Monday, May 22, 2017

Work That Booty! - Why Glute Activation is Important for Babies as well as Adults

As I begin to get more interested and read more about Neuro-Developmental Treatment for my little ones, a pattern I've noticed in Lois Bly's books(1) is that she emphasizes facilitation of the gluteus maximus (GM). I know that as an adult, we work on our glutes for injury prevention and to get a nice looking tush...but why are the glutes so important for our babies? This post will talk about the anatomy of the GM, describe the role the GM plays in for motor skill acquisition, and ways to promote GM facilitation during daily activities.

The GM is the biggest muscle of the posterior hip region, which allows it to perform powerful and big movements. The GM is attached proximally to the pelvis and tailbone (specifically the ilium, sacrum, and coccyx), is attached distally to the IT band and the femur (thigh bone), making it one of the major hip extensors of the human body. Hip extension is the backward motion of your thigh. As adults, we extend our hip when we roll over in bed, stand up from a chair, get out of a car, walk, run, jump and use stairs. If you're a gym goer, exercises to work the GM include squats, bridges, step ups, and kettlebell swings.

As our little ones learn to move and access their environment, they use hip extension for almost every movement. When they are laying their tummies, they learn to use their spinal and hip extensors to allow them to lift their head and neck to interact with their environment in front of them. When they become stronger with this movement, they can begin to roll, which requires a significant amount of extension to move against gravity. When they get the strength to get onto their hands and knees, they will use hip extension to begin to crawl, reach for support surfaces, and ultimately pull up into the standing position. When they are learning to stand independently, they will use their GM to maintain hip extension and an upright position in standing. When they begin to walk, hip extension will be important to allow them to propel themselves forward. When they fall to the ground, they will transfer from the floor into standing, and they will use their GM to extend themselves upright. As you can see, correct activation of the GM is crucial for the baby's development!

How can we promote GM activation in our little ones? Here is a list of common functional exercises I use to work out their little tushies!

1. Squatting to pick up toys while holding onto a support surface. If they still require support in standing, you can still work their GM while working on balance! With one hand on the support surface, play a toy at their feet and motivate them to reach for that toy. Their tiny bodies will not be able to reach for it without bending their knees, and although they will be able to use their upper body to assist, they will at least get some work in those hip extensors to help them return to standing. One of my favorite toys to promote squatting is the Get Rollin' Activity Table. Kids love to put the ball inside the hole in the middle and search for which leg of the table it ended up in, which ends up in them squatting to grab the ball!

2. Crawling/walking/ climbing up an incline. Think about the last time you walked up a steep hill or went on a hike - how badly were your glutes burning?! I tell almost all my parents to get their kids crawling or walking, depending on their motor ability, on any hill or incline you can find. Inclines target the hip extensors more than on a level surface because you need the power of the GM to propel you up and forward against gravity. Use a toy or parent/family member to motivate them to take on the challenge. From a small hill in the playground, to an incline ramp on the playground, the only way to up! :)

3. Rotation in independent standing. Once kiddos are able to figure out how to stand on their own, the next added challenge is for them to turn their head and torso over their pelvis while remaining standing. Babies tend to live in the sagittal plane, that is, anything going in the forward/backward direction. Challenge their dynamic standing balance by having them move and work to the left and right and having them rotate their body over their legs, and they will automatically recruit their GM to allow them to maintain their upright standing position. This is where bubbles are my best friend! Blow bubbles in all directions around the kiddo and watch them figure out how to remain standing while trying to watch all these bubbles go in all directions - just make sure the ground around them is squishy and safe in case they lose their balance!

(1) My two personal favorites from Lois Bly: Motor Skills Acquisition in the First Year and Baby Treatment Based on NDT Principles.

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