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.
Glutes Are Our Power1 of 9
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, shin splints, 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.
Single-Leg Stance Test2 of 9
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.
Hip Hike3 of 9
Stand sideways on a step, box, or bench at least four inches high with one leg held free of the bench, and keep both hips squared forward and shoulders level. Keeping your standing leg (the one on the bench) straight (no knee bending!), raise your free hip directly upward and then drop the leg.
Single-Leg Deadlift4 of 9
Stand on your right leg with your left leg behind you and in the air. Keeping your shoulders back and your back straight, hinge forward and reach your hands toward the ground. Return back up and repeat. Hold weights or a medicine ball for an added challenge.
Three-Way Leg Raises5 of 9
Place a resistance band just above your knees. Separate your feet and bend your knees, lowering down into a slightly crouched position. Balance on your left leg.
1. With slow, controlled motions, move your right leg forward against the band's resistance, then back to the starting position.
2. Without placing your right foot back on the floor, move it out to the side, then return to the starting position.
3. Move your right foot behind you, then back to the starting position. That's one repetition.
Lunge Stretch6 of 9
Tight hip flexors can inhibit the firing of glute muscles. Do this stretch after every run. Step forward and lower your back knee. Keep your knee over your ankle. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Single-Leg Squat7 of 9
Stand on your left leg. Lift your right out in front of you. Stand tall (don't round your shoulders), and keep your left knee over your ankle as you lower down into a squat. Your hands can extend out for balance. Push into your heel to come back up and repeat. Start with shallow squats; go deeper as it becomes easier.
Side-Lying Leg Lift8 of 9
Lie on your side with your legs extended out straight. Your lower arm can rest under your head; your top arm can rest on your hip. Lift the top leg up while keeping your hips steady and facing forward (do not rotate backward). Lower down and repeat. For an added challenge, wear an ankle weight.