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 is what happens when your glutes (butt muscles) forget to activate when you need them to.
You don’t want to ignore glute amnesia, because it strains your lower back by causing your pelvis to tilt forward.
In addition to lower back pain, it can cause strains and pains in your knees, hips and shoulders because other areas of the body become misaligned as well.
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 a couple of 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, off-setting 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 in a Workout Program
While prolonged sitting in a static posture is the most common culprit, there are some other causes of gluteal amnesia.
These causes also involve muscle imbalances and can occur from overworking certain muscles without balancing out their opposing muscles.
If you consistently do strength training exercises that bolster your quadriceps without balancing it out with glute exercises, you could end up with strong quads that overcompensate for weak glutes.
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, and there are a few less-than-obvious signs to look out for that can help you catch glute amnesia before it gets worse.
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 in order to compensate for loose, lengthened glute muscles.
Together these muscle imbalances can lead to the much dreaded Anterior Pelvic Tilt that is now becoming increasingly more common these days.
In addition, your knees might cave in and 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, at the top of each leg.
They’re the opposing muscle of your glutes, meaning that when they contract, the glute muscles release, 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 tests 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 working, 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 fatigue in some other muscle other than the glute, it is likely you have glute amnesia.
To see how to put this idea into practice, watch the video above.
How to Activate Your Glutes: Stretches and Exercises
In this section, we’ll look at some stretches and activation exercises you can try to get your glutes firing again.
Watch the video below for an overview of what it takes to get your glutes to become active 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 or not.
In addition, you want to be aware of any other muscle that is overcompensating for the weakness in the glutes.
If you notice that this is 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.
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.
There are several other exercises that target your glutes, including side-lying kicks, lateral lunges, donkey kicks, deadlifts and hip abductions.
– Glute Bridges
Bridges are an exercise similar to glute squeezes but are more effective in strengthening the glutes.
You do them laying down on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent.
Engaging your glutes, you lift your hips off the floor and do a pelvic tilt, then slowly lower down.
A great tip to get the glutes to fire during this move is to focus on pushing your heels into the ground and generating the lift from there.
You can also attempt a single leg glute bridge to target each glute separately.
Performing squats is another exercise that should work the glutes, however, you must have proper form.
If you have glute amnesia a good tip is to put your weight into the heels, keep your knees pushed back over your ankles and then try to push your butt as far back towards the back wall (without falling over) whilst keeping low.
In addition, you want to be wary that your quads aren’t doing all the work.
– Clamshells for Glute Medius Activation
Next in line are clamshells, which are easy at any fitness level.
Clamshells are able to work neglected smaller muscles in the butt (the Glute Medius) that other muscles often compensate for.
You do them lying on your side with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet stacked on top of each other.
Keeping your heels together, you lift the top knee like the opening of a clamshell and then lower it down.
As you improve you can add resistance bands around your knees for added tension.
– Stretch Tight Hip Flexors
If you have glute amnesia, it’s very likely that you also have tight hip flexors.
It is this chronic tightness that contributes to keeping your glutes in a long and weakened state.
In order to help get your glutes firing, you’ll want to start stretching your hip flexors.
The stretch above is a great starting place to begin creating length in your hip flexors.
For more effective stretches for the hips be sure to see our page on other hip flexor stretches you can add to your stretching routine.
Preventing Glute Amnesia
We’ve discussed one of the main ways to prevent and counter glute amnesia is to ensure that your mind-muscle connection to your glutes is working, as well as performing glute exercises with proper form.
However, here are two other simple ways you can prevent your butt from going to sleep in the future.
Get Active and Move More!
In today’s techno-centric culture and work environment, many people find themselves glued to a computer desk for long periods.
Whereas people used to be more active, technology now does so much work for us.
Glute amnesia can affect anyone who sits in a chair or a vehicle for large portions of the day, day in and day out, even if they exercise on a regular basis too.
Those most at risk are people with desk jobs who don’t take frequent breaks, commercial drivers and people with long daily commutes.
Above all, it’s important to frequently take breaks from your chair and do something that engages your glutes.
It could be walking, doing some squats, or even squeezing your buttocks together to get the muscles firing.
You could also try reducing the hours you spend sitting in a chair by sitting on an exercise ball instead, or working at a high countertop from time to time.
A standing desk may also be something worth considering. If this idea interests you, be sure to see our post on the best affordable standing desks.
Balance Your Strength Training Workouts
As well as people who sit too much, other susceptible groups are athletes and people who strength train.
Overtraining the front of your legs while neglecting to strengthen the backs of your legs can lead to glute amnesia when the quadriceps overcompensate for slacking glutes and hamstrings.
Strength training moves that isolate the glutes are important for preventing glute amnesia, especially if you do exercises that strengthen your quadriceps, which are at the front of your thighs.
Doing exercises like leg presses and leg extensions that target the quads should always be balanced out by exercises that work the backs of your legs.
If you spend any chunk of time sitting at a desk or on a long commute, you want to make sure you steer clear of glute amnesia to prevent chronic pain and postural dysfunctions down the line.
If you have glute amnesia to any degree, be sure to perform glute exercises with proper form so that you can reverse the problem.
Frequent breaks from sitting that get your glute muscles firing may be all you need to prevent glute amnesia in the future also.
Before we leave you there are some other helpful links that may be of interest.
- Often times you may find that your glute amnesia is not equal between both glutes. In other, words one glute may be firing and the other one is inactive. If this is the case, see our post on how to fix a glute imbalance.
- There is another smaller glute muscle known as the glute medius which is commonly weak. It is recommended that you also check to see if you need to strengthen this glute muscle as well. To check for glute medius weakness, see our article on how to strengthen your glute medius.
- Weak or inactive glutes can also be a symptom of a bigger problem known as an anterior pelvic tilt. You may want to read up on how to fix an anterior pelvic tilt too.
If you determine you have glute amnesia, it’s wise to consult with a chiropractor or physician before attempting corrections on your own.
However, correcting glute amnesia is something you can only accomplish yourself by performing basic low-intensity exercises that isolate the glutes with proper form.
However, you want to make sure you’re engaging your glutes by squeezing your butt as you do these exercises, to prevent other muscle groups from compensating for them.
With enough time and practice, your glutes should begin to fire on their own again. Good luck on your journey to waking up your butt again!