There are countless articles and posts about how important strong glutes are for runners – hell, we just wrote one of them!
In most of these articles, the main muscle discussed is the Glute Maximus (GMax), the largest of the three glute muscles. While a strong GMax is critical for runners (and non-runners alike), the Glute Medius (GMed) and most certainly the Glute Minimus (GMin) often get left out of the conversation… as well getting left out of workouts!
Where Is It and What Does It Do?
The GMed originates at the top of the hip bone (Ilium) and attaches to the top of the femur (Greater Trochanter).
In respect to running, the GMed performs two main tasks:
- Prevents the femur from internally rotating too much (i.e., knee collapsing inwards). It abducts the hip.
- Keeps the hips level
Let’s first discuss #1.
One of the roles of the GMed is to externally rotate the hip. As such, if the GMed is weak and unable to externally rotate the hip, the hip will internally rotate (especially upon footstrike) and will present with the femur and knee caving inwards. It should be noted that some degree of internal hip rotation is normal while running. This is most often due to foot pronation – which causes both the ankle and knee to internally rotate.
Note – a normal degree of foot pronation is normal and not indicative of injury.
In respect to #2, when runner is standing on one leg, (ex: footstrike) a strong GMed will activate to ensure that the opposing hip does not drop. Conversely, a weak GMed will stretch due to a lack of strength and thus, allow the opposing hip to drop. Dropping of the hip is considered an abnormal gait pattern and is termed, ‘Trendelenburg Gait.’ As a result of the hip asymmetry caused by uneven hips, low back pain is often the result, as well as pain in the knee, ankle and foot.
The image below denotes what even hips look like in respect to a strong GMed, as well as what uneven hips look like due to a weak GMed. This image helps to illustrate how a weak GMed stretches and allows for the opposing hip to drop.
What Can I Do About It?
Strengthen it! There are quite a few exercises that you can do to target the GMed. Perhaps the best known, and most common GMed exercise is Clams. This most definitely targets the GMed and to be most effective, it’s important to keep the hips vertical and not rotate the hips back as the top leg raises. While the model below is propped up on their forearm, this can also be done lying on your side.
While Clams isolate the GMed, in respect to running, there are more applicable exercises.
Perhaps the most applicable, especially in respect to maintaining an even pelvis are Hip Hikes. The correct form is to lock out the knee of the standing leg and keep that leg as vertical as possible. For this exercise, you must focus on the GMed doing all of the work to elevate the opposing hip versus using your oblique muscles to do the work/action.
See the below video:
Lastly, in respect to hip abduction, UESCA prefers doing squats with a theraband around knees, or walking laterally with a theraband around the knees, as they are a bit more functional to running than clams. When doing these exercises, the most important form element is that the knees stay directly over the feet. In other words, make sure the knees don’t cave inwards as this defeats the purpose of the exercises.
See image below:
While this post discusses strengthening the GMed in respect to gait/biomechanical compensations… even if you have good running form and no pain while running, it’s still a very good idea to incorporate these exercises into your training program.
So, just because the GMed might be hidden under the GMax and not the focal point of as many running articles… don’t forget about it!
Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
Click here to download the UESCA Triathlon Course Overview/Syllabus
Click here to download the UESCA Running Course Overview/Syllabus