Did you know that chronic lower back pain is often linked to weakened or improperly activated feet and glutes?
These daily exercises are excerpted from Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s new book How to Make Disease Disappear and are designed to quickly tone your glutes daily for overall body strength, posture and pain prevention. After just a week of this daily glutes routine, Dr. Rangan’s own back pain was virtually eliminated – read his story below. Watch the full video to get the gist — explore a few more here.
This is honestly the easiest glutes routine we’ve ever come across and effortless to sneak into daily life. Share Dr. Rangan’s story with a friend or family member who needs it and try these daily moves in the morning!
I know firsthand how important our glutes are. When I was twenty-three, I was a final-year medical student at Edinburgh University. I was moving into a new apartment for the year with my friends Steve and Mary. I was helping Mary move boxes up six flights of stairs with the most appalling posture you’ve ever seen. After about thirty minutes, I lifted a new set of boxes and boom!
Sharp pain in my lower right back. I dropped all the boxes and fell to the ground in agony. My back had gone. Up until that point, I’d never given my back any thought. Like most of us, I abused it every day, as I’d never been given any reason not to. This led to ten years of chronic back pain which impacted all aspects of my life. I had to take time off work, carefully plan travel and give up all the sports that I loved.
I spent hours, not to mention lots of money, seeking a solution. Everyone told me that, because of my height (I’m six foot six), back pain was inevitable. I simply refused to accept this and tried what felt like every therapy known to man. Most of them would give me short-term relief but within weeks the pain would come back. My desire to learn more led to me signing up to learn about movement mechanics with one of the subject’s most revolutionary thinkers, Gary Ward. Gary is an incredibly important figure in the world of body mechanics and human movement.
When I came to him with my back problem, he very quickly identified that my right foot was “stuck” in pronation. In other words, my foot arch had effectively collapsed and my foot was flat and so unable to access its opposite posture. Podiatrists had told me about my flat foot before but simply prescribed orthotic insoles, which hadn’t worked.
Gary had a different solution. He told me he needed to get my right foot working again, insisting that was the key to my back problems.
But, you might be thinking, what has this got to do with glutes? Well, in our massively connected bodies, there’s actually a strong link between our foot muscles and our glute muscles. If one of our feet isn’t working properly, this can directly affect our glutes, and vice versa. It turned out that my right glute muscle wasn’t switching on and this meant my back was always going to struggle. My back was taking the strain instead of my sleepy backside.
Under Gary’s guidance, it soon became clear why none the physical therapists or massage therapists, who’d been manipulating my back over the years had solved the problem. They’d only ever been offering a temporary Band-Aid fix. To completely heal my back, Gary had to teach me to reprogram these damaging patterns and re-educate my body. I had to get my feet working correctly again. This, in turn, would reawaken my glute muscles. Incredibly, with just five minutes of exercise per day, over the course of less than a week, my long-standing back problems vanished. It was the nearest thing to a miracle I’ve ever witnessed. Now, a few years on, I have a natural right-foot arch, my right glute is firing appropriately and my back pain has never resurfaced.
How To Wake Up Your Glutes
My recommendation is that you do at least one of these four movements every single day. Once you know what you’re doing, they don’t take long. Any one of them can take under a minute. What’s more, these are not gym-style exercises that will get you all sweaty. You don’t need to change clothes, you don’t need to schedule them in, they won’t make you lose your breath. It’s crucially important to keep reminding your body that it should be switching your glutes on, and the best part is, it takes hardly any time or effort at all.
I do these exercises every single morning, while my coffee’s brewing, in order to prepare my body for the day ahead. If you can fit in all four of them in a quick five-minute morning movement session, all of your subsequent movements throughout the day will be more efficient and more in harmony with the way your body is designed to move. Do at least one glute movement every day, and the whole series four times per week. Note: All movements should be made either barefoot or with socks on.
Flex on a Step
This can be any exercise step like a standard aerobics step, a baby step stool or even your lowest stair. The exercise is designed to wake up your glutes by flexing your hip joint. The step raises the foot off the ground, which encourages your hip flexion. As you bend and reach forward with your arms, you’ll experience the glute lengthening.
As you get to your end range of motion, which is the furthest point you can comfortably go, you’ll naturally find yourself rocking back to the start position. You then go again. These movements are not to be held, like a stretch or a yoga pose. The idea is to gently move in and out of them, gradually increasing the range as you go.
1. Place one foot on a step and the other (the trailing foot) on the ground behind you, as in a stride.
2. Bend the knee of the front leg forward toward the toes. Avoid consciously controlling the movement of the knee, allow it to go where it comfortably wants to go, as you execute the movement. (Although the usual advice is to position the knee over the toe, Gary taught me that this actually limits our motion. Allowing it to follow the movements of the foot and hip is much more liberating for the body.)
3. As you bend the front knee, your hip will be drawn forward over the step toward the foot.
4. Gently reach out in front of you toward the horizon with your hands at hip height. As you move forward, the heel of the trailing foot will start to lift. This is perfectly normal.
