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Summer shorts, skirts, and swimwear definitely put your backside on display. If you’re working hard to tighten things up back there, you’re not alone. But you’ll want to balance all that squatting and lunging with glute stretches that keep those buttock muscles stretched and toned.
Stretching the gluteal muscles isn’t just about having a pretty peach. Strong, stable glutes help us move with ease and prevent pain and injury, according to the International Sports Sciences Association. If you’re weak back there, you may be at risk of knee injuries, hamstring strains, ankle sprains, lower back injuries, and other misalignments.
But if those muscles are too tight, you may experience other problems: tight hips and hamstrings; tension in the lower back; pain in the knees, pelvis, and low back. Glute stretches can prevent all that—and improve your flexibility and mobility. Another benefit: moving those posterior muscles counteracts the effects of all this sitting we’ve been doing.
What are we actually stretching?
Glute stretches extend the largest muscles in the body—and some of the most powerful. They help you rotate your hips externally and they support your SI (sacroiliac) joint. That’s what keeps you erect, aligned, and in good posture, whether you’re sitting or standing. Also part of the gluteal muscle system are the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus—smaller, more interior muscles that are essential for internal hip rotation.
Thank goodness for glutes because, without them, we couldn’t walk on two legs, according to Andrew McGonigle, author of Supporting Yoga Students with Common Injuries and Conditions. Here’s a series of great glute stretches to keep you gliding along.
10 great yoga glute stretches
Stand with your inner feet parallel and about six inches apart. Contract your thigh muscles to lift your kneecaps. Exhale and bend forward from your hip joints, reaching toward your feet. Slide the index and middle fingers of each hand between the big toes and the second toes and grip the big toes firmly. (Variation: Pass a strap under the ball of each foot and hold the straps.) Inhale, lift and lengthen your torso to a flat back. Keep your sitting bones high, release your hamstrings, and contract your front thighs. Exhale, bend your elbows out to the sides, pull up on your toes, lengthen the front and sides of your torso, and gently lower into the forward bend. Don’t hunch into a forward bend. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Return to Tadasana.
See also: Reclining Big Toe Pose
Standing in Tadasana, lift the arms to shoulder height and bring them together in front of the sternum. Cross them, placing the left elbow on top of the right elbow, then bend the elbows and wrap the forearms around each other, bringing the palms or backs of the hands together. Lift the elbows up and away from the face to bring more breadth across the upper back.
Bend the knees as if to sit in a chair. Balancing on the left, lift the right leg high to cross the right knee over the left. Squeeze the inner thighs together. You may wrap the right calf around the left and hook the toes to the inside of the left ankle. Sit deeper with the tailbone lowered, keeping the elbows and the sternum lifted. Hold for 5–10 breaths, then unwind the legs and arms and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side. For a deeper stretch: Hinge at the hips, bowing forward to bring elbows toward the knees.
Eka Pada Utkatasana (One-Legged Chair Pose)
From Tadasana, bend the knees as if to sit in a chair. Your torso will come slightly forward, but keep your abdomen lifted and your spine straight. Balancing on the left leg, lift your right leg and place the right ankle on or across the left knee, opening your right knee out to the right. Bring your hands to the chest in Anjali Mudra, keeping the breastbone lifted and the neck long. Hold for 5–10 breaths. When you are ready, straighten the left leg, releasing the right foot down to the floor. Return to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side.
From Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), bend your knees and, on an inhale, step your left foot toward the back edge of your mat, with the ball of the foot on the floor. Step back far enough that your right knee can form a right angle. Lengthen your torso forward and over your front thigh, placing your palms on the floor or on blocks. Straighten your back, firm your left thigh and straighten your left leg, creating one long line from your head to your heel as you stretch your left heel toward the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths. On an inhale, press down into the floor and lift the hips step your right foot back beside the left in a Forward Fold. Repeat on the other side.
From Tabletop, place your hands a few inches ahead of your shoulders and shoulder-width apart. Press down with your fingertips, and spin your biceps and elbows forward. Inhale, and tuck your toes under. On an exhale, engage your abs to lift your knees off the mat and your hips up high. Lengthen your back and press your chest toward your thighs. Keep your feet hip-width apart and parallel or with the heels slightly turned outward. Let your head hang freely so there is no tension in the neck; bring your gaze toward your feet. llow your shoulder blades to open out toward your outer armpits. Balance your weight evenly between your hands and feet. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly as you send your sitting bones straight up.
From Tadasana, exhale and squat with your feet as close together as possible. (Keep your heels on the floor or support them on a folded mat.) Inhale, separate your thighs slightly wider than your torso. Exhaling, lean your torso forward and press your elbows against your inner knees, bringing your palms together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Press the knees into the elbows and lengthen your front torso. Breathing, hold the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then inhale, straighten the knees into Uttanasana
With your buttocks on a folded blanket, come to Dandasana. Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, then slide your left foot under your right leg and lay the left leg on the floor outside of your right hip. Step the right foot over the left leg and place it outside your left hip with the knee pointing up at the ceiling. On an exhale, twist toward the right thigh. Support yourself with your right hand just behind your right buttock, and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Pull your torso and inner right thigh together. Continue the twist of the torso by turning it to the right; or counter the twist of the torso by turning it left and looking over the left shoulder at the right foot. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.
Expert lesson: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
Lie fully extended on your back. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, bringing your knees as close to your chest as possible. Use both hands to hold your legs at the shin or the thigh, hugging your knees to your chest. You may want to rock gently back and forth. Remain in the pose for several breaths. When you are ready, release the legs and extend them out to a fully reclined position.
Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist)
Lie fully extended on your back and extend your arms along the floor at shoulder level. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, bringing your knees directly over your hips so that your legs create a right angle. Exhale and let your knees fall to your right. Keep your shoulders on the mat, as your left hip will lift as your spine twists to the right. Hold for 10-12 breaths. For more of a glutel stretch, straighten your left leg and extend it out to the right. Then bring your legs back to center and switch sides.
For a variation on this pose, watch Shakti Shilpa of The Yoga Space.
Lie on your back. With an exhale, bend your knees into your belly. Inhale, grip the outsides of your feet with your hands. (You have the option of looping a belt or scarf over each sole if it’s uncomfortable for you to reach your feet.) Open your knees slightly wider than your torso, then bring them up toward your armpits. Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Flex your feet. You may want to rock gently back and forth. When you are ready, return to your fully extended position.
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