did you know that your butt is a muscle? yes, i’m sure you did. did you know that your butt (aka glutes, if i must) is really important to your runs. how often do you feel like you “ran with your butt”? you know what i mean by this- your glutes are sore after a run, you can feel them tightening up and working on the push off.
last year when i was diagnosed with hip bursitis, my sports chiropractor said that my glutes were not firing. this didn’t make sense to me since i spend plenty of time doing squats and lunges but what i learned is that when i run i tend to leave my glutes out of it all together. my hamstrings take on a lot of the work that my glutes should be doing. rarely do we think about what role our muscles play when we run but you’d probably be surprised at how important certain muscles are.
the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius are the 2 large muscles that make up our glutes (butt). the glutes are responsible for propelling us forward and supporting the hip joint and the pelvis while running. as soon as your foot hits the ground, your glutes should fire first, followed by hamstrings and then quadriceps. if the glutes aren’t strong enough to activate, the quads and hamstrings will have to pick up the slack. this throws off the alignment and mechanics of the entire leg and can lead to knee and foot problems.
our hamstrings are the powerhouse that propel us up a hill and our quadriceps are what help us maintain control on a downhill. if your hips and glutes are weak, it’s hard for your quads to support your knees and keep them tracking in the direction they should be. so, for instance, if you have knee pain, you tend to think it’s your knees while the actual culprit is probably your weak hips and glutes.
while your hips and glutes are crucial to proper running, your core cannot be forgotten. most people think running is all about the quads but that is absolutely not the case. when running an uphill, the glutes and lower abs support the pelvis, which connects to the leg muscles needed to get uphill. if the core is strong, the legs will have a stable plane to push from, for a more powerful ascent. when you swing your leg forward, the hip-flexor muscles, such as the rectus femoris, pull on the pelvis. as you push off the ground, the glutes and hamstrings are engaged. when running a downhill, you need strong gluteal muscles to help absorb the impact and counter the momentum of the forward motion but without the core strength to control your movement, your quads and knee joints bear the extra pounding of your body weight, which can lead to fatigue, pain, and even injury.
a strong core is also super important for speed and endurance. as you extend your stride or quicken the rate of your leg and foot turnover when you’re trying to pick up your pace, the lower abs-including the transversus and rectus abdominis-and lower back are called into action. the stronger and more stable these muscles are, the more force and speed you can generate as you push off the ground. as you’re nearing the end of a race, a solid core helps you maintain proper form and run efficiently, even through fatigue. with strong lower abs and lower-back muscles, such as the erector spinae, it’s easier to stay upright. if your core is weak, you may end up shuffling, slouching, and putting too much stress on your hips, knees, and shins.
lastly, be clear that your core is not just your abdominals. when i say core, i’m also talking about your back. think about this- the stronger your back is, the easier it will be to hold your abs in. therefore, a strong back (especially low) equals a flatter stomach as well as a better run. win win!