So I’m looking at the gluetus maximus as hip extensors (accurate, though it has other functions as well), and I am starting to realize — I am not sure I have ever consciously stretched my glues before. I’ve had instructors mention a glute stretch in pigeon, but I definitely feel stretch predominantly along the outside of my front hip. Similarly, I may actually feel it a bit in fire log, but there’s still something on the outside that feels it way more.
Maybe I just have a loose ass? Or maybe stretching my butt — as opposed to building strength there — is just not something I’ve paid much attention to over the years.
I figured the latter was probably more true than the former. That is, that I probably have felt some gluteal stretch over the years, but I maybe haven’t paid the most attention to it. Going with that hypothesis, I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting in my private yoga studio — er, the bit of floor between the couch and the TV — over the past few days. I have determined that I do, in fact, feel some straight-on gluteus maximus stretch in various forward folds. Which fold, exactly, depends on when and how I do it. Because of this, I am going to detail the fold that works best for me (as well as the modifications and attentions I use to maximize the ass stretch). You should feel free to experiment with the forward fold that works best for you.
I find that prasarita padottanasana (standing wide legged forward fold — the English really isn’t any more convenient here) is what gives me the most room to be able to work into my glutes. The standing position means that my butt is not on the ground, which gives it some maneuverability to find the best stretch. The wide stance means it’s easier for me to find some internal rotation in my hips. (Another gluteus maximus function is to externally rotate the thigh, so that opposite movement — internal rotation — helps create some stretch.) Finally, gravity working on my upper body lets me get the hip flexion I need to feel a glute stretch.
But, here. Let me show you the pose. Or rather, let me embed a YouTube video of someone else demonstrating the pose:
[Brenna instructing, Heather instructing — at Bend Yoga Studio for GeoBeats.]
Things that help me shift the stretch toward my glues and to maximize the stretch I feel there:
- Opt for a wider stance. I hear different recommendations for stance length, with the feet anywhere from three to five-and-a-half feet. While neither of those extremes works for me, I find that there is a sort of range that does. Being on the narrower end of my workable range tends to emphasize the stretch in my hamstrings whereas being on the wider end of my comfortable range tends to emphasize the stretch in my glutes.
- Watch my feet. Again, I hear different recommendations for how the feet should be — insides parallel, outsides parallel, midlines parallel, toes turned in — so I do the one that works for my anatomy. This involves keeping the outside edges of my feet parallel to the short edges of my mat (or where those edges would be if I’m not using a mat), which for me, does mean that the inside edges of my feet are angled slightly toward each other (heels slightly out, toes slightly in). It also helps me to double-check to make sure I’m not feeling any strain in my knees or ankles, which means that internal rotation happens from my hips.
- Play with bending my knees. Whether I do this depends on how loose my hamstrings are feeling. If I’m doing both of the above steps and am still feeling the stretch mostly in my hamstrings — and also if I want to be feeling it more in my glutes — sometimes bending my knees slightly helps facilitate that.
- Really focus on keeping a straight spine — and therefore reaching back through my tailbone and sit bones — even if I have to prop the shit out of this pose. Generally, I’m flexible enough to reach the ground easily (at least on my fingertips), but I still have my days. I know using blocks is a common prop to “raise the floor.” And I’ve seen folks — particularly practicing at home — use the seat of a couch or a chair or, for additional height, using a wall.
I’m not totally sure how well these principles translate to other bodies or to other types of forward folds. But I’m also not too sure what other types of stretches best get at the glutes. Suggestions, anyone?
If not — and even if so — I’m off to do more geeky yoga research!