Casey Spangler is an Athletic Trainer at Upland Hills Health and works with a variety of patients, from student athletes to joint replacement patients, helping them achieve their activity goals. Casey is also a leader for the upcoming Sports Performance Clinic for middle and high school athletes. Learn more here.
Running can be an excellent way to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of running can lead to muscle imbalances and injuries–especially when running is not paired with other types of exercise.
The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are the most active muscles when running, so they tend to build up the most strength during this activity. As these muscles build strength, the surrounding muscles (specifically, the gluteals) become weak because they are not as active. Research studies have shown that weak gluteals are the root cause of a myriad of common running injuries including IT band friction syndrome, patellar tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, and even plantar fasciitis.
As running mileage increases, the muscle imbalance gradually worsens because the body essentially forgets how to use the gluteals as the hamstrings and quadriceps are constantly being favored. Injuries related to weak gluteals can occur anywhere from your low back to your feet. After all, everything in the body is connected!
If the gluteals are not very active during running, why does it matter if they become weak?
The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles are also responsible for holding the head of the femur in an optimal and stable position throughout your gait. If the gluteus medius and minimus are not strong enough, it can cause disruption of the normal rotation and tilt within the hip joint and potentially lead to injury.
It is imperative to have strong gluteal muscles to hold your hips stable and maintain balance throughout the running motion. This is called dynamic stability. All three gluteal muscles play a role in maintaining dynamic stability of the pelvis, but the gluteus medius is especially important. Lack of gluteus medius strength may allow the opposite hip from the planted leg to drop, known as Trendelenburg gait. Running with Trendelenburg gait will cause strain on the surrounding muscles and joints, can lead to an altered gait pattern, cause your body to be less efficient when distributing the forces of impact, and your body will become less efficient when using energy.
The trick to strengthening your gluteal region is to isolate the muscles and the best time to do these exercises is right before a run. If you start your run with the gluteal muscles warmed up and firing properly, your body will be more likely to recruit them while you are running.
6 Exercises to Isolate the Glutes:
Lateral steps with band: Place the band around your knees or ankles. Put a slight bend your knees and step to the side with your toes facing forward, keeping tension on the band. Make sure your trunk stays upright and does not lean. Take 10 steps in each direction and repeat 2 times.
Monster walks: Place the band around your knees or ankles. Position yourself into a wide legged stance and maintain the wide stance as you walk forward and backwards. Take 10 steps in each direction and repeat 2 times
Clamshells: Lie on your side with your knees bent. Keep your heels together and lift the top knee towards the ceiling. As you lift your knee make sure your top hip does not roll backwards. Do 2×10 both sides
Hip extensions: loop the band around knees or ankles. Make sure your hips stay facing forward and your truck upright as you extend one leg at a time backwards with your knee extended. Do 2×10 on both legs.
Squat with band around knees- not glutes in isolation but teaches gluteals to co-contract with hamstrings and quads: Start by standing with your feet about hip width apart, or slightly wider. Sit your hips back and down like sitting in a char that’s too far behind you. As you squat down, make sure your knees are lined up with your ankles and do not collapse inwards. Do 2×10
Hip flexor stretch: In a kneeling position, make sure the front knee is on top of your ankle, and the back knee is right underneath your hip. Keep the shoulders above the hips and press your hips forward to stretch the front of the back leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
**Casey will lead the upcoming Sports Performance Clinics for middle and high school athletes, with our other athletic trainers, physical therapists and dietitians. You can get details about the Sports Performance Clinic here.