Pick up any running magazine or read any running blog and you’re sure to come across an article that discusses the important role of the glutes. Are the glutes really important to runners? Yes. Do all runners activate their glutes properly when running? No.
ROLE OF THE GLUTE MAX
Let’s first discuss the role of the glutes, specifically the glute maximus (GMax). The GMax is primarily responsible for hip extension. In regard to running, hip extension is most commonly associated with straightening the legs from a bent knee position and extending the leg behind the body.
Proper running form involves a slight forward lean from the ankles and once the foot is underneath the hips, the foot presses diagonally down and back to propel the runner slightly upward and forward. This action is done in conjunction with slight transverse hip rotation (think: Merry-Go-Round) to the side of the extending hip.
However, many runners do not generate enough hip extension when they run, thereby minimizing the role of the GMax. This can be the result of several things including tight hip flexors that limit hip extension and poor running form – specifically not allowing enough hip extension to occur by shortening the stride length behind the body.
Runners that appear to have proper hip extension but have tight hip flexors, often compensate by hyperextending their low back to ‘achieve’ hip extension.
Exercises such as deadlifts, squats, explosive jumps, lunges, etc… are great to develop glute strength. However, unless a runner has correct form, specifically the proper amount of hip extension, glute strength will be largely negated in respect to activating the glutes properly while running.
NO ONE LIKES DOING TWO JOBS BUT BEING PAID FOR ONE!
Hamstring injuries are quite common among runners. The longer and, or more intense a run is (i.e., speedwork), typically the greater the chance for injury. While the hamstrings work with the glutes to extend the hip, they should not take over the role of the glutes. If this occurs, the hamstrings are doing the job of two muscles – no wonder they get injured! The GMax should be the main contributor to hip extension, not the hamstrings.
NOT ALL HIP EXTENSION IS CREATED EQUAL
The goal of running is to move forward, not upward – or at least not substantially so. Runners that have substantial vertical movement (termed: vertical oscillation) are probably activating their GMax, just not in the way that is optimal for running.
If you have chronic hamstring injuries or can’t seem to activate your glutes properly when running (often termed: ‘Gluteal amnesia’), it is advised to seek out a physical therapist or biomechanist who works with runners to improve their gait and running efficiency.
PS. Stay tuned for our next post which will discuss the glute medius in respect to its role and ways to strengthen it that are functional to running.
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