As you run, you may feel your quads, hamstrings and even calves working overtime to propel you forward. But in order to run faster, longer and without injury, your glutes — the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus — need to work just as hard.
The good news is, getting your glutes firing can be done quickly and efficiently before a run with just a few simple moves, meaning your glutes will be turned on and ready to support your body with every step.
Why Strong Glutes Are Important for Runners
While it's true that running speed is connected glute strength — an October 2020 study found elite sprinters have significantly larger glutes than non-sprinters — it's not the only benefit. As you run, they're responsible for stabilizing the upper half of your body, while powering the lower half.
"Glutes are the main muscles that make running possible," Lindsay Wandzilak, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of The Daily, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "They hold the pelvis steady and allow for proper hip extension, which is the power behind your stride." Thus, stronger glutes means a stronger, more steady stride.
Weak glutes, however, can cause a chain reaction down the whole leg and result in a number of injuries. And unfortunately, glute weakness and imbalance can often be attributed to something a lot of us do most of the day: sitting, Emily Sopo, certified personal trainer and creator of Heartmybody Fitness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Sitting for most of the day, can result in tight hip flexors and weak glutes, which can lead to decreased force production and increased risk of injury, Sopo says. "To top it off, running itself may exacerbate this issue by continuing to strengthen other muscles like your quadriceps and hip flexors, leading to further imbalances."
For example, if your quads are compensating for your glutes, this can lead to runner's knee (as the knee has to absorb more impact), shin splints, sore ankles and even plantar fasciitis, Wandzilak says.
How to Activate Your Glutes
If you're unsure what it feels like to "activate your glutes," simply squeeze your butt cheeks together. Now do a few squat reps, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
If that feels strange or difficult, Wandzilak says a little bit goes a long way in terms of getting in the habit of activating your glutes. You can do a few quick exercises pre-run without the need to dedicate daily strength training sessions solely to the muscle (unless you want to).
"Given the importance of proper glute activation in running performance," Sopo says, "runners may benefit from focused attention on the glutes with low-intensity glute activation exercises performed as part of their warm-up before any run."
Try These 5 Glute Activation Exercises
Not much equipment is needed for glute activation. Your own body weight or resistance bands can be used in pre-run settings so you can get your glutes on fire. Sopo has five moves that can be done anywhere that will help stabilize your body and boost your speed.
Move 1: Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with legs bent and feet planted hip-width apart.
- Press your feet firmly into the ground.
- Breath in and on the exhale, squeeze your glutes and lift your hips up, engaging your core and keeping your back flat (not arched) as you lift your hips.
- Lower hips to the ground to complete one rep.
Researchers have worked to find the ideal exercise to activate the glutes and recently landed on the barbell hip thrust (which was tested against back and side squats in a 2021 study). Runners, of course, aren't always near a weight bench in the moments before a run, but doing the body-weight version (aka glute bridge) will fire your glutes up too.
If you’re looking for a variation, advance the move with a band around your knees or perform a single-leg glute bridge, either with or without a band.
Move 2: Clamshell
- Lie on your right side with your head slightly propped by your arm (elbow on the floor), with your feet, knees, hips and shoulders stacked on top of each other.
- Find a 90-degree bend at the knees and — using a wall or flat surface for guidance — press your feet, hips and back up against the wall.
- Squeezing with the glutes and keeping your feet together, lift your left knee up, then lower it back down to complete one rep.
- Repeat on the left side, lifting your right knee.
If you’re looking for variation, advance the move with a band around your knees.
Move 3: Side Lying Leg Raise With Band
- Lie down on your right side with your head slightly propped by your arm (elbow on the floor), with your feet, knees, hips and shoulders stacked on top of each other and a band around your legs, just above your knees.
- Keep your lower leg slightly bent at the knee and lift your left leg slightly, straightening it and turning your toes diagonally toward the floor.
- In that position, lift your left leg up into the air, then lower it down slowly (hovering in the air, not resting on your bottom leg) to complete one rep.
- Repeat on the left side, lifting your right leg.
Move 4: Banded Side Step
- Stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart and place a band around your legs above your knees.
- Keep your knees aligned facing the same direction as your toes and come into a quarter squat, with core engaged and chest upright.
- Step your right leg out to the side just a couple of inches, keeping your knees in line with your toes.
- Step your left leg in the same direction, so you're back to starting position to complete one rep.
- Repeat the move, leading with your left leg this time, to work both sides evenly and avoid imbalances.
If you’re looking for variation, advance the move with a band around your feet.
Move 5: Donkey Kick With Pulse
- Get down on the floor into a tabletop position on all fours, resting on your knees and hands, keeping your back flat.
- From this position, take your right leg and — with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle — slowly kick your leg up into the air behind you.
- Lower your leg back down, bringing your knee forward slightly toward your stomach hovering over the ground to complete one rep.
- Repeat your donkey kicks with your left leg.
- Journal of Experimental Biology: “The human gluteus maximus and its role in running”
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: “Activation of the Gluteus Maximus During Performance of the Back Squat, Split Squat, and Barbell Hip Thrust and the Relationship With Maximal Sprinting”
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: “The Muscle Morphology of Elite Sprint Running”