Hey runners, how do you use your glutes?

How do we use our glutes? What are our butts good for?  Why bother doing all these glute bridges?


Strengthening your glutes can make you faster and shave valuable seconds off your mile time.  Don’t believe me? Read on, and then, test the theory for yourself.  Let’s start with the basics.  Who are the fastest runners we know?  Sprinters.  What is one characteristic that strong sprinters are well known for? Their booties!  AKA, their glutes.


So obviously, those of us training for a marathon don’t need massive glutes.  But we still need glute strength to keep us strong and STABLE while hopping from foot to foot (also called running).  Let’s break this down.  Our bottoms are actually made up of three components:  

  1. Gluteus medius – this muscle helps bring your knee up towards your chest, called flexion, and brings your hip in closer to your midline. Even more importantly, it does an action called abduction which essentially means moving your leg directly out to the side. 
  2. Gluteus minimus – Also helps with abduction and that same rotation of your hip in toward the midline.
  3. Gluteus maximus (everyone’s favorite) – this muscle extends our leg (think the motion of pushing leg straight back) and also laterally rotates the femur in the hip joint. Meaning rotation of the toe outward but at the thigh/femur. 


They function together to generate power, help control our whole lower leg, and MOST IMPORTANTLY stabilize us. We need the stability to keep our hip from dropping too drastically when running.  Think of it like this – if you want to jump on a pogo stick, it’s possible because the stick is rigid; it absorbs impact into the ground with the springs and then pushes you back up.  But what if this pogo stick was fully collapsible? (Envision one of those pirate lenses they use in the movies to spot land from afar: ‘land ho!’)  Great for looking – not so great for bouncing.  This design would ruin the effectiveness of the pogo stick.  We need our body to act more like a pogo stick – rigid, non-collapsible, to transfer energy.


What happens if we don’t train or properly engage our glutes?


If we can’t engage our glutes, the work that should be done here has to be done by other muscles.  Smaller muscles will have a hard time keeping up with this kind of workload and you can imagine after hundreds or thousands of steps these small compensations can add up. Some common ailments associated with poor glute mechanics would be low back pain, IT band syndrome, achilles tendinopathy and even hamstring/adductor pain.


How can I test my glute strength?


Our favorite functional test is the bunkie test.  Test both posterior and lateral sides (follow along to the videos here) to see if you pass.  Your goal should be to do 30 seconds on each leg.


Link here: https://youtu.be/-EdM3ER1noI

Link here: https://youtu.be/2UQNW-u99F0


Pass?  AWESOME, keep up that great work!

Weak?  Here are some ideas of exercises to help improve your running form while strengthening your glutes.  


Hip hike to A: https://youtu.be/uk_fdlecp2k

Step up: https://youtu.be/HobAXwgsXUE

Side lying leg raise (gluteus medius): https://youtu.be/1y76KZBjvUY



– Marianna


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Marianna O'Brien