There are many things that can contribute to tightness and soreness in the gluteal complex and piriformis muscle. Running, cycling, doing squats at the gym etc. The piriformis lies underneath the gluteus muscles, or buttock. When your glutes and piriformis are tight and fatigued, they can cause you to have a sore lower back and hamstrings, poor balance, and even shooting nerve pain down your leg due to sciatica. Your sciatic nerve runs close to or through (in 15% of people) your piriformis. When inflamed, the piriformis compresses this nerve causing the pain.
Stretching and strengthening these muscles will help you exercise more efficiently and avoid injury. This post will cover strengthening, stretching and recovery of tight and fatigued glutes and piriformis.
So, what are the glutes and piriformis? The “glutes” are 3 separate muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
The gluteus maximus is one of the strongest muscles in the human body and is one of the primary movers in running. It gives the runner that powerful push off the ground.
The gluteus medius is a pelvic dynamic stabilizer, which means that it holds the runner’s pelvis in a neutral place when the runner is on one foot and lifting the other foot to stride.
The gluteus minimus and piriformis primarily laterally (outwardly) rotate flexed thighs. Abduction of the flexed thigh is important in running because it shifts the body weight to the opposite side of the foot being lifted, which keeps you from falling while striding.
There are many ways to strengthen the glutes and piriformis that are easy to implement at home, even while watching television. Band walking and bridging are two examples.
Bridging (see pic above)
Begin this exercise while lying on your back with both knees bent at about a 45-degree angle and both feet flat on the floor.
Let your arms rest at your sides.
Slowly lift the hips by pushing on the floor with your feet until your knee, hip, and shoulder are a straight line.
Repeat for 12 reps.
Lateral band walks
Put a resistance band on above each ankle.
Separate feet slightly as you get into a 45-degree angle squat with your abs tucked (feel like you are trying to touch your belly button to your backbone).
Keeping your shoulders even, bring other foot in towards the lead leg to finish your step.
Repeat in the same direction for the length of the room.
Return to the other side of the room facing the same direction.
Generally speaking, the main glute and piriformis problem is a lack of stretching and recovery. Most people find stretching and recovery dull and time consuming. Nothing could be further from the truth. They will keep your body fresh and injury-free which will in fact save you time. Nothing is more time consuming and frustrating than recovering from injury. Here are some ideas for stretching out those muscles.
Self-myofascial release with a tennis ball or massage ball.
Sit down on the floor with a tennis ball under your left buttock.
Cross your legs and place your left foot on the top of your right knee.
Lean to the left, toward the outside.
Roll around until you find a tight spot. You will know it is the tight spot because it will hurt a bit.
Sit on the tight spot for 20-30 seconds. It will hurt a bit but hang in there.
Keep on rolling around, finding tight spots, and blast them with the massage ball.
Doin’ the Pigeon
Sit down on a yoga mat or towel.
Bring one knee forward up to the edge of the towel/mat
Stretch the other leg back behind you.
Align the foot of the bent leg with your knee (they should be perpendicular to the leg stretched behind you)
Lean forward if you can.
This is one of the easiest things to do. If anyone gives you a hard time about it, tell them it is important for the endurance training you are doing.
Sit on a bag of frozen vegetables
Buy a bag of peas, carrots, or corn at the grocery store.
Sit on them for 10 to 20 minutes then relax on the sofa.
Now you have a few tricks up your sleeve that will help you keep your glutes and piriformis strong and relaxed.