Solving the Mystery “Behind” Constantly Tight Calves and Low Back Muscles
The butt. It’s a beautiful thing….at least in my line of work when trying to boost performance or get someone out of pain.
I love it because of the WOW! that the client’s eyes display when you take a poor-performing rear end and show the body how to use it again. It’s like injecting a boost of power, control, and security into their life.
And I’d wager that most butts need a kick in the butt to get going. It’s such a problem, in fact, that I typically use it as the first example to show clients why they’re struggling. It’s almost epidemic.
Okay, so what does that have to do with constantly tight calves and low back muscles? Before I can answer that, I need to give you a little back story…
The puppet show…
Have you ever heard the term “glute amnesia”? It’s an easy way to describe the butt when the butt isn’t pulling it’s weight — whether that be every-day activity or high level sports.
Glute amnesia playfully refers to the gluteus maximus muscle — aka, the butt — that tests weak. It’s not a real thing though. Just an expression.
And the gluteus maximus is rarely “weak”. Think of it instead as being “looked over” in favor of other muscles to get the job done.
So why does the gluteus maximus get overlooked….?
To explain, you first must understand something very important about muscles…
Muscles are nothing more than puppets. They require a “puppet master” to be of any real use to you. You’ll have to ditch the “common knowledge” that muscles have a mind of their own. Whoever coined the term “muscle memory” has created a problem with how people (you maybe?) view muscles.
Muscles don’t make decisions, they don’t have brains. They require your nervous system to act as the puppet master.
Yes, a muscle can twitch because of reflex activity…but that’s not the same as movement. Your muscles move you only because they are being directed to do so by your nervous system.
Your nervous system is the driver behind getting you from one place to another.
Therefore, when your buttocks test weak it’s not really a muscle strength issue…it’s more accurate to say it’s a muscular control issue (aka, how your nervous system creates movement patterns).
Your nervous system creates patterns of movement involving muscles throughout the body in order for you to complete a task. It doesn’t care about which muscles get used, only that the “task” is completed.
That in itself is a beautiful thing — it’s what creates adaptability. Your body has options upon options in order to be successful to complete your brain’s desired task. While this adaptability promotes success, it can also be described by a more sinister term….compensation.
So what does that have to do with tight calves and low back muscles?
The easiest example to picture is walking…
The thin line between the beauty of adaptability and the frustration of compensation
Walking (and running to a certain degree) is one of the primary functions of your nervous system. And it’s quite simple — one leg swings, the other leg pushes. The nervous system “fires” those patterns simultaneously on opposite sides of the body. A chain of muscles is stimulated to “swing” the right leg while a different chain of muscles is stimulated for “stance and push off” on the other side.
The gluteus maximus is a primary muscle used to propel you from one foot to the other. It’s an important muscle during the “stance and push off” phase of gait.
If you’ve got a case of “glute amnesia” on one side (or both sides) then your body will have to figure out another way to drive you forward. The result is use of a movement pattern that has tweaked which muscles get used during that side’s “stance and push off” phase when you walk or run.
Done once….not a problem. In fact it’s one of the awesome feats your body is capable of —your body has adapted to a challenge it perceives in order to complete the task of “stance and push off” on that side of the body.
But done over and over, day after day for a period of time changes the beauty of adaptability into the frustration of compensation.
The buttock is important to pull your hip into extension, which brings your body’s center of mass in front of the ankle. Momentum helps your muscles finish the job of propelling you forward.
Tight calves and low back muscles
So how does the body compensate to drive you forward if the buttock muscle isn’t effectively used?
Option #1 is to use the calves. The calf muscles are used to get a “push” of the foot into the ground. This simple activity is part of the normal gait process. But when the hip has not fully extended then the calf muscle must work over-time.
When this compensation is in play, you may observe that the person “bounces” or seems to walk on their toes. But in other cases you may not see bouncing, instead observing walking with feet turned outwards.
Option #2 is to use the low back muscles as the “new butt”. If the buttocks won’t extend the hip then the body will try to create “extension” wherever it can. By activating the low back extensors, the body’s center of mass is pushed forward to mimic the same shift that extension of the hip would create.
Think about how many steps you take in a day….2,000 steps if you’re rather sedentary, or over 10,000 if you’re reasonably active. Then add on whatever sport or exercise regimen you follow. That’s a lot of “adaptations” day after day.
But your body over-uses back extensors or calf muscles with more than just walking…
It’s likely that even an activity as simple as standing is performed with a compensation that “overlooks” the glutes. Picture your body standing still — it’s an activity that requires extension of the hips, which is (of course) controlled by the buttocks. So if “butt amnesia” has overtaken your body, how do you properly align yourself to remain upright?
If you immediately thought of the low back extensors and the calf muscles then you are correct!
So if you’ve identified low back or calf tightness as a problem for you, you’ll have to be smart about how you approach the problem.
If you foam roll or get massages to “relax” the muscles then you might be looking at a real uphill battle. Giving your muscles a bit of pampering sure feels good, but you never changed WHY they got tight (i.e., the reason your nervous system created an adjustment in the motor pattern).
That means after you tip your massage therapist and head for the door, your nervous system has already gone back to its compensation which will just lead to tightness returning in a matter of minutes.
Stretching exercises? Same result.
Maybe getting the buttocks stronger with bridges or squats or deadlifts will help…right?
You already know the answer to that one!
This isn’t an issue of strength, it’s an issue of how the nervous system activates muscles as part of a larger pattern. In fact, your body may not even adequately activate the butt in the very exercise you chose based on the promises of whatever internet guru’s website you landed on.
And even if it did, your nervous system doesn’t understand how to bridge the gap between “exercise” and walking, running, squatting, etc. It needs more….
Would you like to discuss what else is needed to fix your “glute amnesia”?
Would you like to put an end to over-tight calves or low back muscles?
Give me a call, send me an email, or click the button below to get yourself scheduled for a 100% free Discovery Visit. We’ll spend 30 minutes getting your questions answered — at absolutely no cost to you.
Wouldn’t it be nice to feel confident about what you’re doing? You already put a lot of time and energy into being active and fit, don’t waste any more of that time and energy guessing how to fix it.
In your Discovery Visit, you’ll tell me about your issues and concerns, I’ll ask you additional detailed questions, and then I’ll put you through an assessment. Once I have the necessary information, I’ll be able to let you know…
What I see going on in your body…
How I would suggest correcting the problem…
How long I would expect it to take for you to meet your goals…
And answer your specific questions as best as possible.
Please understand that no treatment will be provided at the Discovery Visit. This is a session designed for you to get information.
It’s an easy first step…There’s no need to call your doctor for a prescription…No need to check with your insurance first…And no obligation to schedule treatment with me…