Over the past year or so I have come to learn that I have a never-ending line of postural dysfunctions that need correcting.
One of the latest and weirder ones I’ve noticed is that one of my glute muscles is bigger than the other.
As I began to pay attention to my …ass cheeks… I noticed that my right glute wasn’t activating or doing any work during my workouts.
In other words, I was suffering from what is known as a glute imbalance where the brunt of the work was being done by a dominant glute.
As I hopped onto the web to do my research I found out that it is, in fact, a very common problem that affects many people.
It’s common for us to have a favourite leg we lead off with or a leg we tend to lean more on when we stand.
If you play a sport, you may favour one leg/glute over the other for performing the brunt of the work without you being conscious of it.
The important thing is to correct it, especially if the differentials between the glute strengths are particularly large.
Having one glute noticeably stronger than the other can cause postural dysfunctions as a result of the asymmetry.
Hips and knees can be pulled out of alignment increasing the chance of serious injury so you want to make sure you take the correct steps to balance out your glute muscles.
In this post, we’ll look at some of the best ways to activate the weak glute and strengthen it.
The result will be balanced looking ass cheeks you can be proud of.
How do you know if you have a Glute Imbalance?
A glute imbalance is not always something that is easily identifiable or obvious. Usually, it takes some form of bodily awareness to notice it.
In my own case, I now know that I have had a glute imbalance that has flown under the radar since childhood.
It was only until I was sitting on the floor flexing my glute one at a time (for no apparent reason) and I noticed that my left hip would raise up much higher off the ground than my right side.
In fact, I had difficulty even trying to flex my right glute. A quick test is to flex both your glutes.
Do you feel them contract with the same intensity or does one feel noticeably weaker?
It may even be the case that when you flex your glute you can barely feel the weak one contract. This is a major sign that you may have a glute imbalance.
Another sign of a glute imbalance is if only one of your glute muscle feels sore the next day after a workout.
This is because your dominant glute is doing all the hard work, which will mean you are only working out one glute.
It’s also important to draw attention to the fact that you can still perform a squat if one glute isn’t firing because the stronger glute will do most of the work for you.
Of course, the other slightly weird way you may notice you have a glute imbalance is if you happen to be looking at your own butt in the mirror and notice one glute is bigger than the other, or someone is observant and weird enough to point it out to you.
Total Glute Amnesia
It’s not uncommon either to encounter the problem of having neither glute working let alone just one.
The more time you spend sitting and being inactive, the more likely, your glutes will turn off from being underused.
If they aren’t being used frequently enough, why should they bother activating at all?
If this does happen, you get what is known as ‘glute amnesia’, or ‘dead butt syndrome’.
If you feel that this may be more relevant to you, you may want to read our post on how to fix glute amnesia first because a lot of the same principles apply to turn on both glutes as it does one glute.
How to Restore Balance in the Glutes
Restoring balance in the glutes can be split into 3 steps.
- The first thing to do this is to make sure the weak glute is firing and has the capacity to start working again.
- The second step is to do single-leg glute exercises to strengthen the weak glute.
- The third is to make sure that when you go back to doing glute exercises for both cheeks that you do not slip into old habits and allow the dominant one to take over again.
In this post, I’ve compiled an easy to follow step-by-step process on how to do all this, which is to activate the weak glute and strengthen it as well.
1. Roll out The Hip Flexors
The first thing you’ll want to do is to roll out tight hip flexor muscles particularly on the side with the weak glute.
You may be thinking how on earth this is going to help as it has nothing to do with the glutes!?
The science behind this is that tight hip flexors on one side can severely reduce the mobility of the hip which in turn can prevent the weak glute from firing and activating.
In other words, the tight side of the hip does not have enough mobility to get into a position that is optimal for the glute to fire and start working.
Spend some time foam rolling out the tight hip flexor to release any chronic tightness that exists there.
If you aren’t feeling any release or loosening up of the hip flexors when using a foam roller you’ll definitely want to try using a massage ball instead.
Related: Best foam rollers
Once you begin to massage out your hip flexors you’ll also want to start lengthening them out. Begin to stretch your tight hip flexor out on a daily basis.
Related: How to stretch your hip flexors
2. Activating the Weak Glute by Increasing Extension
If you didn’t understand the first step then the video above just happens to explain it in better detail.
