It’s All in the Hips (and Pelvis) Part 3: Activating the “Glutes”

As part of an ongoing discussion of the article entitled “It’s All in the Hips” that appeared in the April issue of Running Times I want to discuss the importance of properly activating the “glutes”. As I mentioned in the last article, many of the injuries that runners develop are due to weak or improperly activated “glutes”. This article will cover making sure the “glutes” are being properly activated.

Neuromuscular activation (NMA) is the fancy term that is often used to discuss whether a muscle is being properly activated. Basically, we want the brain and nervous system signaling the appropriate muscles to be active when we run. We can prime our brain and nervous system to do this during our warm-up. Therefore, there are really two important components of a warm-up. The first is NMA and the second is a dynamic warm-up (important for increased blood flow to muscles and increasing the temperature of the muscles to make them more flexible). For most athletes I have focused solely on the dynamic warm-up, although I have begun incorporating the NMA component of the warm-up with athletes that I have recently started working with.

Below, I will give you a couple of tests to determine if your glutes are properly being activated or “firing”. Then I will give you a few exercises that I use in the warm-up to get the glutes “firing” before your run.

Tests to determine if “glutes” are activated. The Running Times article describes three tests that can be used (I have included two of them):

1. The bridge:

a. Lie on your back with your knees up and your feet flat on the ground

b. Hold your arms straight out above you

c. Lift your hips up to make a straight bridge from shoulders to knees

d. Notice where you are feeling stress. Is it in the butt? If you are feeling the stress elsewhere, rock your hip angle and change

your back arch so that you don’t feel the effort in your back or hamstrings, but in the center of your butt.

e. If you are having trouble isolating the “glutes”, try first pulling one knee to your chest, which locks out the back’s ability to

arch, then do a single-leg bridge.

2. Standing hip extension:

a. Stand on one leg with the other held so that the calf is parallel to the ground by bending at the knee.

b. Hold your hands on your hips, wrapping around the front.

c. Without allowing the pelvis to rotate forward or your spine to tip, drive the lifted foot backward into an imaginary wall. As the

leg extends you should feel the “glute” activate and the hip flexor stretch.

Exercises you can we do to activate the “glutes” and hip abductors during warm-up

1. One leg balance with diagonal abduction:

• While standing on one leg, have the other leg straight out in back of you at ~ a 45 degree angle with the toes relaxed

• Hold for ~5 seconds

• Repeat 1-2 times for each leg

2. Calf raise abduction:

• Stand with both feet flat on the ground

• Raise up on your toes for both feet as if performing a normal calf raise

• At the top of the calf raise, turn your heels out and toes in

• Then turn the heels back in and the toes back out and lower the heels to the ground (starting position)

• Repeat for a total of 8 repetitions

Other helpful NMA exercises which activate the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings:

1. One leg balance high knee lift:

• While standing on one leg, raise the other leg in front of you with the knee bent until the thigh is parallel with the ground

• Hold for ~ 5 seconds

• Repeat 1-2 times for each leg

2. Hamstring holds:

• While standing on one leg, raise the other leg in front of you with the knee bent until the thigh is parallel with the ground

• Bring this leg back so that the knee is pointing to the ground and the hamstring muscle is engaged

• Hold in this position for 3-4 seconds

• Return to the position in which this leg is in front of you

• Repeat 2-3 times for each leg

3. One leg balance with leg extend & toe pointed out:

• While standing on one leg, have the other leg straight out in front of you with the foot just slightly off the ground

• Slightly turn the foot outward

• Hold for ~5 seconds

• Repeat 1-2 times for each leg


Please let me know if you have any questions.


See you on the road or trail,


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