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Sitting all day can cause 'dead butt syndrome'. These exercises can help

With cold weather and the pandemic leaving many of us spending even more time sitting, it’s important to activate your glutes right now.
Donkey kicks are a good exercise to include in a warmup to activate the glutes before a workout.TODAY illustration / Courtesy Stephanie Mansour

We all know that sitting for extended periods of time can negatively affect our health — but its role in weakening the muscles in your behind is a lesser known concern.

"Dead butt syndrome", also called lower cross syndrome, gluteal amnesia or gluteus medius tendinosis, occurs when the gluteus medius (one of the three main muscles in the buttock) weakens due to sitting all day.

You may have even felt this happening: After a few hours in a seated position, you stand up and feel a pain or numbness in your backside. It can even advance further causing hip and back pain.

Our glutes help with hip extension, standing upright and other everyday activities like walking or climbing the stairs. More specifically, the gluteus medius is responsible for stabilizing the hip joint and aiding in pelvic rotation. This means that dead butt syndrome can cause a decrease in range of motion as well as weakness in that area. It can also cause you to rely on other muscles when exercising, which means you aren’t getting the full benefit of exercises like squats.

The good news is that you can combat this. Getting up and walking consistently throughout the day is an important place to start. Beyond that, performing movements that activate the muscles in your buttocks is similar to stretching in that it reduces injury and stiffness.

These exercises are great to perform before a workout — they will wake up the muscles in your glutes to ensure you are tapping into them when exercising — or as a mini workout on their own.

Glute bridge

The glute bridge will help you activate and strengthen your glutes before working out. Lie on the floor with your back on the ground and your arms at your sides. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground. Squeezing your glutes, lift your back and butt off the floor and into the air. Make sure you’re fully engaging your glutes and not relying on any other muscles, like your legs, to lift your body.

Crab walk

For this exercise, you may want to use a resistance band. Begin standing in a half squat position, feet hips-width apart, with the band around your ankles. Take a step towards your right, so that your feet are now wider than your hips. Follow with your left foot. Now walk back to the left, squeezing your glutes with each step. If you don’t have a resistance band, that’s OK. Just be sure to keep your awareness on you glutes and ensure you're squeezing them with each step.

Squat with side leg lift

This exercise fires up your glutes and specifically targets the gluteus medius. It also works your balance in the standing leg as you do the side leg lift. Start standing with your feet as wide as your hips. Bend your knees and perform a squat, reaching your glutes back as if you’re sitting in a chair. As you stand, press down through the left foot as you lift the right leg out to the right as high as the hip. Feel the outside of the right hip tighten as you lift. Then lower down into a standing position, squat down and repeat on the left side. Repeat 20 squats total, 10 leg lifts on each side.


The clam targets the gluteus medius specifically, and will also help with hip stabilization and range of motion. Lie down on your left side with your left forearm resting on the floor. Bend both of your knees in front of you. With your feet glued together, keep the bottom leg on the floor while lifting the top into the air, opening your hips. This should activate your right glute. After ten repetitions, lie on your right side and repeat the same process. Make sure you are not involving other muscles that may make this process easier. Consider adding a resistance band around your thighs for extra glute activation!

Fire hydrant

This exercise also directly targets the gluteus medius. Start on all fours with your knees beneath your hips and hands beneath your shoulders. Keeping your knee bent at 90 degrees, lift your right leg out towards the right side of your body (like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, which gave this exercise its name!). Repeat this motion ten times, making sure to squeeze the glute at the top of the motion before lowering the leg back to start. Switch to the other leg.

Donkey kick

Begin on all fours like you would for the fire hydrant. Keeping your knee bent and foot flexed, lift your right leg until your thigh is parallel with the floor and you are “stamping” the ceiling with the right foot. Lower your leg back down and back up towards the ceiling in a continuous motion. Repeat ten times, then switch legs and repeat. When performing this exercise, it’s important to make sure you’re not relying on your quads for help, as it’ll hinder glute activation. So really focus on squeezing your glute as you raise the heel towards the ceiling.