Time and time again injured runners are told that weak glutes are the cause of their running injuries. Are you a weak glute runner?
A few weeks ago I wrote about how sitting too much leads my hips to get tight and my low back starts bothering me. I have also complained time and time again about how much I hate running on the treadmill. My injury history is lengthy, and somewhat connected. It includes plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, hip labral tear, piriformis syndrome, and lately a tight left hip and tight low back.
Unfortunately this list of injuries is pretty common for a runner of 10 years. While I have learned a whole lot about running and injury prevention throughout it all, I am still very much at risk of injury. Especially during high-mileage marathon training. Let’s talk about the glutes.
If you have ever read my weekly recaps of my training, you will see that I include core work 5-6 days per week. When I say core work, I mean abs, hips, glutes, back and hamstrings. For someone who has been through plenty of physical therapy, I learned the importance of doing exercises for these muscle groups as injury prevention.
Lately I have been thinking that I must have a pretty strong core by now. However, I could tell that while running I was not using all of these muscles to their full potential, I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I would switch up my core routine, add drills, make sure I was also stretching and foam rolling. I had already heard that tight hips could lead to weak glutes! But I assumed my glutes were just fine…I mean I was doing all the exercises like a good little runner.
As you can see above, a common problem with posture is a tight low back and tight hips, along with a weak/inhibited core and glutes.
On Tuesday I ran on the treadmill for what was supposed to by 8 easy miles, due to the snow/ice on the streets and sidewalks. Once again I was frustrated with how running on the treadmill felt so much harder for me. It also made my hip feel more tight than it ever feels while running outside. I kept my pace super slow, and took walking breaks to try to fix my form. This experience was a wake up call that there was definitely something wrong with my form. For whatever reason I am able to make the necessary adjustments while running outside.
In my search to try to figure out why this was happening, I found some articles about the differences in treadmill running to outside running. This article explains the following:
On a treadmill, the belt runs underneath you. When you run outdoors, you push up off the ground to move forward. As a result, your foot strike may be less powerful on a treadmill and your stride more bouncy. If you allow the belt to pull your feet back under your body, your foot strike is more of a shuffle that puts undue stress on your knees, hips and back, explains Rick Morris, author of “Treadmill Training for Runners.” He suggests focusing on quickly lifting your feet off the belt when you run on a treadmill to create a quick stride equal to 85 to 95 full strides per minute.
The moving belt of a treadmill may encourage greater heel striking. When the treadmill belt grabs your heel, you are essentially braking with every stride. Aim to touch the belt first with the ball of your foot, keeping it directly under your hips. Avoid allowing the heel to strike first in front of your body which can put a lot of stress on your knees and hips. Morris explains that if you land on the ball of your foot, or flat footed, you minimize impact and keep moving with a steady forward momentum.
So maybe my foot strike was changing, causing more stress on other muscles (for example my hips and low back). Also, the muscles that are supposed to be in charge of extending the leg after the foot is down are the glutes. So for one, my hips and back are working harder, and two, my glutes are not working.
To drive the point home even more, I went to see my new chiropractor on Wednesday. (It’s the same practice as where I was going, but a different provider). Since I was a new patient to him, he did a quick assessment after I told him what I had been working on with my previous chiro. For the most part it was similar to every other evaluation I have had by a sports chiro/PT/orthopedist. But his reasoning behind my issues was a little different. For one, he was really focused on my hips not moving properly. In the past, I was told that my back didn’t move properly. (This stuff confuses me, but I am open to trying whatever helps me to feel good!) He also did the usual test where you lay on your stomach and are asked to lift your leg while bent while he is pushing down.
He said simply “you have no glute strength”. Wait what? I told him how I do my exercises all the time, and expressed my frustration about no strength to show for it. He suspected I may either be doing them incorrectly, or doing exercises in which other muscles have the potential to work instead of the glutes. When I showed him some of the things I was doing, he pointed out that I was likely overcompensating with my low back.
So now what? His suggestion was to do 2 new exercises he gave me…only. And alot. Like 5 times a day, each time doing them until my butt burned out. When thinking about the idea of my butt burning out from glute work, I realized I never really get that feeling despite all the glute work I have done. Sometimes I feel it from the lunges in body pump, but I don’t really feel my glutes when running.
Here are the 2 glute exercises I will be doing:
Similar to this picture, but I am using a small band around both ankles. Leaning forward on a low table or chair (as if your upper body is laying down, so your upper body is at about a 90 degree angle to your legs), relax your back and hips. Using your glutes, pull one leg straight back 10 times, then hold for 10 seconds. Switch sides and repeat. Continue until you burn out the glutes or feel like you are losing form. Complete this 5 times a day.
He called this one the metronome. You stand with a small band around both ankles. Keeping your body straight, pull one leg out to the side and slightly back, turning your foot in slightly. Return to start and repeat on other side. You are basically moving each leg in and out like a metronome. Continue until the glutes burn out or you feel like you are losing form. Complete this 5 times a day.
Other Core Work
I’ll also keep doing some of the things I was already doing, like planks (but making sure I use perfect form!), Pilates, Quick Strength for Runners, and Body Pump. I have been doing this new crazy amount of glute work for 4 days now and I already feel a difference. It actually has made me think about using my glutes throughout the day. I am starting to feel them more when I am running, too.
If you want to learn more about weak or inhibited glutes, check out this article. I think this quote pretty much sums up what has been happening to me lately:
“When you get to a certain level, weak or inefficient glutes can’t hide,” he says. “At 30 miles a week other muscles can compensate, but at 70 miles a week with greater intensity, any flaw in the kinetic chain will cause problems.”
Now that my weak glutes can no longer hide, its time to do something about it. Maybe one day I will even be able to run comfortably on the treadmill? (Just kidding, I don’t think I will ever be “comfortable” running on the treadmill. But it would be nice to have it as an option in case there is ever another winter like this one).
- Who else has weak glutes? Don’t be shy! How did you fix them, or what are you going to do about it?
- Does anyone has issues with their running form on the treadmill?
- If it’s not your glutes that cause you issues with running, tell me how you overcame a weakness in your kinetic chain.