firing the shock of the impact moves up and down the kinetic chain causing pain in the low back, hips, knees, even traveling as far as the ankles.

The problem stems from sitting for prolonged periods of time, which tightens the hip flexors — the muscles that pull the knee toward the belly — and eventually override the glutes turning them off, or to extend the metaphor putting them to sleep. The two muscle groups are "antagonists" and are at odds with each other like the hero and villain in a Shakespearean play (yes, a major muscle group not working is high drama). The muscles that pull the body into the fetal position, including the powerful hip flexors, tend to dominate their antagonists. In order to give your glutes a fighting chance in this power struggle, you need to loosen up the front of your hips and then fire up then booty. Here's how:

Loosen Your Tight Hip Flexors: Roll Your Quads

Grab a foam roller — most gyms have them — and roll out your quads, the muscle on the front of your thigh. Foam rolling is like a massage, gets the blood flowing, and preps muscles for stretching.

Stretch Your Psoas

Use the roller to stretch your psoas, one of the powerful hip flexors that, when tight, can inhibit the glutes from working. Here's how:

If you own a roller, this is a great stretch to do while watching TV.

Stretch Your Quads

You need to loosen up the rectus femoris, the part of the quad that works both the hip and knee and acts as a powerful hip flexor.

Roll Your Backside: Glute Max and Glute Med

Massaging these dormant muscles helps wake them up and preps them for the work to come.

Release Your Piriformis

The piriformis muscle [4], found under the glute max, runs laterally from the sacrum (back of the pelvis) to the outside of the upper thigh. It is small, but can get really tight.

Work Your Butt: Single Leg Bridge

Working one leg at a time helps fire up the glutes, and holding one knee into the chest makes it easier to feel the butt working.

Donkey Kick With Weight

Don't focus on lifting the knee in this exercise, but move the thigh away from the floor by squeezing your butt. You can also do it without a dumbbell.

Bulgarian Split Squat

This exercise does double duty for those with sleepy butts. The glute on the front leg gets worked as you bend and straighten the knee. Actively squeeze the back glute to stretch out the back hip flexor (which we know is quite likely tight).

Single-Leg Toe Touch

This move combines all the booty benefits of single-leg squats and single-leg deadlifts, but is much kinder to the knees.


This exercise is great for engaging the glutes in movement that mimics the everyday activity of climbing stairs. It also gives sagging butts a little lift.

Basic Squat

Squats are a classic leg and butt exercise, but if you tend to overwork your quads you need to really focus on your glutes throughout the motion.

Side Stepping Squat With Band

The above exercises focus mainly on the glute max, but this move is great for working the glute medius, located on the sides of the pelvis. This butt muscle stabilizes the pelvis and prevents too much swaying side to side.

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