The tech age has brought with it several well-known maladies. I wrote about Text Neck and Text Claw way back in 2015. But I found out only recently about yet another physical byproduct of too much desk sitting with a rather dramatic name: Dead Butt Syndrome.
By now, you’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Research has shown that sitting for long hours in front of a computer can cause a range of adverse health effects, and can even shorten our lives. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say:
“Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
While the Mayo Clinic didn’t mention Dead Butt Syndrome, we can add that to the list.
What Causes Dead Butt Syndrome?
Dead Butt Syndrome, more delicately called “Gluteal Amnesia,” occurs when we habitually sit for long periods. Jobs that require lots of computer time, or simply living a sedentary lifestyle and eschewing exercise can be culprits.
When we sit for long periods, over time, our hip flexors shorten. This causes an anterior tilt in the pelvis that keep the glutes from being able to contract fully. Not only can this cause the glutes to go dormant, but it can also cause problems in the low back and legs.
Our glutes, including gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, work together to keep us upright. They’re key in propelling us forward when we walk or run. The glutes stabilize the pelvis and keep it aligned. These powerful muscles are the primary hip extenders. They, along with other muscles of the posterior chain, allow us to walk, climb stairs, pick things up off the floor (and rise back up to standing), carry heavy objects and stand on one leg. In a word, strong glutes are vital to everyday functioning.
How Do You Know if Your Glutes Have Gone Dormant?
Here are a few of the indications that you might be experiencing Dead Butt Syndrome:
- Tight hip flexors can cause difficulty in standing upright. This could result in low back pain and poor posture in general. If you find that your torso leans forward a bit, this could be the result of tight hip flexors.
- Dead Butt Syndrome can cause poor balance. When our glutes can’t contract, our whole bodies lose stability. If we’re chronically bent forward because of inactive glutes and tight hip flexors, our skeletons can’t align properly, which can throw our balance off.
- Inactive glutes might cause you to feel weakness in your lower body during exercise such as yoga, hiking, walking, running or bicycling. You might feel as if your glutes don’t engage when you try to contract them during yoga or other exercise.
- Over time, you may begin to experience knee or foot pain because of the misalignment of your skeleton.
- You may be more prone to issues such as patellofemoral syndrome, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, piriformis syndrome and herniated discs.
How Can Yoga Help Reawaken Your Glutes?
The good news is that Dead Butt Syndrome does not have to be our permanent state. With targeted exercise, we can reactivate our glutes, often within a few months. There are lots of yoga poses that strengthen the glutes and/or stretch the hip flexors. In addition to strengthening, stretching the glutes to facilitate blood flow is also a good idea.
While the poses below are not the only ones that can help wake up your glutes, they’re all easily accessible to yoga practitioners of all body types and experience levels. Once you’ve practiced these for a while, see if you can come up with more poses that activate your glutes.
6 Yoga Poses for Dead Butt Syndrome
Parsva Balasana (Bird Dog Pose with Variation)
Parsva Balasana stabilizes the core (front and back), promotes balance and activates the glutes. This post describes the basic version of the pose.
If you’d like to juice it up a bit, loop a resistance band around the insteps of both feet. Stretch your right leg back, then return to hands and knees, keeping both hands on the floor, and keeping your torso stable. Repeat this action 10 to 15 times, then switch to the left leg. You’ll want to start with a light band and progress to the next level of resistance band when the exercise starts to feel too easy.
Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge Pose)
In order to be able to contract the glutes completely, the hip flexors must be able to lengthen. Lunge poses stretch the quadriceps and hip flexors. There are other poses that can help you stretch your hip flexors, such as Supta Ardha Virasana (Reclining Half Hero’s Pose). But Crescent Lunge is easier on the knees, since your back knee is not hyperflexed in the pose. While you’re in the pose, engage the glutes of your back leg. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths on each side.
Virabhadrasana I & II (Warrior I & II Poses)
Warrior I & II are similar to Crescent Lunge in that they stretch the hip flexors. They also give you the opportunity to actively engage the glutes of your back leg. I find this glute action to be particularly helpful in Virabhadrasana II.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Baby Backbends are some of the most powerful poses for strengthening the back body, including the glutes. When you practice Locust Pose and its variations, the muscles in your back body are the sole drivers of the action. In poses such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose), the support of your arms takes some of the work out of the back. But in the Salabhasana, your back muscles, including the glutes, are doing all the work. The variations where you lift your legs are the most powerful glute activators.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Bridge Pose, like Locust Pose and many other backbends, activates the back body muscles. You can increase the butt-busting benefits by practicing with a 10-pound Yoga Sandbag placed across your hip joints. You can either stay in the pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths, or do 10 to 15 repetitions, moving relatively slowly in and out of the pose.
Supta Ardha Padmasana (Reclining Half Lotus Pose)
After practicing engaging the glutes, it’s important to stretch them out as well. This will help increase blood flow to the muscles. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) is one of the most effective poses for stretching the hip rotators and extenders. But Cow Face Pose can be tricky for some people’s knees. Reclining Half Lotus Pose is a more accessible option. You can always practice both poses, of course. But practice Reclining Half Lotus Pose first, to prepare your hips for Gomukhasana.
Wrapping It Up
The poses above are some of the most effective poses I know to counteract Dead Butt Syndrome, but there are plenty more in the yoga canon. Also, the poses listed above don’t include any twists or lateral bends. Be sure to sprinkle some of these movements into your practice so that you address all the different ways your spine can move out of its neutral position.
Then, just as important, take time to practice Savasana (Corpse Pose) after you practice. This will help you integrate the work you’ve done.