5. As your hands reach forward at hip height, allow your upper body to follow as you attempt to reach as far as you comfortably can along this axis. (Your body should bend forward as a result of your hands reaching out.)
6. Our aim is to put most of our weight through the front foot on the step, with our hips sitting above the foot, and reaching forward with our arms, as in the picture.
7. As you become comfortable with this movement, and perhaps begin to find it easy, you can gradually lower your reach to knee height and out toward the horizon.
8. A long-term goal might be to safely place your fingertips on (or, ideally, beyond) the step. Do not hold these end positions but mindfully travel in and out of them back to upright.
9. Go as comfortably low as you feel is appropriate for you.
10. Repeat on the other leg.
For variation: Reach forward with only either the right or left hand to this position.
The Hip Adduction
This movement wakes the glute up in more than one way. It uses flexion, but it also uses the lateral motion of the hip. This is a whole body movement which targets the glutes and many other muscles which constitute the extensor chain.
1. Stand on a step.
2. Choose a leg to stand on.
3. While bending the knee of the standing leg, reach with the opposite foot behind and to the side, a bit like a curtsy, so that the toes of the reaching leg touch the floor.
4. Allow the weight-bearing knee to bend and to comfortably go where it wants. (Avoid consciously controlling the position of the knee.)
5. This begins to pull down the pelvis on the reaching-leg side and hike up the pelvis on the standing-leg side.
6. Raise the arm on the same side as your reaching leg and extend it toward the ceiling. When you reach high into your most comfortable end range, notice the stretch in that side of your abdomen.
7. You must maintain full weight bearing at all times on the standing leg. There is a temptation to put some weight on the reaching foot when it touches the floor. This should not happen — it should only tap the floor, not rest on it.
8. At your lowest comfortable point, bring yourself back up to standing and lower the opposite arm.
9. Allow both feet to rest on the step between repetitions of the same movement.
10. Change legs and repeat.
Your glute movements are connected to the movement of your feet. Healthy foot motion naturally contributes to the glute lengthening in the correct way. This exercise will help make this happen. In addition you can start to identify “dark spaces” in your movement. These are the movements that your brain is not used to making. It’s only by moving into these spaces that you can begin to reawaken pathways in your brain that have gone to sleep.
1. Start by standing with both feet together. Imagine yourself in the center of a large clock.
2. Relax the toes and choose a leg to stand on.
3. With the toes of the other leg, tap lightly at clock position 12 o’clock. Keep the tapping leg straight while allowing the standing leg to bend. The tapping leg should be stretched out as far as you can comfortably reach.
4. After tapping, return to the start position.
5. Most of your weight should remain on the standing leg. This is the one that remains in the middle of the clock face.
6. Allow the foot and knee of the standing leg to move freely as in the first two movements on the previous pages.
7. Begin a series of movements in which your reaching leg moves around the side of the clock that’s the same side as your reaching leg (so, if standing on your right leg, follow the clock around from 12 counterclockwise to the left). Each time, ensure that the toes of the reaching leg only tap the floor lightly. The majority of your weight should remain on your standing leg.
8. Standing on your right leg, aim to get as far around as 7 with the left leg (12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7). Return to the start position before reaching to the next number on the clock face. Repeat this sequence between five and ten times.
9. Standing on your left leg aim to get as far around as 5 with the right leg (12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Then go back to the start position. Repeat this sequence between five and ten times.
10. As the knee of your standing leg bends, and your other foot moves, your glutes will be encouraged to work.
11. Your focus is on the standing leg as the muscles react to the knee bending, the hip flexing and the foot flattening. The further you reach with your tapping leg, the more you will be activating your glutes.
12. Ensure that you work both legs.
3D Hip Extension
This movement puts all the joints in the body into a position that gives the glutes no option but to be fully activated. The front leg will experience the lengthening of its corresponding glute while the back leg will experience a full glute shortening. Working both sides means you’ll be able to experience the full range of motion for both glutes.
1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Place one foot forward at a comfortable distance. This distance will vary between individuals and you will need to do some experimentation. Start with a distance of 20 inches between the back foot big toe and the front foot one.
3. Relax the toes.
4. Bend the knee of your front foot while allowing the heel of the back foot to come up off the floor. You should keep the toes of the back foot on the ground.
5. Your weight should be mostly on the front foot. Try to let your pelvis move forward and come over your front foot.
6. Your torso should remain upright.
7. Try to think about your body moving forward and not down. This is not a gym-type lunge.
8. Keep the back knee straight and gently rotate it outward, without bending it, while keeping the back toes pointing straight forward.
9. The idea is to keep your head over your ribcage, your ribcage over your pelvis, and your pelvis over your front foot — so you’re all nice and stacked. If you feel any pressure in your lower back it’s likely you’re not achieving this.
10. Raise both arms toward the ceiling.
11. Return to the starting position. Do this between five and ten times on each leg.