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Friday, February 6, 2015

Those Pesky Glutes

Tiger is going to be the "butt" of a lot of jokes going forward, all because he blamed his back problems Thursday on not being able to get his glutes to "stay activated." But I won't be joining in the laughs.

See, although I don't have Tiger's back problems, I think I understand what happened... and I bet it was really painful. So let me give you a quick lesson on "deactivated glutes."

First of all, in case you somehow missed it, your glutes are your butt muscles. And I do mean muscles plural -- they're actually a group of muscles on each hip. When Sir Mix-a-Lot sings Baby Got Back he's singing about glutes... and all the fat around them. You can see them below in this image I found at

the glute muscles

The main purpose of these muscles is very simple: They help you straighten up when you bend over. Let me give you an example that I'm familiar with because it happens to me sometimes.

I have a favorite chair that I like to use when I'm writing on my laptop. When the laptop is in my lap and I'm sitting normally  -- that is, my back is resting properly against the chair back -- I have no problems. But sometimes when I really get into a project, maybe when I'm searching for something online, I bend over the computer. If I lose track of time and do it for too long, I get "stuck" when I stand up -- that is, I get about halfway up and suddenly feel some stiffness in my lower back, right at the base of my spine. It doesn't hurt per se, but it takes a few seconds before I can finish straightening up.

In a very real sense, my glutes won't "activate" because they haven't been moving for a while.

If I try to straighten up too soon, before my glutes are ready, it WILL hurt because I don't have the full range of motion in my glutes and my lower back will have to do the work. That's where the problem is, because back muscles aren't supposed to work at that angle. That's why you're always told to bend your knees when you lift things off the floor.

Now imagine what that feels like when you've had a back operation less than a year ago, and you can understand what must have happened to Tiger. During a golf swing you don't have the option to stop moving for a few seconds while your glutes adjust to the demand. His lower back is forced to finish the movement.

This probably means he still has some weakness in his pelvic muscles. We tend to get spoiled when we hear about the occasional athlete who returns from surgery much earlier than anyone expected. The fact is that most athletes can require 18-24 months before their muscles and all those little connecting tissues between them and the joints are back to full strength... and you can't make them heal faster just because you tell them you're Tiger Woods.

So I'm guessing that this is just another muscle spasm, not a new injury to his back. But that makes me wonder if he'll be able to compete before later in the year. What Tiger probably needs is more time to heal.

The real question is whether he'll be patient enough to take that time. If he doesn't, there will be a price, just like there was during all those "heroic" performances where he played through pain -- like the leg fracture at the 2008 US Open. Fans applauded those efforts... but they aren't looking all that smart anymore, are they?

He's still young enough to have another good run at Jack if he takes the time to heal now. I just hope he's realized that.

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