When it comes to important muscle groups for us runners, the gluteal muscles sit very high up the list! They provide both strength and stability around your hips, and are a powerful source of propulsion as we run.
However, runners like you and I are often told by our physios that we don’t use our glutes enough as we run, which can lead to running injuries ranging from plantar fasciitis to lower back pain, and many other common running injuries in between.
The question of course is:
What can we all do to ensure that we use our glutes more effectively when running?
Well, the great news is that there are some powerful running cues and techniques you can start practising from your very next run, to help you engage your glutes properly while running.
In this article, I’m going to share what I’ve learnt when it comes to learning to use your glutes as you run…
How to Use Your Glutes While Running
I recently shared a video describing the various different steps I take with runners to help them use their glutes more effectively as they run:
You can download the supporting worksheet with example glute exercises for runners here:
In the video above, I mention that there are a number of different stages to getting your glutes to fire properly as you run.
- Master basic glute activation exercises and learn what engaging your glutes should feel like
- Improve lumbro-pelvic posture and core control
- Practice running technique cues to help you use your glutes when running
- Reinforce the gluteal firing pattern with specific running drills and workouts
Let’s take each of those stages one-by-one, and explore them a little further.
1. Learn How to Engage Your Glutes with Basic Isolation Exercises
It’s widely accepted that having strong glutes helps us runners prevent injury.
However, there’s one big mistake runners often make when trying to correct gluteal dysfunction, and strengthen their butt muscles…
Most of us know that exercises like squats and deadlifts are great for strengthening your glutes, in general.
However, what these big compound exercises DON’T teach us is how to engage your glutes in the first place.
Experience tells me that if I were to take a fairly quad-dominant runner (a runner who’s quads and hip flexors are disproportionately strong in comparison to their glutes) and ask them to show me a set of 10 squats, the chances are that their squatting form will be such that they use their quads more than their glutes.
The human body is great at cheating, and playing to its strengths!
If I were to set this runner a programme of regular squats with the goal of strengthening their glutes, without getting them to work on improving form, they’d just end up getting stronger through their quads, and exacerbating the existing muscular imbalance.
Build a Strong Foundation of Glute Activation
That’s why an important stage in improving gluteal function is learning how to consciously engage your glutes, and what it should feel like to activate the gluteal muscles before you can focus on technique to use them during the given exercise, be it squatting or running!
So where many of us would jump straight to squats, deadlifts and lunges to train the gluteal muscles, I encourage you to spend time focusing on the basics and build a solid foundation of good firing patterns, upon which you can layer more “functional” exercises.
Gluteal isolation exercises like the “side lying straight leg raise” featured in the video below would be a great place to start!
For more basic glute exercises, check out the following link…
2. Correct Your Posture to Put Your Glutes in the Right Position to do Their Job
Posture is the key to you being able to effectively engage your glutes as you run (and walk for that matter)!
Specifically the way you hold and control your pelvic and lumbar region.
In fact, the lumbro-pelvic region is such an important cross-roads in the body, that any postural issues here can create problems head-to-toe.
Particularly thinking about the gluteal muscles, one of the biggest issues I see is a runner’s tendency to hold their pelvis in an excessive degree of anterior tilt.
You can usually easily spot the pronounced arch this forward pelvic tilt creates in the runner’s lower back.
An anterior pelvic tilt places the biggest of the gluteal muscles, gluteus maximus in a biomechanically disadvantaged position, which reduces it’s ability to act effectively upon the hip joint.
If you feel yourself running “pushing your butt out” or that you arch your lower back as you run, you should look to address two of the major reasons why runners end up in this position:
- Tight hip flexors pulling you into an anterior pelvic tilt
- Lack of core control, resulting in poor dynamic control of lumbro-pellvic posture
How to Correct an Anterior Pelvic Tilt
If you know you struggle with tight hip flexors, you should check out this previous article which details how (and why) should work on improving your hip extension.
However, if you feel that pelvic control is your issue, check out the video below, where Holly demonstrates a simple cue you can use to work on core engagement to help you achieve a better pelvic position when running:
When you achieve a better sense of pelvic position, and are able to control your pelvic posture better with your core as you run, it’ll put your glutes in a position of mechanical advantage to exert their force around the hips.
3. Improve Your Running Form to Use Your Glutes More Effectively
This is a key part of the puzzle when it comes to learning to use your glutes while you run.
I can’t emphasise this enough:
You can be doing all the right glute activation exercises and postural control drills, but only when you take the time to improve your running technique, and adopt a style that makes it easier for your body to actually use your glutes as you run, will you feel tangible improvement.
You need to work on improving your running form on a regular basis, to get the transfer of benefits from all the glute activation and postural exercises, into your running itself.
Think of a conscious focus on running technique, as you showing your body how to use it’s newly conditioned gluteal muscles while on the run! Practice will make this new pattern habitual.
How to Improve Your Running Form to Run with Your Glutes
In addition to being aware of your running posture, a great point of focus will actually be to start picking your feet up a little more as you run, and to feel a greater lift of the knees for the given pace at which you’re running.
This video explains how to improve your running form in detail:
These super-simple points of focus will help you to create a slightly increased degree of hip flexion during swing phase of running gait (more on running gait terminology here) which, through the crossed-extensor reflex, will actually help you improve the quality of the activation of your hip extensors, including your glutes, on the stance leg.
As counterintuative as it may seem to those of us who have studied functional anatomy, running technique cues that reinforce hip flexion, like “drive your knees forward” actually serve to make it a little easier for you to use your glutes while running!
Be sure to take your time with changing your running form; it’s a proces that needs to happen over time. Give your body time to adapt, and don’t force it!
4. Reinforce the Gluteal Firing Pattern with Specific Running Drills & Workouts
Once you’ve taught your body how to properly use your glutes when you run, make time to regularly reinforce this firing pattern with targeted running drills and workouts.
There are all sorts of options you can choose to achieve this; each with the goal of encouraging you to run “from the hips”, rather than shuffling-along with a low carriage of the foot and knee.
Two of my favourite ways of reinforcing the desired neuromuscular pattern are:
- Hill repeats and/or stair running
There are many reasons to embrace different varieties of hill work as part of your training, from the strength you can gain, to the “lower impact speed work” hills enable. In this instance I want to look at hill repeats as an opportunity for technique development.
After a good warm-up try running 10 x 20 seconds up a moderately steep hill, at 5k race pace. Focus on form throughout, and walk back to the start at the end of each rep.
The nature of the hill means that with each stride you have to lift your foot and knees higher than you would on the flat – forcing you to tap into the cross-extensor reflex more effectively, and use your glutes to drive you forwards.
You can also do this running up a flight of stairs… just be careful!
- Adding sets of strides to the beginning and end of a running session
This is one of my all-time favourite tips!
You can add sets of “strides” either at the end of a warm-up (if you’re preparing for a more intensive session), or at the end of a long, or midweek easy run.
I particularly like adding them to the end of a long run, as these short-sharp technique-focused running efforts are excellent for helping you remind your body how to run with good form and posture, on tired legs.
At the end of a run, try running 4-6 sets of 60-100 meters at a pace that accelerates from easy to 5k race pace. Think about posture, maintaining a high cadence, picking your feet up, and driving with the arms!
Let me know if you have any questions!
I do hope this guide to using your glutes while running helps you in your training.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, and feel free to add your own experiences and insights…