Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about the phenomenon of gluteal imbalance, which we’ve dubbed the Lazy Bum Epidemic. In How Skeletal Muscles Work, I wrote about the three different types of skeletal muscle: prime movers, local stabilisers and global stabilisers – how they function when everything’s fine, and what happens when things go wrong. In The Lazy Bum Epidemic, I explained how this applies to the glutes, and how muscle imbalance in this area can affect you and result in injury; and in What is the RSM Model? I went through the Release-Stabilise-Move process that we use to retrain muscle imbalance . It’s now time to apply that to the glutes – and today we’re starting with Release.
What do you mean by “release”?
It’s fair to say that “release” is a slightly controversial word within the physiotherapy world. A surgeon will “release” a muscle by cutting it, and we’re certainly not doing that! So, when we’re talking about “releasing” a muscle, what we mean is that we are encouraging it to relax and switch off a bit, and to stop being quite so hypervigilant.
We have lots of possible ways of doing this, including:
- Joint mobilisation
- Visualisation and relaxation techniques
- Release with awareness
Of these techniques, my favourite is the Release with Awareness, or RWA, which is a phrase coined by the amazing Canadian physiotherapist Diane Lee, whose Integrated Systems Model is a huge influence on my Health & Performance Pyramid.
What is a release with awareness?
To achieve a RWA, you have to know your anatomy – which muscle you’re treating, where it starts (“the origin”) and where it finishes (“the insertion”).
You start by finding the muscle you want to treat, palpating (applying pressure to) the bit that hurts, and then shortening the muscle passively – bringing the insertion towards the origin, and supporting it there. This allows the painful or tight area to relax a bit. Hold the position and breathe, focusing on letting the muscle go, and allowing it to soften with each breath. As it relaxes, you can gradually lengthen the muscle, taking the insertion away from the origin while maintaining the pressure on the tight/sore area, until eventually you are stretching the muscle.
Once the pressure no longer feels tight or tender, you remove the pressure – and, hey presto, if you poke the muscle again, it won’t be as sore or tender any more.
The idea is that by using your brain to actively relax the tight area as you lengthen it, you teach your central nervous system what relaxation is like; and then it will be easier to relax the same muscle at other times (for example, when you switch on your stabilisers and when you move!)
How do you release your glutes?
In clinic, we’ll probably be using our hands to provide the pressure on the muscle; but at home, an easy way to maintain pressure is by using something like a cork tennis ball.
To RWA the glutes, you lie on your back or on your side, with the ball underneath you, digging into the tight bit of your glute. If it’s tight, you’ll probably feel discomfort; but you shouldn’t feel pain that you can’t relax into. So if you can’t relax – take the pressure off a bit, possibly by putting a towel between you and the ball, or by lying on a softer surface such as your bed, or a yoga mat.
Get to the point where you have some discomfort and tension, then breathe and focus on letting the glutes relax. As the tight part relaxes, stretch it slightly (bend your knee towards you, or twist your leg to the left or right – you’ll know when you feel the stretch!) – and then breathe into the stretch. Once it relaxes again, you’re done – move the ball to another tight spot and do it all again.
Great – what next?
Next? Well, now that you’ve released your prime movers (and the tight parts of any contrary global stabilisers!) – it’s time to start retraining those inhibited stabilisers! And that’ll be the next post.
Want to know more? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you some tips on how to Stabilise and Move to treat your lazy glutes – but if you can’t wait, call my team on 0207 175 0150 or click the button below to book an appointment, or you can go straight to my online course, Pelvic Pain, Pelvic Drivers, which teaches you how to release, stabilise and move your glutes in more detail and with videos.