Strengthen Your Glutes: Reintroduce your Brain to Your Butt
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
As marathon season comes to a close and many athletes are transitioning into their off-season activities, it’s a perfect time to start the process of reintroducing your brain to your butt.
We have talked a lot in previous posts about the importance of the function of the Gluteal musculature. Today we will do a wee review and then get straight into some great exercises to strengthen and stabilize your butt!
Here is a list of some of the injuries that I see regularly in my practice that have a common denominator of dysfunctional glutes:
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Achilles tendinitis
- Shin Splints
- Patellofemoral Syndrome
- Knee Pain
- Iliotibialband Syndrome
- Runners Knee
- Piriformis Syndrome
- Hip Pain
- Low Back Pain
- Chronic Hamstring Pull/Strain
In the treatment and prevention of injuries along the anatomy train from the floor to the core, (which will include every injury listed above) it is extremely important to improve the function of the gluteal musculature to get past the injury and to prevent it from coming back.
We have talked about it before, but it is extremely important so it’s worth the review:
There is a difference between strength and function.
You can have a big strong powerful Glute muscle but if it doesn’t activate and do its job when it’s supposed to…. then it is not functioning correctly.
I like to tell my patients: ‘Your butt muscles are on holidays.’
This is a problem I see in almost every single patient regardless of their complaint and regardless of whether they are a sedentary person or an elite athlete!
You CAN get your gluteals to activate and function properly again!
I usually describe this process as ‘re-introducing your brain to your butt’.
By making this ‘re-introduction, you will alleviate the pain associated with your injury and you will also gain speed, strength and stability in your run or your sport as the gluteal muscles wake up to the job that they are meant to do.
Reactivating your Gluteal Musculature
The first exercises that patients usually focus on when they are making attempts to reactivate and strengthen their gluteal musculature are squats or lunges.
This is a mistake.
If you are struggling with plantar fasciitis, Shin Splints, or any of the other leg injuries that I mentioned above, a huge biomechanical contributor to those injuries is a lack of function and stability at the glutes.
Doing a squat or a lunge with an unstable pelvis and glutes that are contracting their work out to other muscles will only aggravate the problem further.
Instead, gluteal strength needs to be achieved in positions that won’t compromise the leg and lead to further stress along the foot and leg.
Only once you have achieved strength and stability gains with the more supported exercises is it appropriate to move on to squats and lunges.
Exercises To Strengthen and Stabilize your Gluteal Musculature
The first exercise I give to my patients is to make an isometric contraction (an increase in muscular tension without a change in muscle length) of their glutes in various positions as they go about their day.
Hold the squeeze for 5-10 seconds for a set of 10 while sitting at a red light or standing in a line. If you can make this voluntary connection in a static position, then the contraction will be more likely to be there during functional movements like running.
You can start this isometric squeeze exercise right away, even if you are in an injury crisis. You may then want to ease into the other exercises for your glutes as the pain of your injury begins to subside.
The Clam Shell
This exercise will help you to isolate the gluteus medius muscle from a very supported position side-lying on the floor or bed.
Start by lying on your side with knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet parallel to your torso. Make sure that your hips stay stacked on top of one another throughout the exercise.
Place your fingers on your gluteus medius muscle so that you can be sure that it activates during the movement.
Slowly lift your knee while keeping the hips stacked. Repeat 20 times each side.
Once you get good at this one, you can put a band around your knees to create more resistance.
The Fire Hydrant
Start on all fours in table top position.
Targeting the gluteus medius muscle, slowly lift one leg up and to the side. You will look kinda like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant 🙂
Start with 3 sets of 10 and build to 20 reps each side.
This exercise engages the gluteus maximus muscle that must work to support the back. The position on the floor allows strengthening of the glutes without putting stress on the knees or the lower legs.
Lie on your back with knees bent. Draw in the lower abdominals and curl the butt off the floor, lifting the hips until the knees, hips and chest are in line. Hold this position, purposefully squeezing the glutes to support the bridge position.
Keep the pelvis level and the lower abdominals drawn in. If you feel a strong contraction in the hamstrings or the lower back is straining, then you are not using your glutes strongly enough.
Focus on squeezing your butt cheeks together to ensure they do the work.
Start with 10 x 10 seconds, building up to 2 x 60 seconds.
Side steps with a Band
Start standing with an exercise band around your ankles. It should be snug when your feet are shoulder distance apart.
With knees slightly bent, take a sideways step focusing on the gluteus medius muscle on the side that you are stepping to.
Step 5-10 times one way and then 5-10 times back the other way. Repeat 3-5 times. (you can build up as you get stronger)
The Hip Hiker
This exercise involves recruiting the gluteals to maintain a level pelvic tilt.
Stand on one leg on box or a step. Stand up with good posture, head looking forward into a mirror.” Tilt the pelvis so the free side drops down. Your stance-leg knee should not have moved nor should your head or back. Focus on your gluteals on the stance leg (place your fingers on the gluteus medius muscle to ensure that it engages during the exercise).
Pull the pelvis up from the tilted position until the free side is level or even slightly higher. Slowly continue this hiking motion up and down.
Complete 3 sets of 10 building up to 20 reps each side.
So, What does your Butt have to do with it?
The kinetic chain (anatomy train) that goes from the ground at your feet, up through your ankle, knee and hip and into your core is vital in terms of stability for every person, especially during running gait.
Remember that your Gluteus Maximus is your biggest strongest propulsion muscle.
The Gluteus Medius is one of your most important muscles for maintaining stability while on one leg. If these muscles function as they should, you will move your body further and faster with more ease and most importantly with less injuries including repetitive strain injuries like Shin Splints or Iliotibial Band Syndrome.
My patients that have had the most stubborn, resistant cases of Shin Splints and other athletic injuries of the legs who had tried every treatment that they could find only got the relief they needed when they added their core/gluteal strength into the equation and focused on getting improving the strength function and stability of the glutes.
So begin right this minute by re-introducing your brain to your butt and start squeezing those glutes!!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series ‘Living Well” inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.