Struggle with Muscle Imbalance?

As a personal and group fitness trainer, I’ve had the opportunity to rehabilitate joints and retrain muscles with many of my clients and students. I love everything about the human body, so you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to observe surgery in a real orthopedic operating room. It was so cool! I got so wrapped up in the experience, that the surgeon had to ask me to move back a bit when I leaned over too far to get a better look at the patient’s biceps tendon. Did I mention how cool this was?!

The most common complaint I hear from clients is that they are experiencing some degree of low back pain, and studies show that general pain in this area is often caused by muscle imbalance between gluteal muscles and hip flexors. Quick anatomy lesson: gluteals are the muscles of our buttocks (buns, backside, tush, rear, bottom – the list goes on), and the hip flexors are the muscles at the top of the thigh in the front (where our pants wrinkle when we sit too long). The relationship between these two muscle groups must be balanced for them to function properly and allow us to run and jump and lift without pain.

How do we keep these muscle groups balanced?  Build the following three exercises into your fitness regimen. And the result? A healthier back!

Glute Bridge – this exercise targets the gluteal muscles and requires the low back to engage as
well as you lift the hips off the floor. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be lined up with your hips, and your heels should be several inches away from your hips. Keep your arms on the floor by your sides. Squeeze your gluteal muscles as you lift your hips toward the ceiling. Your body weight should transfer to your upper back. Push your heels evenly into the floor. Perform 12-15 repetitions, holding each contraction for 4-5 seconds.

Quadruped Arm & Leg Extension (a.k.a. Bird Dog) – this exercise targets the posterior muscles of the back, hips and shoulders. Position yourself on your hands and knees, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Your back should be flat and your abdominal muscles contracted. Extend one arm up by the head until the elbow is straight, as you extend the opposite leg parallel to the floor until your knee is straight. Keeping your torso still, release the arm and leg, and extend the other side until both limbs are straight and parallel to the floor. Complete 10 alternating repetitions.

Plank – this exercise targets the abdominals and back muscles, along with many stabilizers of the body. Because this exercise is isometric, meaning that it is performed without joint movement, it is generally safe for most exercising populations. Another wonderful quality of the plank is that it can be modified for exercisers of all levels. The modified plank position begins with your forearms and your knees on the floor. Bring your hips toward the floor until your body is straight (slightly diagonal) from your shoulders to your knees. The full plank position is the progression where your knees are not on the floor and instead, you are high on your toes, with your body parallel to the floor. Build up your endurance until you can hold this position for 15 seconds, performing 5 repetitions.

Don’t get sidelined by back pain! Incorporate these strengthening exercises into your fitness routine to establish better balance between your gluteals and hip flexors. And, of course, you will find beneficial exercises like these, and many others, in a Body & Soul group fitness class near you.

Amy Stafford is the President of Body & Soul Fitness.  She is a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, ACE (American Council on Exercise) Faculty member, wife of Steven, and mom to Jordan.

Photos courtesy of Amy Stafford, 

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