Recruit those glutes!
Whatever your running goal - staying strong, mobile and injury free is the key to consistent training and reaching your running potential. You may already know that strengthening your glutes will improve your running performance. But we’re going to breakdown the what, the why and the how of glute strength for runners.
What are Glutes?
Glutes is a catch-all term for a series of muscles in the butt, the gluteals. They're essential for running fast and remaining injury-free. There are three gluteal muscles: gluteus maximus and two smaller muscles, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The two smaller muscles are abductors, which essentially means they move the leg away from the body. The gluteus maximus’s function is hip extension, which helps with your leg swing when walking and running.
Why are they important?
Good hip extension gives you greater power and speed because it channels the energy from your leg swing into forward motion. Plus having strong glutes will give you greater pelvic stability, which in turn reduces any inefficient side to side movement and gives you a solid base to direct energy forward.
The problem for many of us is we spend too much of the day sitting down, so our glutes don’t get much use. When a muscle isn’t used, it weakens and it becomes harder to activate.
The great thing about the body is its ability to compensate. When we get an injury it automatically changes our movement patterns to avoid aggravating the injury further, i.e. limping. The same happens when we have weak muscles - for example if your glutes are weak, your hamstrings will work harder to compensate.
However, by overusing another muscle group to compensate for a weaker one, we end up overusing the compensating group, which causes muscles tightness and muscles imbalances, which can lead to injury.
How to improve glute strength
> Isolation exercises
The first step is to find and activate your glute muscles. Floor based, non weight bearing exercises are best for this as you can teach yourself how to engage those specific muscles.
Being able to feel how to engage the glute muscles is a prerequisite for you being able to use your glutes while doing functional strength exercises and also when you’re running!
There are some fantastic exercises in our strength and conditioning (S&C) videos such as the Clam and Glute bridge (S&C videos 1-5), which you can use to practice switching on those muscles. And because the exercises are simple and non-weight bearing, they prevent you from compensating with other muscles.
> Functional training
Once you’re able to actively engage your glutes, you can move on to functional movement which teaches the body how to recruit the glutes as part of your kinetic chain. Found in all our S&C videos are single leg functional movements such as Hamstring pistons and Single leg squats which will help to improve your balance and stability. You’re only on one leg at one time when you’re running, so it’s really important you have the strength and stability to be able to move on one leg. Try hopping backwards and forward 10 times on each leg - if you find it hard you would really benefit from adding S&C into your plan! Mbition S&C sessions give you a balance of isolated & functional strength exercises but it’s not all about building strength. Having good mobility is also key to improving your running performance. The gluteus maximus aids hip extension but if we have poor range of motion around the hips, i.e. tight hip flexors from sitting down for too long, this will inhibit the glutes from doing their job. There are a whole host of mobility exercises in our S&C plan such as Leg swings and Heel taps to help improve your mobility.
Top tip: before you go out for your next run, integrate some mobility and activation exercises into your warm up to unleash the power of your glutes!