For what seems like forever, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists have told runners to strengthen their cores—the torso muscles that support every move. In an attempt to do so, many runners add crunches and planks that strengthen the abdominals and back to their routines.
While core work is important, these exercises do little for the powerhouse muscles that surround the pelvis, and that leaves the gluteal muscles commonly left out of runners’ strength programs.
When we run, our glutes hold our pelvis level and steady, extend our hips, propel us forward, and keep our legs, pelvis, and torso aligned. So when our glutes are faulty, our entire kinetic chain is disrupted. That’s why it’s important to work glute exercises into your routine.
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.
But you don’t have to give in to weak glutes. Here, we show you how to see where your glutes stand and provide 10 glute exercises that will strengthen your neglected backside.
How to use this list: First, perform the single-leg stance test to identify a glute weakness. Then, perform the glute exercises below, demonstrated by Bradford Shreve, personal trainer at in New York City. Do 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps twice per week. You will need a step or box, a resistance band, and an exercise mat. Adding dumbbells or a medicine ball to some moves is optional.
Only have time for one exercise? Target the side-lying leg lift. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports this move activates the glutes the most.
Single-Leg Stance Test
Stand with your hands over your head, palms facing each other. 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 right side. Next, while in the same position, lean to the right of your body, checking to see if left hip dips. Then lean to the left and see if right hip dips. If your hips dip, it’s another sign that your glutes need work. Try this test also after a long or hard run to see how your glutes perform when fatigued.
Tight hip flexors can inhibit the firing of glute muscles. Do this stretch after every run or before your glute exercises to encourage glute activation. Start standing then take a big step forward with left leg. Bend left knee so that hip, knee, and ankle form 90-degree angles and lower right knee to floor. Keep your knee over your ankle. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Stand with left foot on a step, box, or bench at least four inches high with right foot hanging off the edge. Keep both hips squared forward and shoulders level. Place hands on hips for an extra visual aid and balance. Keeping left leg straight, no bend in knee, raise right hip directly upward and then use hip and core to lower right foot below the step. Return to starting position and repeat slowly and with control.
Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Shift weight to your right leg, then keeping your shoulders back and your back straight, hinge at the hips and reach your hands toward the ground as left leg swings back behind you. Return back to starting position and repeat. As you build strength, hold weights or a medicine ball for an added challenge.
Three-Way Leg Raise
Start standing with a microbend in knees and place a resistance band just above your knees. Place hands on hips for balance and shift weight to left leg by bending right knee. In a slow, controlled motion, draw right knee toward chest against the band’s resistance, then back to the starting position. Without placing right foot back down, move it out to the side, then back to starting position. Kick right foot back behind you, then back to the starting position. That’s one repetition. Repeat on other leg.
Stand on your right leg and lift left leg out in front of you. Stand tall (don’t round your shoulders), and extend arms straight out so they are parallel to left leg. Keep right knee over right ankle as you send hips back and lower down into a squat. Your hands can extend out for balance. Push into right heel to come back to starting position. Complete reps then repeat on other leg. Start with shallow squats, then go deeper as it becomes easier.
Side-Lying Leg Lift
Lie on left side with legs extended out straight. Prop yourself up on left forearm and rest right hand in front of you on floor. Lift right 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 or place a resistance band around ankles. Repeat on other leg.
Stand with feet together and crouch down by pushing hips back, keeping back flat and abs engaged. Jump as far as you can to the right, landing lightly on the ball of your right foot as left leg swings back behind you. Now jump as far as you can to the left, engaging glutes to push off, and land lightly on left foot as right leg swings behind you. That’s one rep. Continue to repeat as you pump your arms as if you are skating.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Lie faceup on the mat with knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms resting at sides. Extend right leg straight out keeping both knees in line. Press through left heel to lift hips up toward ceiling then slowly lower back down. Complete reps then repeat on other leg.
Start in a lunge position, with left foot in front and right foot behind, and a 90-degree bend in both knees. Position your arms as if you are sprinting. Press into right heel to rise up as you draw left foot forward and jump (like you are skipping), while drawing left knee toward chest. Use your arms to help propel you up. Land lightly on right foot first, before placing left foot on the ground behind you to return to starting position. Complete reps then repeat on other leg.
All images: James Farrell