If you sit all day, every day, you aren’t alone; however, that fact does nothing to ensure that your body’s musculoskeletal system receives the workout that it needs. While the labor-intensive jobs once common in our society have given way to more sedentary responsibilities, the toll that sitting takes on our bodies may be worse than that of hard labor.
The main skeletal muscle affected by our constant sitting is that of the gluteus maximus, or “buttocks.” Normally the largest skeletal muscle in the human body, this hard-working muscle empowers us to walk, climb stairs, and perform a myriad of other daily tasks. However, when you sit, you aren’t employing this work-horse-of-a-muscle, and its atrophy can result in lower back pain or even hip bursitis.
The first test of a weakened buttock muscle is the visual test: a lack of bulk, or convex muscle tissue. If, instead, there is a concave area, weakness is an issue. The second test of muscle weakness is demonstrated by the degree of your ability to contract the muscle while lying flat on your back. If you cannot strongly contract that muscle while in that position, you need to elicit help.
The third test for buttock muscle weakness should be performed only if you have your doctor’s permission to exercise. While lying flat on your back, bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Then, push through your feet to lift your pelvis approximately twelve inches off the floor, and hold the “bridge” position for ten seconds. If you experience cramping of your hamstrings (the backs of your legs), it’s because your buttock muscle is weak. (More subtle weakness can be noticeable in athletic individuals by attempting the same bridging test with only one foot on the floor to support the body’s weight.)
Weakened buttock muscles can be strengthened through simple exercises. By starting out with only a few repetitions a day, you’ll be able to add more complex exercises, down the road. The simplest of all buttocks exercises is called “The Buttocks Squeeze.” In order to perform it, you can be in a lying down position or even sitting in the car or at your desk. All you have to do is tighten the buttocks muscle and hold the squeeze for five seconds. A reasonable goal you can work toward is to be able to perform this exercise ten times in a row.
Online resources for exercises of all kinds abound, and buttocks-strengthening workouts are no exception. The following links can help you get started in your quest to alleviate lower back pain and avoid acquiring hip bursitis due to extended periods of sitting.
If you really want to improve your buttocks strength, hiring a personal trainer or making an appointment with a physical therapist can help you find safe ways to improve your muscle strength.
Daniel Baumstark is a physical therapist in Washington, D.C. Visit his website and interact with him on his blog at www.physiodc.com/blog.