This point also expands on the first step, whereby if you can increase the range of motion that your hips can extend, it allows the weak glute to activate and contract more.
The video above covers how to massage your hip flexors out and also includes a stretching and weak glute activation exercise you can try.
3. Glute Exercise: Modified Single-Leg Glute Bridges
Now that you’ve increased range of motion in your tight hip, you’ll want to start strengthening the weak glute and make sure it is working.
To strengthen a weak glute the obvious solution is to simply do glute exercises that work only the side of the weak glute.
Single leg glute exercises work better than double (regular squats) because it prevents the overactive glute on the other side from doing most of the work.
Not only will the overactive glute take over but it’s possible that the weak glute will pass on the work to the hamstrings or even the quads on the same side.
This is something you want to avoid when doing single-leg glute exercises.
The exercise described above shows you how to do a single leg glute bridge in such a way to make sure that the hamstrings do not take on the work of the weak glute.
This ensures that the weak glute is getting stronger and not the hamstring on the same side.
For people with a weak glute, it is often very difficult to try to relax the hamstrings during squats. This modified glute bridge will help those who struggle to let their weak glute do the work.
To do this exercise:
- You will need to be near a wall. Lay down on your back in front of the wall.
- Pull your heels in as much towards your butt as possible. This keeps the hamstrings shortened and should prevent them from firing.
- Next push your arms into the wall as you prepare to do your glute bridge. By pushing your arms into the wall, your butt will stay on the heels.
- Lift one leg up, so the weaker glute is doing the hip thrust. Focus on getting the weak glute to fire.
4. Glute Exercise: Unilateral Pillow Squeeze
I love corrective exercises that take little effort as they are perfect for times when you are watching TV or even listening to an audiobook.
The unilateral pillow squeeze is one of these exercises.
The idea here is to lie on your front with a block between your feet.
Raise your feet in the air and squeeze your ankles together trying to compress the block together.
Push harder on the side with the weak glute and focus on making that glute contract.
5. Other Single-Leg Exercises You Can Try
Once the weak glute is firing you can move onto other single leg glute exercises.
There are many exercises that will work such as:
- Donkey kicks
- Fire hydrants
- Glute medius exercises
- Single leg lunges
- Single leg squats.
What is crucial, however, is that you are conscious that your weak glute is working during these exercises and the work isn’t being done by another muscle.
Paying attention to the weak glute and being present is vital.
Is your weak glute doing the work? Is it activating properly?
Because it has been switched off for so long, you need to relearn the mind-muscle connection.
A good way to do this is to contract the weak glute every now and again during your day.
6. Foam Rolling or Massaging Your Overactive Glute
If used correctly, foam rolling can be used as a tool to help the weak glute do more of the work by relaxing your dominant glute.
When you foam roll a muscle it causes the muscle to loosen up and most importantly relax.
With this in mind, it may be a smart move to foam roll your dominant glute before a workout in order to help it relax more and force the weak glute work more.
Similarly, you can roll out your hamstrings and quads on the weak side to lessen their activity during a workout too.
Since we know that foam rolling helps relax the muscles it may be worth considering NOT foam rolling the weak glute out for a while until everything is balanced again.
Another great tool that can yield faster results than a foam roller is by using a percussion massage gun.
Related: Best massage guns
Long-Term Plan for Fixing your Glute Imbalance & Other Tips
So there it is a simple plan to fix your glute imbalance.
You’ll want to follow the plan until you can at least feel the weak glute switch on again.
Once it has, it’s a conscious effort to make sure that it is working during all of the exercises where it should be activated.
For example, if you are in a regular squat, make sure that the work is equal between both glutes, rather than your weight being shifted to your stronger side.
At the same time, it would be a good idea to do slightly more single-leg reps on the weak glute until a more appropriate balance in both your glutes is reached.
And lastly, pay attention to any habits you may have that may have caused the glute imbalance in the first place.
For instance, do you tend to lean your torso to one side when you are in a squat? Or do you hike one hip up unknowingly when you squat?
Related: How to fix a lateral pelvic tilt
In either case make sure that you brace your core and keep your spine long to ensure your hips are evened out.
Look for the cause and address that problem too, it will only help speed up the process of fixing your glute imbalance.