No butts about it – inactive or unproductive glutes can cause major issues. The gluteus maximus and minimus are responsible for the movement of the hip and thigh. Pretty major functions for a distance runner. The glute has the potential for giving us great power. If the butt is turned off, we are directly limiting the potential of our body’s capability to run far and fast. This article will tell you how to activate glutes for running.
My glute issues have been ongoing. I recently tore my right labrum, likely in part due to glute inactivation and weakness. Over a year ago, my PT, Adam (Endurance Rehab), identified that I do not fire much of my posterior chain, especially my glutes. Makes you wonder: how have I achieved personal best times (and performed decently well in competition) without my glutes? I overused other areas of my body. Hence the injury.
The positive outlook? I do believe I have unlocked potential that will be brought to light when the gluteus muscles switch back on.
How did we flip the switch back on after running our butt off?
Activation is the action of getting muscles engaged before an activity. Until recently, I assumed my body would engage whatever muscles necessary once I started running. Gone are those carefree days rolling out of bed and running out the door. If you think you’re still in that stage, sorry, but you’re probably in denial. I was!
With age and injury (and a great PT!) comes wisdom
All needs are individual. To get the best routine consult a physical therapist. I recommend going to Adam Homolka at Endurance Rehabilitation. He’s where I learned many of these exercises and stretches.
Pre-run glute activation
Clams*: Laying on one side, put your knees together. Keeping your feet together, raise and lower your knees slowly. Think of your feet as a hinge and our are opening your knees like a door.
Reverse Clams: Same as above, but you keep your knees together and lift foot up while keeping your toe and heel parallel to the floor. Think of your knee as a hinge and your are opening the door with your leg.
Donkey Kicks*: Position yourself on all fours, with arms shoulder-width apart and back flat. Lift your heel up behind you. Raise and lower as straight to the ceiling as possible.
Lunges: We do a lunge matrix. Lunge in front, then in front with a twist, to the side, three-quarter turn, and then lunge behind. Be careful with this one if you have hip labrum issues. I have only recently started to do these again because they were aggravating my hip.
Trunk extension: Using a large exercise ball, lay with belly on ball about hip level. Find a place to secure feet. With a straight back, fold forward over the ball and back up until flat/parallel to the ground. Do this very slowly and intentionally activate your glutes. I had never included the trunk extension exercise pre-run before visiting Adam, but he identified the need for my entire posterior chain to be activated.
*Myrtl is a circuit of hip exercises developed by Coach Jay Johnson. We’ve mentioned it before, and chances are you’ve seen it around in some amount. It’s very common – for good reason! I just grab a couple of them, though.
One thing to note: with most of these, it is recommended that you manually activate your glute during the movement. However, if you’re like me, it takes quite a bit of focus to actually isolate and flex that muscle group. It might be worth it just to practice doing that a bit first – activating one gluteus at a time.
Surges: Sometimes we are slogging our miles and our body isn’t firing all the necessary muscles. We can wake up and turn on the lights, so to speak, by briefly surging.
Strides: Short sprints where you gradually reach speed and back down slowly. The key is speed and quickness for only a few seconds. Zach suggests only 7-10 seconds at most.
Bounding: Pushing off hard rather than quickly.
- Drive the knee
- Lean very slightly forward from the hips
- Lift chest (helps create space and posture improves)
- Eyes and chin parallel to the ground
- Land with your foot beneath you
- Point your toe during the follow-through
- Raise the heel
- During push off try to consciously use the glute to propel yourself forward
Obviously, that’s a lot to think about while running. This is, again, where a more informed opinion will help you, especially one capable of performing a gait analysis. Just try a few to start, and work them in gradually.
The best way to prevent injury or a inactive glute is to regularly strengthen. We talk a lot about routines at A to Z Running. It is important to consider that doing less of a thing correctly is better than do a lot of something incorrectly. Let’s help ourselves get our rear in gear with these glute strengthening exercises.
Squats: You can do squats with weight or without. I am weak sauce, so I don’t use weight.
Bosu Ball: Do a runner’s lunge with or without weight on the ball.
Things I don’t do, but you could do:
Dead Lift: Considering adding this, but I need to build up to it. Also, it seems a lot of smart runners are in agreement that this one is good (Dr. Livingstone, Ryan Hall – and Tina Muir agreed, to name a couple)
Step ups: Using a chair or exercise box, step up and drive your knee straight forward raising it past your hip level. Opposite arm should raise at the same time. Ideally, you should try to work in weights like dumbells or even a barbell.
Please be sure you are doing all these activations and exercises properly to avoid injury.
Are you going to do all of this everyday? No (you’ve probably heard us say that already). I usually get my glutes fired up with some clams and lunges, then begin my run. If I can tell I am not using them, and strides and form focus aren’t helping, I will stop and do more glute activation. I am currently entering a phase where I can do more of the strengthening.
If you have some favorites I haven’t included, please share!
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