There are several health effects of sitting too much, but one lesser-known issue that arises from long hours in a seated position is glute amnesia.
Also known as “dead butt syndrome,” gluteal amnesia happens when your glutes (butt muscles) forget to activate when needed.
You don’t want to ignore glute amnesia because it strains your lower back by causing your pelvis to tilt forward into an anterior pelvic tilt.
In addition to lower back pain, it can cause strains and pains in your knees, hips and shoulders because other areas of the body also become misaligned.
Some injuries that have been linked to glute amnesia are disk herniation, patella-femoral (knee) syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome and piriformis syndrome.
In other words, if you sit for long periods of time or if you have any of these conditions, you may want to consider that your glute muscles may have gone to sleep.
In this article, we’ll look at what glute amnesia is, how you can tell if you have it and what you can do about it.
What is glute amnesia?
As already discussed, glute amnesia is an acute weakness in your glutes when your body “forgets” how to activate the glute muscles when you need them.
Rather than activate, they’ll stay inactive, and some other muscle will take over the brunt of the work.
This may appear to be not that big of a deal, but considering that you can lose your full range of motion in your hips and cause your knees, back and shoulders to overcompensate, glute amnesia can become a pesky problem to have.
Not only that, but because your glutes have to contract to keep your torso upright when you stand, glute amnesia can cause poor posture.
All is not lost, though; thankfully, “dead butt syndrome” can be corrected through exercises which we will look into later in the article.
What causes the glutes to ‘switch off?’
If you think you may have “dead butt syndrome,” you want to get to the bottom (pun intended) of what’s causing it so that you can make the changes needed to prevent it.
Here are some reasons why your glutes may become inactive over time.
Too much sitting
The body is designed for regular movement, and sitting too long in a chair can cause imbalances such as glute amnesia.
While experts have long recommended getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, they’re now saying that it’s not enough for people who spend 8 to 10 hours a day sitting in a chair.
If you’re sitting in an office for 8 hours and then adding an hour or more of commute time on top of that, you may have a problem.
According to Katy Bowman, an organ damage scientist and bestselling author of “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement,” you can’t offset 10 hours of stillness with an hour of exercise.
Prolonged sitting causes over-activity of the hip flexors, offsetting the reciprocal relationship between the hip flexors and glutes.
In other words, too much contraction of the hip flexors through sitting “turns off” the glutes so that the muscles can’t fire when you stand up or exercise.
Additionally, prolonged compression of your glutes in a chair causes them to lose their elasticity and ability to contract properly.
Not enough glute exercises or incorrect form
Another cause of glute amnesia involves the creation of muscle imbalances in the body that can occur from overworking certain muscles without balancing out their opposing muscles.
If you consistently do strength training exercises that bolster your quads without exercising your glutes, you could end up with strong quads that overcompensate for weak glutes.
For example, in a traditional squat, rather than using your glutes and quads, your quads take over all the work while your glutes barely take part or not at all.
What are the symptoms of glute amnesia?
A sure sign of glute amnesia is when you can’t feel your glutes engage by squeezing them or the contraction feels particularly weak.
However, glute amnesia occurs at varying degrees of severity.
There are a few less-than-obvious signs to look out for that can help you catch glute amnesia before it worsens.
Poor posture and lower back pain
By contracting, your glute muscles help you stand upright and have good posture from the bottom up.
When they fail to contract, in the case of “dead butt syndrome,” you’ll lean slightly forward.
Or, you’ll have a tight, tired back because your back muscles will compensate for your glutes so that you can stand up straight.
Lumbar back pain is a common complaint in people with chronic glute amnesia because the pelvis tilts forward and exaggerates the natural curve of the lower back to compensate for weak glute muscles.
Together these muscle imbalances can lead to an Anterior Pelvic Tilt, which is now becoming increasingly common these days.
In addition, your knees might cave in and your feet may turn out, or you could have an asymmetrical shift in your weight compensating for inactive glutes.
Tight hip flexors
Another symptom of glute amnesia is tight hip flexors.
Your hip flexors are at the front of your pelvis and at the top of each leg.
They’re the opposing muscle of your glutes, meaning that when they contract, the glute muscles relax, and vice versa.
In a seated position, your hip flexors are contracted because your legs are bending forward.
When this contraction goes on for too long, your hip flexors can stay contracted even once you’ve stood up, which prevents the glutes from contracting and supporting you.
Other symptoms of glute amnesia can include:
- Disk herniation
- Patella-femoral (knee) syndrome
- iliotibial band syndrome
- Piriformis syndrome.
How to test for glute amnesia: is your butt firing?
There are no complicated requirements to test for glute amnesia.
In fact, it’s rather simple: Do your glutes activate when they should?
To test whether your glutes are firing, you would perform any exercise where the glutes should be working and then assess whether your glutes are doing any work or whether some other muscle has taken over the work instead.
A good exercise to test for glute amnesia is a single-leg glute bridge.
As you are doing the exercise, you then ask yourself the question, is my glute firing or is some other muscle (like your low back or hamstrings) doing the work instead?
If you feel fatigued in some other muscle other than the glute, you likely have glute amnesia.
