The all important glute muscles. Those poor muscles that are often ignored, underworked, and sometimes eventually cause running injuries, pain, or discomfort. Fortunately, glute strengthening for runners can remedy these issues, keeping your running and fitness on track.
Here’s why glutes are so important, as a refresher: glutes help maintain a steady and level pelvis, they extend our hips, and propel us forward. Plus, they keep our legs, pelvis and torso aligned – a pretty big job, indeed.
Three Strikes, and You’re…
Understandably, if your glutes are weak, it impacts the entire kinetic chain. Thus increasing odds of injury, with injuries such as shin splints, IT band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis and runner’s knee: Strike one.
Strike two: given that many of us sit a lot during work hours, our hip flexors become tight (shorter), and our glutes atrophy, and become weaker. This further impacts the imbalance between the anterior/posterior muscles, making it more difficult for glutes to fire. Plus, this imbalance can impact your posture with what’s called “anterior pelvic tilt,” or an excessive arch in your lower back (AKA back pain).
Strike three: it’s difficult to isolate these muscles with most strength-training routines. If multiple muscles are involved to do a movement, most of the work will be done by the stronger muscles. PLUS, during our normal, non-running routine activities, the glutes simply aren’t as active as other muscles such as the calves, hamstrings and quads.
But There’s a Solution.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to remedy this situation, and get your glutes strong and firing properly! Keep in mind that there’s three muscles within this group:
- Gluteus maximus: extends, abducts and laterally rotates the hip
- Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus: abducts and stabilizes the hip (plus some internal/external hip rotation)
Note, some studies indicate that weak abductor muscles are often the culprit, thus making your hips less stable, and negatively impact your biomechanics.
To remedy, it’s a combination of strengthening, plus a hip flexor stretch to address the muscles correctly. Optimally, doing these exercises twice a week is best, with at least two sets of 12-15 reps.
You can add a band, a weight, medicine ball to some of these exercises for more resistance. Be sure you’re able to do them with correct form before adding weight. Lastly, engage your abdominal muscles and maintain neutral hips for all exercises.
Related topic: Strength Training for Runners, How it’s Different
Glute Strengthening Exercises
A simple, subtle move that can be done on the bottom step of a set of stairs at home. Best to have something to hold onto for balance. Keep stance leg straight with no knee bend, and raise opposite hip upward, and then use hip/core to lower leg/foot below the step. Return to starting position. Slow and with control.
Sidelying Leg Lifts
This may be the KEY glute strengthening exercise. If you’re short on time, do this one!
Lie on one side with legs straight and extended. Prop up on forearm and rest opposite hand on floor in front of you. Lift top leg up while keeping hips level and without rotating backwards. Lower slowly. Repeat on other side.
Option: you can also do with foot turned out, or turned in to work muscles differently.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
Lie on mat with your knees bent, and feet on floor. Raise one leg straight while keeping both knees in line, engage your abdominal muscles. With stance leg, press into heel and lift up your hips toward ceiling. Lower back down. Complete reps and then repeat on other leg.
Option: Use a resistance band above knees for a greater challenge.
Lie on mat in sidelying position with hips bent to ~45˚and knees bent at 90˚. Lift top leg with keeping hips level and in line. Lower slowly and return to start. Compete reps, then repeat on other leg.
For a change up, start in same position, but with top foot elevated, and knees together. Raise top leg and return to start.
Option: Add a resistance band for increased challenge.
Single Leg Dead Lift (Romanian)
Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Shift weight to your stance leg (mini knee bend), then with shoulders back and a straight back, hinge forward at the hips and reach your hands toward the ground as the other leg swings back behind you. Return back to starting position and repeat. Add weights or a medicine ball for an added challenge as you get stronger.
Single Leg Squat
This is a tough one! Consider it a balance exercise, too.
Stand on one leg and lift opposite leg out in front of you. Stand tall, and extend arms straight. Keep stance leg knee over ankle as you move your hips back and lower into a squat. Extend hands out for balance if needed. Push up into heel to return to start position. Complete, then repeat on other leg.
It’s okay to begin with shallow squats (like me!), then go deeper as it becomes easier.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Stretch your hip flexors before your glute exercises to ensure your glutes are activated (plus after you run!). Start from a staggered kneeling position. Stance leg should have a 90˚ angle at hip, knee and ankle. Shift your weight forward to move your knee over ankle. Be sure to keep your hips facing forward, and engage your abdominal muscles. Hold for 30” and then repeat on opposite leg.
A total of 20 minutes a week, tops is time well spent! And, these are not the only exercises in the arsenal. What glute strengthening exercises have worked for you? I’d love to know!