A Top Area To Look At … if you are thinking Performance and Injury Prevention.
The sitting end of the human body gets a lot of attention for all sorts of reasons, but seldom for the right ones. Runners will mostly only start paying attention to their bum when it starts to hurt, or otherwise plays up. When other muscles, joints or tendons in the legs get into trouble, they tend to be ignored.
There is not much, though, where glute strength wouldn’t play a major role in when running. Why is that then? Let’s see.
Achilles tendinitis? Shin splints? The risk reduces greatly if you get your glute strength up.
The muscles that make up your behind are often simply (affectionately) referred to as ‘glutes’ because you got a set on each side, but did you know they consist out of 3 sublayers (Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus)? Whilst perhaps not very sexy when shown in a stripped bare version like right here, that powerful setup of the bum is for a good reason.
Find out why training of these muscles is absolutely VITAL for runners – especially trail runners due to the uneven terrain mostly encountered.
The reason why the glutes are so important is because they have many different jobs to do during the running stride. Researchers have done lots of studies on runners, measuring muscle activity with EMG to look at what muscles are active and when, and the main things we know the glutes do are to:
- Decelerate the thigh as it swings forward, preparing the lower limb to make contact with the ground
- Extend the hip in stance to help propel you forward, and;
- Help stabilise the body, and cushion impact forces.
As you can see, the glutes are certainly kept busy throughout the running cycle! Gluteus Maximus has more to do with the propulsion and deceleration jobs, whilst Gluteus Medius has a bit more to do with stability. This stability role is a really important one – and we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Are You Saying That Strength in My Bum Affects My Foot and Ankle?
Absolutely! All of your lower limb, from hip down to the toes, is working hard to cushion the impact of you against the ground, and help propel you forward with each step – if the glutes aren’t helping to do this, then this makes the rest of the leg work harder, leading to overuse and injury at those spots. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the Achilles tendinopathy example above – the main job of the calf and Achilles is propulsion, and if the glutes aren’t helping out with this, too much is asked of the calf and Achilles for it to cope with.
Remember that stability role of the glutes, particularly Gluteus Medius, that we were talking about before? This is another reason why what happens at your bum can affects what happens further down your leg. Thinking of the lower limb like a set of dominoes is not a bad way of looking at it – what happens at the top can set in place a chain reaction that goes all the way to the bottom. Gluteus Medius works hard to stop the pelvis dropping down, and the thigh angling inwards, under body weight…..and if the thigh angles inward, the knee tends to follow; and if the knee drops inwards, the foot and ankle tends to pronate more to keep the foot in contact with the ground. ……….
What Happens If the Glutes Aren’t Doing Their Stability Job?
For running, we like seeing the body work in straight lines – we want all of our energy and effort put into moving us forward, rather than side-to-side. Not only does this help from an efficiency and performance point of view, but by minimising sideways strain and uneven load we can help minimise the risk of injury.
This is perhaps even more important in female runners (…maybe that’s the reason why Sir Mix-A-Lot focused on female subjects when recording his thesis on the subject?…..), as the demand on glutes for stability is relatively greater than males. One of the main reasons for this is thought to be due to the wider hips of females, which changes the orientation and line of pull of the muscles and joints under the hips – and may go some way to explaining the higher incidence of knee and hip troubles in female runners.
So runners – (yeah?) – runners (yeah?) – get in some good glute strength work, and shake that healthy butt.
Based on the outstanding article by Mat and Kirsty of SmartStride
Image source 1, image 2, Featured image: mike Baird