When you think about the muscles involved in running, you probably tick off the hamstrings, quads, and calves.
But another group of muscles a bit further up are actually doing a lot of the work—your glutes. And strengthening them may be the key to avoiding common injuries and improving your race time.
"Runner's knee, IT band syndrome, shin splints—all of these major things come back to your butt. It’s not doing enough work," says expert run coach Chris Heuisler. "It’s not firing when you run because your hips are too tight, because you’re sitting all day. You can’t fire your butt." (Yes, he really said that.)
Do you have "dead butt syndrome?"
It's such a big problem there's even something called "dead butt syndrome" among runners, which involves inflammation in the gluteus medius and causes hip and knee pain.
Heuisler, who was recently named the first RunWESTIN Concierge for the hotel group, is working to coach runners across Rock 'n' Roll Marathon finish lines around the country, 60 percent of whom are women. This is important because butt strength is even more important for female runners, he says. Research has shown that women are more susceptible to common running injuries, which many people think can be attributed to wider hips.
"It's all connected," Heuisler says. Your gluteus medius, on the side of your butt, helps stabilize your hips and all of the muscles down to your feet. Your gluteus maximus, in the back, provides forward-propelling force. So strength in both is key.
What to do about your butt
"If you can spend two to three minutes to open your hips and strengthen your butt before you head out for a run, you’re going to absolutely make yourself a better runner," Heuisler says.
He suggests starting with a basic bridge exercise. Lay on your back and really squeeze your glutes as you extend your hips upward, he says. If you feel pain in your lower back, your butt may be super weak, so take your time and make the movements smaller to start. Once you perfect the basic bridge, add a resistance band around your thighs to create more resistance. Do two sets of 15 reps, then get back on your feet for your usual run.
It may be an extra step, but in the end, your live and fully firing butt (and the rest of your body) will thank you. "As more people know about dead butt syndrome, you’re going to see a lot less injuries," Heuisler predicts. "Wake. Up. Your. Butt." —Lisa Elaine Held
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