This last weekend I attended a training called "Finding Center" by Gary Ward of Anatomy in Motion. The first day of training we spent 4 hours exploring the 3D movement of 6 key muscles in the body. One of these muscles was the gluteus maximus. Many of us know the glute max actions: hip extension, hip external rotation and hip abduction. Typical ways to strengthen this muscle is through concentric contractions as in clam shells, fire hydrants, bridges, lunges and squats.
According to Gary Ward, the first rule of movement is: "Muscles lengthen before they contract." His theory is that you want to lengthen the muscle as far as it can go, and it has nothing to do but contract. I applied this concept when I returned from my training.
My client came in this week with his left back and hip a little aggravated. I tested my client again on his stomach. He could not lift his thigh off of the table, and he had incredible pain in his back. I had him stand up onto his left leg and move through the single leg squat and 3D reach. I had him allow his hip and knee to move into flexion, adduction and internal rotation (prior to this training, I would have controlled for knee adduction and internal rotation). After completing about 10 repetitions he says, "I don't have the pain in my glute anymore." We moved through a few more patterns, got him back on the table and retested his ability to lift his thigh off the table: Full lift without any pain! He was completely amazed, and quite honestly so was I! He got off of the table, took a walk and didn't have any pain. Next time you feel like you are stuck in your training, or you have a case of "dead butt", remember: muscles lengthen before they contract.
I have included one of the movement patterns I went over with my client in the video below. Rather than tapping down with the foot, you can also try reaching your arm out to touch the floor in a clockwise fashion.