Tight glutes: in theory, we want them. We spend hours squatting and lunging to get a taut, lifted booty. But a rear that actually feels tight is, well…a pain in the butt. A sore buttocks makes it tough to sit, stand, and walk. It leaves you hobbling like a cowboy, searching for the best glute stretches to ease discomfort so you can go down stairs like a normal person, not a rodeo star.
Why are my glutes tight?
When it comes to buttock pain, intense lower body exercise can cause soreness in the gluteus maximus muscle. But daily activities tend to cause soreness in a different (and probably lesser-known) butt muscle, explains Openfit specialist Cody Braun. “The issue is often in the piriformis muscle (located deep underneath the glute muscles), which helps to externally rotate the femur and aids in abduction when the hip is flexed (drawing the leg away from the body’s midline),” he says. When this muscle becomes tight – whether from sitting too much or from a challenging leg workout – piriformis stretches can help restore the muscle to its full, functional length, help relieve butt pain, and restore hip mobility.
Mobility vs. flexibility
While often used interchangeably, “flexibility” and “mobility” are a different concepts. So if you think you want flexible glutes, you might actually need mobile hips – and vice versa. “Mobility refers to the degree and quality in which you actively move your joints through their full ranges of motion,” Braun explains. For example, someone with full ankle and hip mobility can easily move in and out of a full squat position, while a person with poor mobility may struggle or make compensations in other areas of the body.
“Flexibility is usually expressed by the ability to completely lengthen your muscle,” Braun says. When a gymnast drops into the splits? That’s flexibility. And you can bet that she’s spent hours of her life holding static stretches. Both concepts are important when it comes to stretching your glutes, which is why the following glute stretches can help you achieve better hip mobility and flexibility.
8 Glute Stretches to Relieve Buttock Pain
Don’t let a sore buttocks get you down: here’s how to stretch your glutes (and relieve piriformis soreness), so you can walk, run, and move about your day with ease.
1. Seated Leg Cradle
This seated glute stretch will help alleviate sore glutes, no matter how tight they are from the previous day’s training. There are a few variations of this stretch, depending on how much flexibility and mobility you have in your glutes and hips.
- Start in a seated position with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Draw your right knee toward your chest and cradle the lower leg by placing the right knee in the crook of the right elbow and the sole of the right foot in the crook of the left elbow.
- Flex your right foot and keep your spine straight and your chest lifted as you gently rock your leg from left to right. You should feel this in your right hip and glute area.
- Hold for 30 seconds before releasing your leg and repeating the stretch on the opposite side.
- You can modify the intensity of the stretch by holding your knee and foot with your hands or scooping both elbows under your calf muscle and drawing your leg toward your chest.
2. Cradle Knee Hug, Prayer Hands
In addition to providing a deep stretch for the glutes, piriformis, and hips, this two-part standing glute stretch will challenge your balance and build strength in the standing leg.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your right knee so you can hold the lower part of your right leg: hold your right knee with your right hand and the outer part of your right foot with your left hand. Keep your back tall.
- Hold the balance for two to three breaths.
- Next, place your right ankle just above your left knee as you slowly bend your left leg, hinging at your hips as you lower your butt. Press the palms of your hands together in a prayer position. Press your right knee down toward the ground to intensify the stretch.
- Hold this position, then return to a standing position and switching legs.
One of the best glute and piriformis stretches for runners, yogis, and desk jockeys alike, pigeon help to open your hips in a calm, restful position. This is most comfortable to do on a cushiony surface, like a yoga mat.
- Begin in a downward-facing dog position. Lower your hips as you draw your right knee toward your chest and, with your knee bent, place your thigh and shin in front of you on the mat. Depending on your level of flexibility, you can keep your right foot close to your left hip or bring your shin forward so that it’s parallel to the front edge of your mat.
- Make sure both hips are facing forward and your back leg is engaged (you can keep it straight or bend your knee, creating a 90-degree angle).
- Leading with your chest, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hip area. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Return to downward-facing dog and repeat the stretch with your left leg.
4. Figure 4 stretch thread the needle
If tight hips are really limiting your mobility, this move may be a more accessible option than other glute stretches. Place your hands under the hamstring for a lighter stretch until your can work your way up to the more challenging option of placing the hands on your knee.
- Lie on your back with the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left knee, keeping your right foot flexed.
- Draw your left knee toward your chest and, reaching your right hand through your legs, interlace your fingers just below your left knee (under your left hamstring for a less intense stretch).
- Use your arms to pull your knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your right hip and glute area, and hold.
- Release the stretch and repeat on the left side.
5. Seated figure 4 stretch
A simple but effective seated glute stretch, the seated figure 4 targets the glutes and piriformis. It’s easy to make this stretch more or less intense, depending on how close you bring your chest to your legs.
- Sit with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Lean back slightly and place your hands on the floor behind your hips to provide support and balance.
