The Butt: The Neglected Muscle Group
The muscles around the hip are the power house for running. The butt is what should propel us forward, push us uphill, and turn up the dial on our pace. If there is a deficit in strength at the glutes, then stress is going to be shifted either above (i.e. the back) or below (i.e. the knees and even the feet). Therefore by having strong hips, the risk of an injury can be reduced and your running journey can continue without interruptions. No this is not a revival for seven minute buns of steel videos. This is a call to start adding in some isolated glute exercises into your workout routine or reassess what you may already be doing and ensure you are doing them effectively. Unfortunately, just running does not inherently create strong hips and requires focused attention.
There has been a lot of recent research to identify what exercises target and maximize the muscle activation around the hip. The gluteus maximus and medius are two muscle groups that should be targeted in order to develop strong and healthy buns.
Let’s start with the clamshell. Begin by laying on your side with the knees bent to 45 degrees, then the top leg raised up and lowered back down while the feet remain touching (see photo below). Simple and effective. This exercise is a great place to start as a beginner or even as a warm up to your workout routine to prime the right muscles.
There is only one problem with clamshells: it is really easy to perform the movement but performing it correctly is an entirely different objective. When I ask people where they feel a good muscle burn while performing this exercise, they often say in the hamstring or side of the thigh instead of the butt. Our body is very smart and tries to figure out the most efficient way to perform exercises. It does not want to waste any energy. Unfortunately figuring out the most efficient way to complete an exercise can lead to shortcuts instead of recruiting the muscles that we want it to. This is why purely running does not make your glutes stronger.
If you already use a clamshell or a variation of it but never really feel tired in you butt after, then you are definitely doing this wrong.
Let’s move on to an exercise that will give a little more fire to those glute burners. The next progression from clamshells, which has shown a high amount of gluteus medius muscle activation, is a side leg lift laying down. By extending the leg and creating a longer lever arm this increases the effort simply but effectively.
And thirdly the last exercise is actually a variation of a plank. Most of the time people associate a plank with core strength, however turn this exercise on it’s side and you’ve got a great gluteus medius activator.
If trying this exercise for the first time, it may be better to start from your knees and then progress to your toes. You can even add a little clamshell from your knees to increase that gluteus medius activation.
When performing any of the above exercises you want to make sure to find and feel the right muscles. Remember just because you are performing a butt exercise does not mean you are isolating the butt muscles. If you don’t feel the glutes burning then your body has cracked the code on a fun loop hole. Talking with your local physical therapists at Edge PT can help tune up your current routine and decrease your risk of injury.
Tune in next month for the final installment of the series on busting myths for runners which will be talking about the dreaded deload week.
Boren K, Conrey C, Le Coguic J, Paprocki L, Voight M, Robinson TK. Electromyographic analysis of gluteus medius and gluteus maximus during rehabilitation exercises. 2011. IJSPT. 6(3): 206-223.
Macadam, Cronin, Contreras. An examination of the gluteal muscle activity associated with dynamic hip abduction and hip external rotation exercise: a systematic review. 2015. IJSPT. 10(5):573-591.