If you’ve ever heard the term ‘lazy butt’ or ‘inactive glutes,’ you may have wondered how exactly you’re supposed to wake up that particular body part when you’re running. After all, running is a full-body affair, so shouldn’t your muscles naturally be doing the work they’re supposed to be doing? Short answer: yes. If you’re running, your butt muscles are working. However, they might not be doing as much work or being as effective as they could be.
“Our glutes are meant to produce a powerful force. That’s why they’re the largest, strongest muscle in your body,” says Dalton Laino, physiotherapist and cofounder of The Movement. “When you’re running, the faster you go, the more you’re going to use your glutes.”
Jay Dicharry, a board-certified sports clinical specialist, biomechanics researcher and author, explains the glute muscle complex plays three critical functions:
- Producing a powerful drive forward as the muscles extend the hips
- Providing stability to help steer the leg straight
- Maintaining correct posture
“One big reason why runners lean overly forward or drift into the ‘back seat’ with excessive arch in their back is due to fatigue of the glutes, and it costs more effort to run with poor posture,” he adds.
Getting your glutes to perform more optimally could translate to better uphill running, and more efficient running, in general. Here, several experts weigh in on how to maximize the work your butt does on the run.
BUILD STRENGTH WITH GLUTE EXERCISES
“If you’re training your glutes to work well and attenuate forces, that can help you manage load and manage forces when you are running,” says Laino. “People tend to want to look for a fancy glute exercise that just makes your butt nice and firm, but most of the time, you need very basic strength and conditioning. I often get people to focus on a proper squat first, then move to single-leg movements like split squats, lunge variations and movements that are going to challenge single-leg stability and strength. That’s because when we run, we’re literally going from one leg to the other. So having that strength in control is super important.” (He adds that you don’t need heavy weights to do this work: Things like jump squats, lunges and single-leg squats can be done with light or no weight.)
PREP YOUR GLUTES
Yoga instructor and runner Sue Amato recommends doing a few repetitions of the bridge pose pre-run to activate your glutes. Lie on the ground with your knees bent and heels a few inches from your butt, with your feet on the ground at slightly wider than hips-width apart. Press your arms and palms firmly into the ground as you slowly start to lift your hips until your torso and thighs are in a straight line, using your butt as the primary driver of this movement. Slowly lower down, still keeping the muscles activated. Doing 5–10 repetitions pre-run gets your muscles warmed up and ready to work.
PERFECT YOUR POSTURE
“In certain running postures, you lose the ability to utilize the awesome strength that you already have,” says Mandy Dreyer, massage therapist and cyclist. Like Dicharry, she sees the pelvic tilt while running as a major red flag that glutes aren’t being used as well as they could be. “If you’re running with an anterior pelvic tilt, sticking your butt out when you run, which a lot of people do, that shuts down your ability to use your glutes as well as you could. When you’re anteriorly tilted, you don’t have access to use your glutes to drive your leg backward. Running like this, your abdominal muscles can’t fire properly and your glute muscles can’t fire properly. You’re taking all that pressure into your low back, which is where all the nerve roots that come out that feed your glutes.”
You won’t fix your posture entirely on your next run, but you can start to pay closer attention to your running stance: Do you feel like your butt is pushing backward, and is your chin drawing forward? Remind yourself to shift into a taller stance — if you sprint for a few seconds, your body naturally puts itself in a more effective running posture, so try to speed up once in a while to begin to recognize what good running posture feels like.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re standing upright and capable of forward motion — in other words, running — then your glutes are doing some work. “You may not be feeling it: You’re doing a big, full-body movement by running so you’re probably not going to feel an isolated muscle contracting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not working,” says Laino. However, strong, activated glutes are critical for adding power to a run. These exercises and ways to think about glute strength should help you activate these muscles to get more bang for your running buck.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.