- Lift your right leg and place your right ankle just above your left knee.
- Press your hands into the floor to bring your chest toward your knees until you feel a stretch in your right hip and glutes, and hold.
- Release the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.
6. Seated figure 4 fold
Done properly, this classic seated glute stretch will also relax tense hamstrings. For the best results, be sure to hinge at your hips and avoid rounding the back.
- Start in a seated, straight-leg position. Bend your right leg and cross your right ankle over the left thigh, creating a figure four position with your legs.
- Keep your glutes firmly planted on the ground as you hinge at the hips and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your left hamstring and glutes. Be sure to lead with your chest and keep your back flat.
- Hold, and then sit up and switch legs to repeat on the opposite side.
A favorite glute stretch for yoga devotees, this seated glute stretch can help ease lower back pain while it opens the hips.
- Starting in a seated position, bend your left leg so that your left foot comes to the right side of your hips and that your knee is facing forward.
- Cross your right leg over the left so that your knees are stacked on top of each other with your right foot coming to the left side of your hips. Sit up straight and make sure both glutes are firmly planted on the floor.
- With a flat back, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your glutes, and hold.
- Sit up and repeat, switching the position of your legs.
8. Reclining Cow Face Pose (Supta Gomukhasana)
This yoga pose might look advanced, but it’s fairly easy to get into, and it does wonders for easing tension on both glute muscles at the same time.
- Lie on your back and draw your knees toward your chest.
- Cross your right knee over your left and grab hold of your heels: your right hand should be holding your left heel, and your left hand should be holding your right heel.
- Pull your heels toward you until you feel a stretch in your hip and glute area, and hold.
- Release and repeat the stretch with the opposite leg crossed on top.
Glute Anatomy 101
You’ve probably heard the name “gluteus maximus” before (how else are you supposed to tactfully reference the butt?), but chances are the medius and minimus parts of your buttocks aren’t as familiar. And as for the troublesome piriformis muscle? That might as well have sounded like a magical spell up until now. Here’s a breakdown of the gluteal muscle anatomy, so you know exactly what makes your rear end so bootylicious.
When we talk booty, we’re usually referring to the gluteus maximus – it’s the a huge powerhouse and an attention-getter. It’s not only your most sizable gluteal muscle, but it’s also one of the biggest muscle in the human body. And, because it’s located close to the body’s surface, it’s responsible for the butt’s rounded shape and prominent appearance.
The gluteus maximus originates from the hip bone, and tailbone, and connects to the femur (thigh bone) and iliotibial (IT) band. It’s main job is extension, but it also aids in lateral rotation: walking, sprinting, climbing stairs, ice skating – that’s all the gluteus maximus.
Located on the upper, outer section of your rear, the gluteus medius is tasked with abducting (lifting to the side) and rotating the leg. It also works to stabilize your pelvis while you walk or run; any dysfunction or weakness in the gluteus medius can lead to issues with your gait (how you walk and run) and problematic movement compensations.
Shaped like a fan, the gluteus medius originates at the hip bone and connects to the upper portion of the femur.
Like the gluteus medius, the gluteus minimus plays a role in stabilizing the pelvis and rotating the leg. It’s smallest of the three glute muscles, originating from the hip bone and connecting to the top of the femur.
The piriformis is considered a “deep” gluteal muscle. Located under the gluteus minimus and within close proximity of the sciatic nerve, the band-like piriformis originates at the sacrum and connects to the top of the femur. It also aids in lower limb abduction when the hip is flexed and lateral rotation.
Why Should You Stretch Your Glutes?
Between sitting at a desk all day, sitting in your car during rush hour traffic, and sitting on your couch during a binge of Stranger Things, what is a butt to do with the massive amounts of inactivity throughout the day? One way to counteract it is by exercising (try these butt exercises, for example). You should also incorporate butt stretches into any workout that uses the lower limbs, as they can help prevent injury, reduce soreness, and prepare the glute muscles for activity.
When Should You Do Glute Stretches?
Other than the obvious, “whenever your butt hurts,” there are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to stretching your glutes. This mainly is because that there are two kinds of stretches: dynamic (moving) and static (not moving). Both are important – it just comes down to the timing.
Dynamic stretches are best to do before a workout, as they get the muscles ready for work by contracting and stretching in order to activate the nervous system, increase blood flow, and warm up the body. They involve movement and they cycle the joints through their full range of motion. Arm circles, leg swings, and walking lunges are examples of common dynamic stretches.
On the other hand, static stretches tell your body that it’s time to relax and recover. They involve bringing a muscle to its point of tension, holding for 30 seconds, and releasing (think: bending over to grab hold of your toes). “After exercise, you want to stretch the muscle to help the recovery process,” Braun says, as it helps to relax the muscle. Static stretching is particularly important when it comes to that troublesome piriformis muscle. “Piriformis stretches should be used to restore the full functional length, which, in return, will help with hip mobility,” Braun says.