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Coaches' Corner: Build a Better Butt!


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No “If”s, “And”s or Butts about it!

What is it with runners and our behinds? The more we seem to run, the less of a butt we end up having, and yet, the more of it we could use. We tend to have very weak muscles in our behind, especially when compared to the relative strength and power of our legs.

Can a Better Behind Help My Running? You Bet You’re A--, ahem!

The "butt" muscles, or the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus or glutes (and to some extent the Tensor Fasciae Latae - TFL) are used for much more than just looking good in a pair of old Levis, however important that may be.

This area is a source of power used in large part to aid in powering up hills, and core stability. In addition, these important muscles aid in hip alignment. As the weight of the body is suspended on one leg, the muscle group prevents the opposite hip from sagging which keeps us running forward in a straighter path more efficiently. Also the glutes serve to ensure that we stand on each leg correctly and efficiently to prevent lower extremity injury.

The glutes all come into play in activities where being propelled forward and upward is key, as in running. To have that powerful drive forward in the legs (think sprinters) these muscles, particularly gluteus minimus, must be well developed. This helps to avoid the "marathon shuffle" that we try to keep runners away from as much as possible. The more powerful the drive forward, the lighter the impact of the foot on the ground, and the less time the foot/leg spends in contact of the ground-which means much less chance of injury. Also, a more powerful drive forward means faster leg turnover which equals faster running without any extra effort.

Having strong glutes will help prevent and or correct a variety of lower leg issues problematic to runners. These include: piriformis syndrome, plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy (sickness of the hamstring commonly called hamstring tendonitis) and a variety of other hamstring issues. Basically, there is less strain on the hamstring as the glutes do their job.

An injury becoming more common within the running community is a sharp pain, an almost tearing-like feel, at the top of the hamstring, deep underneath and right below the butt. It becomes very tight, takes quite some time to warm up, and often aches during a run and in particular after running, while sitting, driving. It can refer down the hamstring when it gets worse-very unpleasant. Weak glutes can be a major cause of this injury.

A strong set of glutes also prevents internal rotation of the knee during weight bearing sports like running. By restraining the patella from moving towards the middle of the body instead of straight forward in front of you as your knee bends, strong glutes can improve hip alignment, and eliminate strain on the knee, lower shins, and medial aspect (inner, or arch side) of the foot. This in turn can prevent plantar fasciitis, and even stress fractures.

How to Build "Runnin' Buns o' Steel"?

Exercises to help strengthen the glutes include a real powerhouse - the lunge. Normally, no added weight (ie. in addition to own bodyweight) is necessary--we do even recommend it at all until form is perfect for up to 2 minutes of continuous walking lunges. This usually takes a gradual progression over time to master safely.

Other great movements which really work the glutes and quads include the split squat, and fitness ball squat and lunge. In addition, single leg dead lifts without weight, but eventually progressing towards using weight, really works the entire back of the leg, encourages balance and in particular targets where the hamstring connects to the bottom of the butt. Abducting the hip by lying on the floor and raising the leg up and then slowly back down to the leg on the ground works the TFL and the gluteus medius and minimus.

Please take the time to strengthen this extremely important muscle group to gain power, enhance forward leg drive, make uphill running easier and prevent misalignment and injuries before they occur. A strength coach and/or physiotherapist specializing in runners and athletes can look at your form while running and perform specific form movements to identify weaknesses, and suggest workouts to strengthen and correct them.

Darren Weldrick
Technical Running Coach and Strength Trainer specializing in runners.