How to Strengthen Weak Glutes
To strengthen your glutes, focus on exercises that target the weak gluteal muscles. Exercises such as bridges and squats will help you build glute strength. Focus on squeezing your butt muscles during the upward phase of the movements. Do this three times weekly.
In this article, I’ve chosen four of my favourite glute strengthening exercises for runners and put them into a short glutes workout that you can use at home or at the gym.
It’s important for me to mention that although this post is about “glute strengthening” as a broad term, only focusing on exercises that build strength, like squats and deadlifts, would be quite short-sighted.
When it comes to building stronger runners, we have to focus on a number of different aspects of gluteal development:
1. Start with Glute Activation to Build a Strong Foundation
Before we can begin strengthening weak glute muscles, we have to teach our bodies to engage the correct muscles at the right time.
Many of the runners I meet who have been told they have weak glutes, initially find it difficult to consciously switch-on their glutes in an isolated exercise like a straight leg raise.
It takes a little bit of practice, but learning to engage your glutes, and recognising the feeling it creates, will help you no end when it then comes to getting the full benefit from your glute strengthening exercises.
If you persist to work on big compound movements like squats and lunges for example, without being able to engage your glutes properly, there’s a greater chance that you’ll be compensating in your movements and putting more load on muscle groups like your quadriceps.
In doing this, your quads will continue to get stronger, while your glutes remain disproportionally weak, exacerbating muscular imbalance around the hips.
The question, of course, has to be:
Why are my glutes weak?
When it comes to why your glutes aren’t doing their job properly, both neuromuscular inhibition and weakness in comparison to other major muscle groups could potentially be at the root of your problems.
Especially in the case of glute inhibition, it’s important not only to work on focused glute activation exercises but also hip mobility, to help make sure that opposing muscle groups aren’t hampering your ability to engage your glutes.
2. Work on Hip Mobility to Prevent Imbalances
The effect of reciprocal inhibition isn’t limited to the glute muscles, but in this context, we’re talking about the relationship between opposing muscle groups around the hip.
Muscles work in antagonistic pairs – pairs of muscles (or muscle groups) that fulfil opposing functions. In the case of the glutes, we can focus on two pairs:
When we get tight or restricted through the hip flexors, it becomes harder for your body to engage glute max.
Similarly, when we become tight or restricted through our adductor muscles, glute medius becomes inhibited.
Thus it’s important for us not only to work on glute activation but also hip mobility in general.
In fact, before we even concern ourselves with building strength in the glute muscles, a combined focus on hip mobility and glute activation will provide most runners will huge benefits on the run.
You can incorporate hip mobility work and glute activation exercises into your warm-up before running, to help you run using your glutes.
3. Improve Your Hip Stability
When we run, we’re only ever supported on one leg, or the other. We’re effectively hopping from single leg balance on the left to the right, and back again. So, it would make sense that we need to be strong and stable on one leg!
However, balancing exercises and stability drills usually prove a real challenge for many runners.
The stability to balance on a single leg of course comes from multiple areas of the body working in combination – the foot, ankle knee, hip, core, etc… all working hard to keep us upright.
In this list, the hip is a major player, as the hip and pelvic region is such a cross-roads for forces moving across the body.
The glute muscles are a very important source of hip stability, with the upper fibres of glute maximus being largely responsible for control of internal rotation of the hip, stopping our knees from collapsing inwards.
Glute medius being is largely responsible for providing lateral stability around the hip and pelvis, controlling adduction and preventing a hip drop as we run.
There are lots of great exercises like single leg squats you can work on to improve hip stability and target the glutes. Here’s a simple tip to help you improve your balance and stability in an instant.
4. Develop Glute Strength for Running
Running requires us to be able to use our glutes not only to provide stability and control, but also to power us forward from stride to stride.
The glute muscles, particularly glute maximus (the biggest of the glutes) are powerful source of hip extension, the action that creates our running propulsion.
Here’s a link to an article where I discuss the importance of hip extension in running gait, and how a lack of proper movement at the hips, and drive from the hips as we run, can create problems elsewhere in the body.
Strength exercises like squat and deadlift variations that require you to work into hip extension, either with added resistance or simply using your own bodyweight will help you develop strength and power in your glutes.
Strictly speaking these are the types of exercises that will help you strengthen weak glutes, but hopefully by now I’ve made the point that the solution to running with better glute function is a bout more that just strength!
Of course, strength comes as a result of progressive muscular overload, and there are far more ways of achieving this overload as a runner than lifting weights in the gym. I’m a huge fan of hill running, for example.
Running uphill, either outdoors or on a treadmill, will force your body to use your glutes and hamstring more than you would when running on flat ground.
Four Exercises to Strengthen Glutes & Hips
Here’s a playlist with a selection of exercises I’ve put together to form a quick and effective glutes workout that covers activation, mobility, stability and strength to help you develop stronger glutes and hips for running:
- Hip Circles Drill:
Perform 1 set of 10 hip circles in each direction, on each leg.
As you extend your leg to the straight position, consciously focus on squeezing your glutes.
This simple mobility drill promotes active range of motion in multiple planes of movement around the hip.
- Side-Lying Straight Leg Raises:
Perform 1 set of 15 reps each leg.
Aim to feel the lift of the leg comes from your glutes, as you initiate the movement from the hip.
This exercise will help you engage glute medius in particular
- Single Leg Bridges:
Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Push down through heel to drive your hips up into the bridge position.
This isolation exercise will help you develop strength through your glutes.
- Single Leg Deadlifts:
Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Try to do this exercise infront of a mirror, so you can monitor your form and focus on stability.
This is a great exercise to help you develop hip stabiltiy and neuromuscular control.
Feel free to increase there number of sets, if you have time. I structured this workout with the time-poor runner in mind!
More information about the glute muscles
If you’re interested in learning more about the role of the gluteal muscles, here’s a link that will help you further appreciate what each of the glute muscles do.
Here’s a link a free resource that provides a bigger selection of glute strengthening exercises for runners: