There is so much talk about the glutes muscles and their importance regarding performance and injury prevention within running gait.
We have all heard coaches say “we need to have those glutes firing “or “ we need to be stronger through those glutes” but what exactly does that mean?
You won’t fire something you can’t feel.
Most people spend a lot of time sitting on their glutes, therefore the muscles become weak and inhibited. If you ask someone to stand up and contract their glutes, the request will be followed by a blank expression and a soft rear end. There is no mind/body connection. There is a disconnection of epic proportions but we expect that person can recruit the glutes when running?
So let’s looks a bit deeper at the glutes.
I’m using the word glutes as a catchall term for the gluteal complex. There are 3 muscles within that complex. They are all important and they all have different roles depending on their origin and insertion points therefore as we are running they all have slightly different roles.
So let’s start with glute maximus. So this big muscled starts around the back of your pelvis and work down to blend in with IT band and also attaches at the top of the back of the femur. This set it up to be a strong extensor of the hip, external rotator and abductor. Now I want you to think in real terms here, if glute max is responsible for external rotation, it’s actually responsible for controlling internal rotation. That makes sense?
A great exercise to strength glutes is a bodyweight squats with a mini band around the knee. When performing the squat, try and rip the band by driving the knees out over your small toes. This creates abduction and external rotation making this a very useful exercises.
High box step ups are a great movement to complement the mini band squat variation as it works hip extension.
Now think of the glute complex in a layered fashion, inside the glute maximus you will find glute medias. Glute med is more responsible for controlling the level of the pelvis on that standing leg. Glute med is far more active on the weight bearing leg in running gait. One of the major functions of glute med is creating abduction but again in real terms the function can be seen as slowing down adduction. So think of this with running gait, its slowing down the drop of the pelvis on the non-weight bearing leg.
When the glute med is not up to the job we see excessive hip drop or “Trendelenburg gait”, so remember during the “stance phase” of the stride, the body is supported by only one leg. So, when your right leg is planted, it means your entire left side is “cantilevered” over to one side your left hip. If the glute med isn’t firing correctly, the pelvis and upper body will tilt downwards on the left side.
So what exercise can help prevent this issue?
A hip hitch. This movement is quite trick to “feel” so take it slow and focus on dropping down and up feeling the glute med working.
Now deeper to glute mediums is glute minimums. This muscle works in concert with glute med to abduct the hip.
One of the biggest take homes from this article is that every muscle in the glute complex has function in running gait but glute med is far more active during weight bearing therefore exercise selection should reflect this. Sometimes taking a step backwards and making a conscious effort to develop your weakest links will improve performance and decrease injury rates. I feel every runner would benefit from performing the exercises I mentioned above, this small time investment would pay dividends in return.