Glute Strengthening Exercises for Runners: The Importance of a Strong Butt
When I first started running, my focus was distance. I started with a 5k and built up my race distances until I completed my first marathon. That was a huge accomplishment for me to just finish 26.2 miles and all the time and miles I put into training for such a distance. However, my body took a beating through the years of endurance training so when my next goal was to complete distances faster, it was extremely difficult and frustrating.
I was able to get a 2-mile distance at my desired pace but as I increased the mileage, I strained muscles or felt joint pain in my legs and I had to take a few days off running. After some research and discussions with trainers, I realized my training routine was unbalanced and strength training was needed. Right away during my strength workouts I found that my hamstrings and calves were much weaker than my quadriceps. This explained why I could not increase my pace because my muscles were not firing and working together in the most efficient way.
Being out of balance in my strength also had caused issues with my hips, knees, and ankles. One day I mentioned to a coworker that I needed to strengthen my hamstrings so I could run faster and he told me that I should concentrate on strengthening my glutes because they support my pelvis and hamstrings. I completed a few exercises to test my glute strength and sure enough my butt was very weak.
The Forgotten Muscle Group
Let’s face it, we spend most of our day sitting on our butts. When we sit those gluteal muscles get stretched out and weak which causes other muscle groups to overcompensate and get stronger. This makes contraction of the glute muscles more difficult.
When we perform an exercise involving several muscles, the strongest muscles will do most of the work.
While running, the glutes keep the core of the body aligned with the lower body and the hips level. So, if the glute muscles are weak, the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves will have no stability and therefore need to work harder to generate a forward motion.
Gluteal Muscles Defined
There are three gluteal muscles that are considered your “butt” and that work simultaneously.
- The gluteus minimus is the smallest butt muscle directly beneath the gluteus medius. The glute min helps with hip rotation and abduction.
- The gluteus medius is the medium-sized butt muscle that sits mostly underneath the gluteus maximus. The glute med helps to stabilize the pelvis while assisting the glute min to flex, extend, and rotate the hip.
- The gluteus maximus is the largest butt muscle that gives your butt its shape. The glute max moves your hips and thighs while supporting your legs.
Why Runners Need to Strengthen Their Glutes
Most of our daily activities do not naturally involve the glute muscles so when we do a workout, we need to spend some time focusing on this muscle group to prevent injury and improve performance.
Many running injuries have been linked to weak glute muscles, including: shin splints, IT band issues, runner’s knee, and tendonitis. Strong glutes are fundamental to support your lower back, spinal alignment, proper leg and hip body mechanics, and ultimately preventing injury. Without support around the hips your back and knees try to compensate, and they take on more stress.
Runners get some stride power from their quads and calves but most of the power comes from the glutes and hamstrings, especially on an incline. The glutes and hamstrings work together to extend the hip flexor, so you can drive your leg back after it touches ground and push your body forward. Strong glute muscles are essential to speed and max performance.
Glute Strengthening Exercises
While running, the glutes stabilize and facilitate movement, but they don’t activate enough to build strength. So, you need to focus on strengthening your glutes at least once a week by doing exercises that induce your glute muscles to fire. The best glute strengthening exercises are performed with light weights or light resistance. Initially, start with no weights then add in exercise bands or weights to gradually build the glute muscles.
Squats: Squats are one of the best exercises for building a strong booty and give you a nice round shape. Stand with feet hip-width apart. With your back straight and head aligned, squat to a sitting position until your hamstrings are parallel to the floor. Push from your heels to stand up straight and squeeze your glutes.
Single-Leg Dead Lifts: Dead lifts may be performed with both feet on the floor but doing single leg dead lifts will strengthen your balance. Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. With core tight, bend forward and swing back the free-standing straight leg for balance until your torso is parallel to the ground. Return to an upright standing position. Be sure to work both sides. As you get stronger, incorporate an exercise band, medicine ball or kettle bell.
Lunges: Lunges are a great exercise for runners because they strengthen your glutes and stretch your hip flexors. From a standing position, take a big step forward with either leg. Simultaneously, lower the back knee almost to the floor and bend the front knee until your hips, knee and ankle make a 90-degree angle. Your front knee should not extend over your front toe. Press off your front heel back to a standing position and repeat on the other side.
Clamshells: The clamshell exercise is great for stabilizing your hips and targeting the glute medius. Lie on your side with both your knees bent and slightly in front of you. With your feet or shoes touching, lift your top knee to open your legs to resemble a clamshell opening and squeeze your glute muscles, then close. Repeat on both sides. You can rest a free weight or kettle bell on the top leg or wrap an exercise band around your thighs to get more resistance.
Glute Bridge: There are many versions of a glute bridge to target all angles of the butt, hamstrings, hips, and lower back. To complete the standard glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bents and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Push into your heels to raise your hips and squeeze your glutes. Lower your hips back to the floor. Other variations include adding in a clamshell from the raised position or even single-leg glute bridges. Again, feel free to incorporate weights and exercise loops for added resistance.
Work that Booty
Your glute muscles will make or break your running performance. Strong glutes will not only make you look great in your running shorts, but they will help you run faster and more efficiently! Of course, the most important incentive of strong and powerful glute muscles is injury prevention.
So, go work that booty!