For the past decade, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists like me have told runners to "work your core"—the muscles of your torso that support your every move. And so many runners have added crunches and planks that strengthen the abdominals and back to their routines. But these exercises do little for the powerhouse muscles that surround the pelvis. The gluteal (buttocks) muscles are so commonly left out of runners' strength programs, I call them the forgotten core.
When we run, the glutes hold our pelvis level and steady, extend our hip, propel us forward, and keep our legs, pelvis, and torso aligned. So when our glutes are faulty, our entire kinetic chain gets disrupted. Studies link glute weakness to Achilles tendinitis, shinsplints, runner's knee, and iliotibial-band syndrome. Indeed, many injured runners I treat come to physical therapy with strong abdominals and backs but weak glutes.
Part of the problem is that glutes aren't as active as other running muscles during routine activities, which can make your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves disproportionately stronger. Another issue is that most strength-training routines don't isolate the glutes. If an exercise requires several muscles to perform the movement, the majority of the work will be done by the strongest of those muscles. Also, tight muscles, specifically the hip flexors, can inhibit the glutes and prevent their muscle fibers from firing.
Here's how to see where you stand, plus exercises that will strengthen your neglected glutes—and give you a coveted runner's butt. Do two or three sets of 12 to 15 reps two times a week.
Test your glute strength
To watch video of this routine, visit runnersworld.com/glutes.
Single-Leg Stance Test
Stand with your hands over your head, palms together. Lift your right foot off the ground and balance. Watch the left side of your hips to see if it dips down. If it does, it's a sign of glute weakness. Try it on the other side, too. Next, do this: While in the same position, lean to the right of your body, checking to see if your left side dips. Move your hands to the left of your body and see if your right side dips. If your hips dip, it's a sign that your glutes need work. Try this test also after a long or hard run to see how your glutes perform when fatigued.