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…or even that it is going to get at all stronger, smaller, tighter, whatever your aim.
Let’s test that theory using another set of muscles. In standing, clench the muscles at the front of your thigh–your quads, as they are known. Now hold that clench while you try to swing your leg behind you. Does this prove that the quads just moved your leg back? No.
In the 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 (aka “the side glute”) 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 (her butt) 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 our bony structures, like our spines on top of our pelvis, and further still other muscles perform the job of movement of our arms and legs.
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, but it may also create dysfunction in other groups as well.
In the particular 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–maybe even your shoulders and neck because we know how they love to get in on the action.
So in the wise words of Elsa from Frozen: LET IT GO, LET IT GO…!!!
A highly-trained movement specialist can provide valuable tips and tricks to help you use your muscles in a way that helps your body move better and feel great. Click HERE to learn more about ReActive Movement’s Functional Pilates and Therapeutic Exercise programs customized for your specific needs.
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-NCPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
www.bodyharmonicsUS.com (Pilates Teacher Education)
© 2015. All rights reserved.