Stop Clenching Your Butt – Yes, You!

Stop Clenching Your Butt – Yes, You!

Article by Dr. Hailey Steinhauser – DC, CPN – Healthy Habit Studio

Do you ever find yourself clenching your butt? 

Maybe you notice that those glutes are squeezed while you’re waiting in line, while you’re exercising, even while you’re sitting. Maybe you just realized that you’re actually clenching your butt right now!

While my line of questioning may seem crass, I see butt clenchers in my office daily, usually in pain or struggling in some way. This seemingly small behavior is an example of your body adapting, instead of being resilient. So what is the difference between adaptation and resilience? Check out my last blog where we do a deep dive on this topic! 

So I’m a butt clencher. How do I stop? Here’s the bottom line. 

  1. Get your spine adjusted! Set up a chiropractic appointment so the joints of your spine can be in good communication with your brain so that your body can be resilient. This will allow your muscles to receive the right information from your brain so that they can relax and contract as they’re supposed to and not be forced to adapt. 
  2. It is key to retrain your muscles after years of adaptation. Scroll to the bottom of this article to learn some useful activation exercises to help your body become more resilient!

Let’s get into the butt clenching! 

That is the reason you joined me afterall, right? If you’re butt clenching, it’s a big red flag indicating that there is adaptation going on in your sacroiliac joints (SI joints). Your SI joints are the joints that connect the base of your spine, or sacrum, to your hips. These joints are very important in mobility, walking and stability. 

Injury to your SI joints can come from many different causes: a fall, sports injury, crossing your legs when you sit, poor posture (i.e., slouching), lack of movement, and much much more. Whatever the cause, chronic dysfunction in your SI joints results in improper communication between that area of your body and your brain. This means your brain is not being told accurate information by your body about where you are in space, what movement you need to perform next, etc, and in turn, your brain is not able to provide perfect instructions back out to you body as to how to make a movement, stabilize a joint, etc. 

So it’s this connection between the brain and that joint that gets affected, BUT everything is related. So even though this may have started as a joint problem, now your muscles are getting involved too and they are no longer getting that accurate information back and forth. It’s no longer automatic how your muscles should be activating, relaxing, and stabilizing when you’re walking, sitting, exercising etc. 

So to try and prevent injury and instability, your body adapts and says, “clench!”

I see this all the time in patients, even ones who don’t have lower back pain! They walk, they can exercise, but if we look closely, they’re not actually using the muscles of their low back, buttocks, and legs the way they’re supposed to, and unfortunately this can lead to pain down the line. 

 

And this is subconscious —  most of the time, you’re not even aware that you’re using your muscles differently than you used to. 

Your body has ADAPTED (maladapted) to this injury and figured out how to keep going, but instead of the glutes being the driving force of your movement, now they’re constantly clenched while you walk and stand

Ideally while you walk, the glutes should be alternating between active and relaxed, and when you’re standing, those muscles should be relaxed rather than tight and tense. 

This tells me that regardless of if your glutes are strong (I see this both in avid gym goers and those who are very inactive), they are not properly talking to your brain. 

There are two important parts of muscle function. One being strength of the muscle, the other being the strength of the mind muscle connection (the nerve connection from your muscle to your brain and back.) 

If you’re a butt clencher, that mind muscle connection is not strong. 

This is adaptation, folks! You can get by with this, but you’re not going to be moving like you want to be, your workouts will be less effective, you’re going to tire faster, and if you’re not already, eventually you’re going to end up in pain. 

So how do we wipe out this adaptation and get your body to be resilient instead? 

One, get your brain and body talking again! Chiropractic spinal adjustments are the most effective way to do this. 

Chiropractic spinal adjustments will activate the receptors in your joints and improve the communication between those joints and your brain. 

This is so important because, as I said before, we are meant to be able to heal and to be resilient! If your brain gets accurate information from your body, then it is able to appropriately send instructions back down to your body as to how it is actually SUPPOSED to be moving and responding. This improves your ability to be resilient. 

But let’s not forget those muscles! 

It may have been months, years, or even decades that you’ve been living with this adaptation of muscle clenching. Some focused attention to that mind muscle connection will help speed along your pathway back to being resilient and getting out of this adaptation cycle. Your muscles may be tight, feel strong, or maybe even be strong, but the fact of the matter is that the nerve pathway between your muscle and brain is not going to be strong, so that is what needs to be focused on. 

Rather than looking for strength exercises here, it’s all about activation exercises. The most common muscles that need to be activated in this situation are your glute max and glute med. Sometimes the hamstrings and psoas also play a role, but for now we will focus on those two glute muscles.  

Glue Max:

  • Lay on an exercise mat face down. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees and flex your foot so it’s as if you could “be standing on the ceiling” with your right foot. Keep your hips and thigh flat on the ground. 
  • This is the mind muscle connection part! Think about your right glute, even use your hand to touch the muscle and remind the brain that this is the muscle it should be using for this movement! And then using that muscle, lift your knee slightly off the ground. 
  • Do not go for big movements here. Larger movements will recruit other muscles in your back, the back of your leg, and your hips. We want to keep the movement isolated to just activate your right glue max! 
  • Then bring your knee back to the starting position. 
  • Do this movement super slowly, and be sure to overzealously be thinking about that muscle the whole time. 
  • Repeat with your left side.

Glue Med: 

  • Lay on an exercise mat with your right side up. Use your arm to support your head and have your knees slightly bent, stacked on top of each other. 
  • This time for the mind muscle connection, you’ll be using your right glute med, which is on the side of your hip. Focus on that muscle, put your hand on that muscle so you can use extra senses to help your brain connect to it and use only that muscle to lift your right knee slightly up and off of your left knee. 
  • Again, this is a small movement to prevent you from recruiting other muscles that would be involved to lift your leg even higher. 
  • Then bring your knee back to the starting position. 
  • Do this movement super slowly, and be sure to overzealously be thinking about that muscle the whole time. 
  • Repeat with your left side.

Do these exercises 10 reps on each side, every day. Doing this daily will result in you actively strengthening that mind muscle connection so your body can become more resilient and begin to change away from your old adaptation, and closer to your healthy baseline. 

If you’re not feeling a difference or you still find that you’re butt clenching, there may be more of a structural component to your adaptation, so set up a consultation with Dr. Hailey to get your spine checked!

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