Frequent stretches are your best defense against gluteal amnesia. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Most of us sit frequently during the day. Some of us even have jobs where we have to sit nearly the entire day, pounding away at a computer, hour after hour.

According to new research, people who sit for long periods are at greater risk of early mortality. Even if you lead a physically active life, you could be putting your health at risk if you spend long periods sitting.

Why? Just like a smoker who exercises, the negative effects of the bad habit will outweigh any positive from the good habit.

Sitting is the new smoking.

While the health implications of a sedentary lifestyle are well-researched, as a physical therapist I see musculoskeletal implications daily. One of the greatest indications that we’ve been sitting too long: our butt muscles fall asleep and forget how to properly activate.

This is called gluteal amnesia.

In the clinic, I see this as one of the major contributors to injury. Most people can’t even properly activate this muscle. Sitting all day causes inhibition of these muscles, as well as the hip flexors—the muscles on the front of the hips. These can get tight and poorly affect the butt muscles.

The gluteal muscles include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the gluteal minimus.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. It’s responsible for keeping us upright when walking, standing and running. It helps generate force when we step up stairs and jump.

The gluteus medius muscle works to stabilize the pelvis when walking. It helps to control the rotation of the hip and knee. Undoubtedly, weakness in these muscles has been implicated in a myriad of injuries, including knee pain, hamstring strains, low back pain, IT band syndrome, ACL injuries and ankle sprains.

So how do you know if your butt muscles are suffering from amnesia?

Often the first sign is overuse of the hamstrings, the muscle on the back of the thigh. Cramping, tightness and premature fatigue in the back of the thigh may indicate that they are trying to work to hard to compensate for the sleeping gluts.

In the clinic I find this most often when I have a patient perform a bridge and they get a Charley-horse feeling in the back of the leg. This indicates the wrong muscle is working. In this case, the hamstring is kicking in to take over for the sleeping glutes.

One common mistake I see when people want to exercise the butt muscles—they jump right to the high-level exercises like lunges and squats. I’ve found that simple exercises are more often the key to waking these muscles.

The first necessary step: simple butt squeezes in various positions, such as lying on your back or stomach.

These muscles need to be awakened and re-activated prior to moving into all the popular exercises. While these exercises are boring—you may not feel the burn—they are foundational.

Would you start training for a marathon by running 26.2 miles? I know I wouldn’t.

There is a ton of foundational work that needs to be done first.