While more runners are recognizing the importance of incorporating strength training into their running routine, it’s often the first thing to go when schedules get busy. This often results in injury – weak glutes are a large contributor for injuries down the chain, including runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and Iliotibial Band Syndrome. The gluteal muscles (maximus, minimus, and medius) are the primary movers of the legs, so if they are weak and not activated when running, other parts of the body overcompensate and an overuse injury is born. Even if you don’t have any aches and pains in your legs, glute strength is also important for stronger and faster running – the stronger you are, the longer you can maintain a faster pace, especially in the later stages of a race.
Luckily you don’t have to spend hours in the weight room to activate and strengthen those glutes. Spending just 15 minutes, 2-3x a week, performing a couple of targeted exercises will help ward off injury. The key is doing them consistently. From a personal standpoint, the times I’ve become injured (calf strain, plantar fasciitis, knee pain) are the times I stop doing my glute exercises.
There are a lot of exercises out there, and below are a few of my favorites for activating and strengthening those glutes. If you’re just starting out, focus on your form and getting into the routine of completing them 2-3x/week. Once you’ve activated those glutes, you can add resistance bands or weights to make the moves more challenging and develop even more strength.
Aim for 20 reps (10 on each side) of each exercise x 2-3 rounds, at least 3 times a week. Do the exercises right before or after your run – put them into your schedule so you are more likely to complete them. Only have 5 minutes? Just do one round – something is better than nothing!
Lay on your back with your neck and head relaxed and your spine straight. Bend your knees, putting your feet flat on the ground and bringing them close to your butt. Put one of your legs up in the air, parallel to your bent knee. Push up through your glutes, bringing your hips up as far as possible into a bridge. Pause at the top, slowly lower your back and butt to the ground, tap the ground, and repeat. Do all the reps on one leg before switching to the other side.
To add more resistance: add weight on your hip
Lay on your side with your hips and legs stacked. Bend your legs at a 45 degree angle. Rest your head on your bottom arm and put your top arm on your hip. Keeping your feet together, squeeze the glute on your top leg to move your top leg up, opening up like a clamshell. Make sure your hips stay stacked throughout the move and aren’t shifting back and forth. Bring it back down and repeat. Do all reps on one side before repeating on the opposite side.
To add more resistance: add a resistance band above your knees
Side-lying leg lifts
Lay on your side with your hips and legs stacked and legs straight. Squeeze the glute of your top leg to move your top leg up, pause at the top, and slowly bring it down. Make sure your foot stays flexed and hips stay stacked throughout the move. Do all reps on one side before repeating on the opposite side.
To add more resistance: add a resistance band above your knees or at your ankles
Get down on your hands and knees, with your back straight and neck in a neutral position. Bring your arm forward, parallel with the ground, and bring your opposite leg back to be parallel with the ground. Keep your foot flexed, like you’re kicking the wall behind you, and reach forward with your arm like you’re reaching for something in front of you. Pause for a moment and bring back to the starting position. Be sure to engage your abdominals during the move and try not to sway back and forth. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other side.
To add more resistance: perform in a plank position OR add a resistance tube to opposite hand/foot
Remember that just 15 minutes, 2-3x a week is all it takes to notice a difference! I’ve had many of my runners tell me they can tell a difference in their knee pain or strength after just a few weeks of doing these exercises on a regular basis.
Tammy Whyte is the owner and head coach at TW Training and Wellness and is both a certified personal trainer (NASM) and certified running coach (RRCA). She offers group training programs in DC and individualized run coaching for runners throughout the country. DC winter training programs are currently open for registration, and all programs integrate strength exercises. If you’re training for a spring race, check her out at www.twtrainingwellness.com. Feel free to reach out with questions at [email protected]