Runners talk about their butt more than any other muscle in the body.
Normally, these are frustrated runners airing grievances against a poorly performing posterior.
Today, we are covering the the lateral hip, specifically the glutes. We talked about the glute max in part II and will be focusing on the other glutes muscles that make up our glute trio.
If we had to rank the three most important muscles for running it would be the…
- Gastrocsoleus Complex (Calves)
- Lateral Hip (Gluteus Medius and Minimus)
Our lateral hip allows us to abduct or bring our hip away from midline like my left leg in the above picture. It also controls our hip eccentrically moving towards midline every time our foot hits the ground. We have three muscles that are our primary hip abductors. Our gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia latae. These muscles start up on our pelvis and travel down to attach on the outside of our femur.
Our pelvis oscillates back and forth every time our foot hits the ground. This is a coordinated movement between the spine, pelvis, and hip. It allows us to be efficient as we move forward. In the above picture, when the left foot contracts the ground, the pelvis drops to the right. You’ve probably noticed this when running behind someone. If we go back to the anatomy of our glutes, we can see how they help control this motion. Our glutes help maintain our pelvis in a relatively “level” position as we go from one foot to the next.
This side-to-to side loading puts a lot of strain on our hip muscles and bones. Forces up to 3 to 5 times body weight occur along the femoral neck when we are jogging. That’s a lot!
The vast majority of these forces are compressive forces. Think squeezing something between your two hands. These compressive forces occur along the inferior portion of the femoral neck. We also have opposing tensile (pulling) forces occurring along the top of the neck. This creates a bending moment through the femoral neck every time your foot contacts the ground.
Our glute medius and minimus help counteract these bending forces (Robertson 2017). They smooth out the forces through the neck and help control our pelvis. That’s a pretty important job.
Here’s a view from the top of the hip showing exactly how our glutes help counteract those forces.
Glute Strength Secrets
“Nathan. I KNOW I don’t use my glutes enough. A PT, coach, friend, chiropractor tested it and told me.”
Every runner that has walked the earth “knows” their glutes are weak. They’ve read about it, watched videos on it, and have been told it by health care providers.
Here’s the first secret.
A common test for glute strength is resisted hip abduction. The most common way to test this is lying on your side and holding while someone presses your top leg down. We then grade your hip strength by if you can hold the position. It’s a hard test to pass. Our hip produces the LEAST amount of torque when at 40 degrees of hip abduction (Neuman 2010). That’s the position of my left hip in this picture.
The position of this test is setting the participant up to fail.
It’s like judging someone’s ability to solve 2+2 with a graduate level Calculus test.
Yes they would both test “math knowledge”, but a bad score wouldn’t mean the test taker was below average.
If you “fail” the test in this position it doesn’t guarantee you have weak glutes.
Glute Secrets Part II
“But Nathan….someone WATCHED me run and told me I didn’t use my glutes, hip, butt enough.”
Here’s the second secret.
We can’t tell how a muscle functions based off how someone runs.
First, we have no NORMAL for hip motion. There’s nothing ideal to compare to.
Running mechanics are very unique to the individual. If I view a runner that has a large amount of hip drop I can’t draw any conclusions from that alone. Most likely, if I had that runner increase their step rate(cadence) their hip drop will lessen. Their strength hasn’t changed. They’ve shifted to a different running strategy. Mechanics are context specific meaning our environment, speed, and fatigue will change how we move.
Ok. We can’t be certain about how strong someone’s glutes are.
We can’t view someone run and make conclusions about their glute strength.
Why even worry about glute strength at all?
Let’s go back to those top three muscles.
Your glutes have to work a lot when you run. We should prioritize improving someone’s individual hip strength in the weight room.
The purpose of strengthening the lateral hip is to make sure it’s as ready as possible for the demands of running. Improving glute strength, glute endurance, and hip bone density will only help them during training.
We don’t focus on strength with the intent of changing running mechanics.
We focus on strength with the intent of preparing the tissues for the demands of running.
Some runner’s might struggle to hold a basic side plank for 20 seconds. Some runner’s might struggle to do a heavy asymmetrical split squat with a lot of weight. Both those exercises challenge the lateral hip, but to different degrees. We want to establish where someone is and progress them from there. Figure out what is difficult and work on improving it.
A key principle in strength training is progressive overload. This means increasing the volume, weight, or speed of training over time so our abilities continue to improve. If we do the same set of exercises indefinitely, they will quickly lose their benefit.
Basic bodyweight and band resisted movements are good beginner exercises for runners. Clamshells and two-legged bridges are places to start, but not the finish. They can’t be what we do indefinitely.
Here are two of my favorite advanced glute exercises you can try in your routine.
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Nathan Carlson PT, DPT, USATF