Since the exercise craze of the ’80s, we have seen many variations of the “Butt Crunch” exercise. The action of a Butt Crunch is a repeated squeeze of the buttocks while sitting or standing. With the promise of a more lean and toned back-side, many people have fallen prey to this madness.
Let’s talk about what this “exercise” does. First, it is supposedly used to tone the gluteus maximus primarily to give a leaner and smaller appearance. Second, um, well I’m not sure what other purpose it serves. These so-called exercises certainly do not do anything beneficial for us from a movement perspective. The clench action definitely does not recruit the hip muscles for their intended use in movement. When was the last time you went for a walk or climbed the stairs with your butt clenched? I would not suggest that you try it.
Squeezing a muscle does not mean you are moving from it. Let’s test that theory using another set of muscles. In standing, clench your quads at the front of the thigh. Now holding that clench while you extend your leg behind you. Does this prove that the quads extend your hip? No.
In present day, people use the clench technique to supposedly “activate” all sorts of muscles. For example, a client of mine was told to clench her butt to activate her Gluteus Medius when doing side-lying clamshell. Not surprisingly she could barely lift her knee off her bottom leg. When I explained the function of the Gluteus Medius, and offered some tactile cues by placing her hand on the side of her hip, she was able to feel that when clenching, she wasn’t using the Gluteus Medius at all, but instead could feel her Gluteus Maximus and her inner thigh muscles tensing on both sides. Once she relaxed the clench, she was able to feel that she could move the leg into a full range open clamshell with much more ease while the Gluteus Medius contracted under her fingertips.
Some muscles move our bones, while others support a bony structure, like the pelvis, and further still other muscles perform the job of movement through a limb. In any case, if you are clenching a muscle to activate it for movement, it is not performing its job in a productive or efficient way. In actual fact, not only could this create a dysfunctional movement pattern among that particular muscle group, it may also create dysfunction in other groups as well. In the case of the “Butt Crunch”, a number of other muscles will also inadvertently clench during this action resulting in an over-contraction of the hamstrings, the inner thigh muscles and the pelvic floor, among others.
Look for a highly-trained Pilates and Therapeutic Exercise specialist in your area to help you to recruit the correct muscles naturally without clenching for productive and functional movement.
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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