How to activate your glutes
In this section, we’ll look at some stretches and activation exercises you can try to get your glutes firing again.
The most important thing: the mind-muscle connection to the glutes
It’s important to be aware that there are no exercises that specifically fix glute amnesia.
All the glute exercises in the world will not help unless you get the mind-muscle connection to your glutes working again.
When performing any glute exercise, you must ‘think’ about contracting your glutes and then feeling whether they are activated.
In addition, you want to be aware of any other muscle overcompensating for glute weakness.
If you notice this happening, try to relax that muscle and put the focus back into your glutes.
This is the key to fixing glute amnesia, and you can work on the mind-muscle connection with any glute exercise.
It may not be easy at first, but over time and with enough persistence, your glutes should begin to fire automatically without you having to think about it.
Exercises to help strengthen the glutes
We’ll now cover some basic exercises for the glutes where you can practice activating them.
The most effective can be simple glute squeezes in a standing position, as they completely isolate the glutes and fire them up with a direct contraction.
Several other exercises target your glutes, including side-lying kicks, lateral lunges, donkey kicks, deadlifts and hip abductions.
Here’s how to perform a glute bridge that will help you build a stronger, firmer backside:
- Get down on the floor and lie on your back. Position yourself with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor. Ensure your toes point straight ahead and your heels are a short distance from your glutes. Place your arms by your sides with your palms facing the ceiling.
- Engage your glutes and abs by squeezing them tight as you lift your hips off the ground.
- Keep lifting your hips until your body forms a straight line from your knee to your hip and all the way up to your shoulder. Be careful not to arch your back too much.
- At the top of the movement, hold the squeeze in your glutes for two seconds to really activate those muscles.
- Slowly lower your hips to the ground while keeping tension in your glutes and abs.
If you’re having trouble activating your glutes during this exercise, try focusing on really squeezing them at the top of the movement and holding for a few extra seconds.
You can also try placing a resistance band around your thighs or using a glute activation tool to help target those muscles more effectively.
Single-leg glute bridge
You can also attempt a single-leg glute bridge to target each glute separately:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the ground under your knees. Keep and hands by your sides.
- Lift one foot, straightening your leg until it’s at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Squeeze your glute muscle to raise your hips until your shoulders and knees are all in a straight line.
- Hold the position for a count or two. Lower your hips back down to the ground slowly and with control, keeping your leg extended.
- Repeat the exercise for your desired number of repetitions on the same leg before switching to the other leg.
By pushing your heels into the floor, you can engage your glutes even more and maximize their activation during this exercise.
Remember to keep your form in check and focus on quality over quantity when it comes to reps.
Squats are a great exercise for building stronger legs, a firmer butt, and improving your overall posture.
However, proper form is key to getting the most out of this move. Follow these simple steps to ensure you’re doing squats correctly:
- Begin with your feet hips width apart or slightly wider, with your toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outwards.
- As you lower your butt down and back, activate your core, legs, and glutes. Keep your weight in your heels, and don’t let your knees go beyond your toes.
- Sit as low as possible without rounding your pelvis or hunching your back. Keep your chest lifted and your spine straight, and note that your hip and ankle flexibility will affect your range of motion.
- Rise up by driving through your heels and squeezing your glutes.
- Focus on pushing your butt back towards the wall behind you to fully engage your glutes and avoid overworking your quads.
- Remember to prioritize good form over heavy weights, and never compromise your technique to lift more than you can handle.
By following these steps, you can master the squat and learn to strengthen your weak glutes.
Clamshells are a simple exercise that can help you target the often-neglected Glute Medius muscles in your butt. Here’s how to do them:
- Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet stacked on each other.
- Keep your heels together and lift your top knee up like the opening of a clamshell.
- Slowly lower your knee back down to complete one repetition.
- Repeat for several sets, and switch sides to work both sides of your body equally.
- As you become more advanced, you can increase the difficulty by adding resistance bands around your knees for added tension.
With consistent practice, clamshells can help you develop a stronger and firmer butt, no matter your fitness level.
Hip Flexor Stretch
The kneeling hip flexor stretch is an excellent stretch to start with. Here’s how to do it:
- Start by kneeling on the ground with one foot in front of the other. Your front knee should be at a 90-degree angle, and your back leg should be extended behind you.
- Engage your glutes and shift your weight forward, pushing your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your hip flexors.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply.
- Release the stretch and switch legs, repeating the stretch on the other side.
- Repeat the stretch 2-3 times on each side.
If you want to add more hip flexor stretches to your routine, check out our page on other effective hip flexor stretches.
In conclusion, preventing and reversing glute amnesia is crucial for maintaining a strong and healthy body.
Whether you spend long hours sitting in a chair or you’re an athlete or someone who strength-trains, there are simple steps you can take to keep your glutes active and engaged.
- Ensuring your mind-muscle connection to your glutes is working
- Taking frequent breaks from sitting
- Balancing your strength training workouts
If you suspect you have glute amnesia, it’s important to consult with a chiropractor or physician before attempting corrections on your own.
With proper form and low-intensity exercises that isolate the glutes, you can reverse the problem and prevent chronic pain and postural dysfunctions down the line.
Remember always to prioritize the health of your glutes to maintain a strong and healthy body.