Tip: Fight Dead Butt Syndrome

Chances are if you're over 30 that backside of yours is starting to look like two gluten-free pancakes, even if you train. Here's why and how to fix it.

I See Dead Butts

I've stopped using the men's locker room at my gym. I just couldn't take it anymore. The things I saw in there were the stuff of nightmares, I tell you, nightmares.

Once, not long ago, on a gray day when the sky was filled with shrieking ravens and the air crackled with supernatural electricity, I walked into the locker room and saw this bald guy sitting on the bench, legs spread apart, shaving his balls with a Bic razor. I had to be comforted by the towel boy.

Luckily, that was an isolated incident and he's since been kicked out, but what's much more common and possibly even more troubling is that the locker room is filled with the dead and I can see them. Not dead people, mind you, but dead butts.

Whether it's because of our sit-on-our-butts-looking-at-screens lifestyle or it's because men have a propensity to give more attention to the "mirror muscles" and thus ignore what they can't easily see, there's an epidemic of sorry-looking asses in my gym's locker room and no doubt all over the country. It usually starts to happen once they pass 30, but no one, it seems, is immune.

I mean, good God, have you guys ever picked up a hand mirror and bank-shotted a look back there? So many of your behinds look like limp, saggy, week-old Jack-o'-lanterns, more manatee than man. Put on a pair of mesh underwear and you could easily be mistaken for a walking sack of Idaho potatoes.

While I've been stressing the sheer unattractiveness of these glutes, much of the cosmetic problem stems from their functionality, or lack thereof. Trainer and author Kelly Starrett attributes this "gluteal amnesia" syndrome to lifestyle, blaming the pressure imposed on your glutes by sitting on them for extended periods.

He thinks that it literally causes the glutes to get all pins and needly. "If you imagine making a panini sandwich where you take high pressure and high temperature and make a grilled cheese," he says. "Sitting on your glutes all day is a little like this."

It's colorful imagery, but I think the sad state of glute affairs isn't just a case of cheese and paresthesia. I believe it's more a case of plain ol' inactivity – use it or lose it; that, and age. Sure, a lot of us work out, but somewhere along the way, whether because of a relentless thirst to use heavier and heavier weights, tight hip flexors, not doing exercises right or picking the wrong ones, the glute muscles kinda' ease out of the action and decide they like sitting idly by.

As far as age, the inability to adequately recruit the glute muscles is as reliable an indicator of passing time as crow's feet or not being able to last the night without getting up to pee.

Regardless of the cause, many of us go to the gym to work legs and try to simultaneously target the glutes by doing squats and deadlifts, but we end up with sore hamstrings and a sore lower back, but not sore glutes. The inability to recruit the glute muscles has forced the surrounding and synergistic muscles to pick up the slack.

The long-term result is weakness and one sorry-looking butt.

T Nation contributor John Rusin has a great test to see if your glutes are "firing" that doesn't rely on the mirror. He says you should be able to stand on either leg with your eyes closed for 60 seconds. If you can't do it, chances are your butt is dead or dying.

Rusin also has a simple fix for dead glutes. It turns out his test for a moribund butt is also the cure. He suggests standing on one leg with the eyes closed for as long as you can. Continue doing it with one leg and then the other until you can hit at least 60 seconds on each.

(I've found that a great time to do this is while brushing my teeth. In my experience, if you link an activity with a habit, the activity also becomes a habit.)

Rusin also recommends just clenching your butt cheeks together throughout the day, whenever it's convenient. The more easily you can do it with a strong contraction and maintain it, the faster the glutes will start to fire.

Here are some other simple ways to wake up your butt:

  • Start doing your overhead presses while standing. As Dan John says, there's no way your glutes can remain inactive during a heavy overhead press.
  • If you sit for prolonged periods, have the timer on your smart phone alert you to stand up every 60 minutes and do 10 to 20 bodyweight goblet squats while trying to keep the focus on your heels while squatting both up and down. Alternately, and if convenient, find a step, small stool, or even a stack of sturdy books and do some truncated side laterals, which are one of the best glute awakening exercises there is.

Below is the full range of motion gym version, but you'll get the idea:

Just remember three key technique points, as explained by T Nation contributor Christian Thibaudeau:

  1. Elevate the toes of the foot that starts on the floor. This will minimize the participation of the straightened leg.
  2. Keep both feet aligned. The straightened leg (foot on the floor) is lower than the working leg (on the box) but they line up together. Neither foot is farther forward, as it would be with a regular step-up.
  3. Do the eccentric slowly. You'll be able to do this because your body is over the base of support, not outside of it like it is in a regular step-up.