Its not secret that the more balanced your muscles are, the better your sport performance. Only runners tend to forget about one crucial element in training plans. Let’s put that right, shall we?
This article is focused on your muscles; more specifically, your gluteal complex (the three gluteal muscles combined) and their impact to your running performance. They’re identified as the strongest muscle group in your body and are more commonly known as hips (or the junk in the trunk). So lets get to know them.
The stronger efficiency of gluteal contraction is crucial for peak performance in any sport, obviously we’re interested in running here, so, all the important aspects of training your glutes (including a how-to guide) as well as their effects on running performance. The answer to ‘why should I bother?’
Glutes and their role in running
For simplicity, the gluteal muscle complex comprises of three muscles.
- Gluteus Maximus
- Gluteus Medius
- Gluteus Minimus
primarily responsible for extending hip
keeps the hip from ‘dropping’ when on one leg, also drives hip abduction and external rotation
Assists with hip abduction and external rotation
All three muscles work in seamless coordination and so, provide balance for efficient movements, from efficient postural stance to walking, running and lifting. Your stronger glutes aid optimal pelvic alignment through such movements, alongside preventing serious injuries too.
Glutes and running performance
Good strength in glutes is ideal for perfect posture that in turn increases your running performance as well prevents running injuries like runner’s knee, tendinitis and other common injuries.
However, are neglected by most runners (often due to lack of knowledge). Weak glutes are unable to provide balanced posture for executing key running movements like hip extension. They basically take a backseat and ask the lumbar and hamstrings to do the job of hip extension instead.
Interestingly, robust hip extension leads to greater forward motion for a natural running speed gain. The strong hip extension provides powerful strides, propulsion in air, and so, a high running performance (and probably a PB too!) As a bonus, they also stabilize your pelvis in every step during running, keeping your legs and torso aligned (no Bambi-on-ice here).
The Two Prime reasons for glute weakness
There are mainly two prime reasons for poor glutes strength:
- Poor lifestyle habits
- Training mistakes
Poor Lifestyle habits
In your daily routine, (when you’re not running or training) most people often sit and work for long hours preventing any glute firing or activity. This prolonged inactivity or lesser activity of glutes make them weak.
Any training program worth its salt, should be designed after biomechanical testing of you, the athlete, and should focus on all key strength and flexibility areas for efficient running. But we know that isn’t always the case.
Sometimes, training programs ignore glute muscles and indulge solely on running drills and instead choose to focus on the ‘running muscles’ of the body like quadriceps and hamstrings.
More often than not, you will run (quite literally) into a phenomenon called muscle imbalance. And is the most common mistake responsible for under development of glutes. That ignorant training plan almost forces your glutes to take the day off, asking the lumbar muscles and hamstrings to cover its’ job; becoming increasingly more prone to injury.
This is also why a balanced approached to training, rest and recovery also need to feature in your training plans (again, any decent training schedule will enforce this).
Muscles always work in groups and each training module should strengthen all group muscles equally for execution of safe, effective, fluid movement. For instance, a lack of stretching in recovery post-run almost always results in short hip flexors muscle (you’ll often complain they feel “tight”)
So, these shortened hip flexors pull the hip down into an anterior pelvic tilt position. This anterior pelvic tilt creates a biomechanically disadvantageous position for glutes. They are weakened due to their forced lengthening from their partners; the hip flexors. and thus so become inactivated.
From this, not only will your posture be exaggerated, but shortly, hamstring strains, and low back pain will start aggravating you
Simple test for glutes strength
If you don’t have access to sports biomechanics laboratory and you want to know about your glutes strength. The simplest way is to just stand in front of the mirror with your hands either over your head (and palms should be joined) OR hands on your hips (to see the result easier).
Now lift your left foot off the ground and try to balance yourself on one leg in this posture. Now, look into the mirror and focus on left side hip and watch for left hip drop (a dip on left side). If you see this hip drop (Trendelenburg sign), then you have glutes weakness. So, keep reading and start working on glutes strengthening programs!!
Ways to strengthen your glutes for running
It is quite clear now that stronger the glutes, the better the running performances.
Take a look at your training plan does it include:
- Strength training days(either weighted or bodyweight suffices)
- A mixture of running styles(long and slow, intervals, hills, splits etc)
When thinking about a training plan, go for the one which includes drills that involve good use of your glutes as well as resistance training specifically targeting glute strength. What do I mean?
Your training module should have proper isolated training workouts alongside running the mile, such as a glute bridge. But also incorporating hill runs to utilize the power packed in your gluteal muscles.
A 20 minute bodyweight workout is a great start towards gaining strength and you will notice a difference. (and don’t worry if you don’t have access to weights or machines; your body weight workouts are enough for gaining strength. You can always progress with bands, kettle bells and time).
Important body weight workouts for balanced strength gain, in runners
- Glute bridges: Double leg and single leg will really get those glutes firing
- Single Dead lifts: This workout targets glutes, hamstrings, develop balance as well as spatial awareness.
- Lunges: These workout target almost all the important muscles of the lower body and is an excellent body-weight workout to gain lower body strength.
- Plyometrics: These include a matrix of hopping and is good for lower body explosive strength.
- Squats: another all rounder for muscle recruitment, even add some resistance to specifically target muscle groups, strength or flexibility. An extremely versatile exercise.
- Extension and rotation: Remember the glute actions? So mimmick them. You can simply extend the hip back, and turn your toes out.
So, did you know there was so much to learn about the glutes? What did you learn that surprised you? We’d love to know.