If you’re a runner, there’s no question about it: You have strong legs. That’s because you need and use them in order to propel yourself forward and successfully log miles. Muscular calves and thighs can be a telltale sign that someone is a runner. But there are more muscles involved in running that are often forgotten about—namely the glutes.
“Many runners neglect strength training in general, mostly due to the misconception that strength training will make you slow or inefficient,” explains Cameron Yuen, PT, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy and Fitness in New York City. “The glutes especially tend to get overlooked as there isn’t an intuitive connection between increased hip strength and running performance.”
The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, both located on the side of the hip, can often get the cold shoulder. And while the glutes are not inhibited by other muscles, they can be under-conditioned compared to other leg muscles, explains Yuen. The result: These muscles need to pick up the slack.
Still not convinced? The glutes are important for several other reasons for runners. First, they contribute to the total amount of force you are putting into the ground with each step. “More muscle recruited with greater force directed into the ground results in increased speed,” explains Yuen. “Similarly, increased hip capacity, assuming the other muscles of the leg are well trained, increases efficiency at slower speeds.”
The glutes are essential for hip extension, too. This is the part of your stride where your leg passes behind you. “If you don’t have strong glutes to drive the leg backwards, you are missing out on a critical component of the running gait,” says Yuen.
Lastly, the lateral glute muscles are extremely important for single leg stance. Think about your run: With every step, one side of your pelvis gets pulled down by gravity, and the lateral glute muscles, prevent this downward pull, explains Yuen. “Training these muscles will improve efficiency, and will help with many of the over-training injuries that most runners face,” he says.
We asked Yuen to share five quick exercises to help you fire up the glutes before you hit the ground running.