So we're endurance athletes right? We push hard, we sweat, we feel the pain and endure. We inform ourselves, we read the articles, we read the books, we watch the videos, listen to the advice. We may even think we know it all. But, the one part of the body that seems to be so commonly forgotten, while it's so important, are the gluteal muscles. The three "butt" muscles, gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, that we take for granted. While in fact they are vital to improving our physical abilities on the run and off the run, really in any sport strong glutes will aid you greatly. So let's delve into the what, why, and how of YOUR glutes!
What are they?
First things first, what are the glutes? Well like I said before there are three muscles that make up your gluteal muscles, which in turn make up your buttocks (mostly). They are the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and they originate from your ilium and sacrum and insert on your femur.
What do they do exactly?
In short the functions of those muscles include extension (movement in the posterior direction), abduction (movement away from the midline), external rotation, and internal rotation of the hip joint. Your gluteal muscles (what I like to call glutes) also stabilize your leg in running when in the single-support phase.
Why are they SOOOoooo important?
Your glutes, when followed down, affect muscles as far down as your feet and when strengthened can aid all of those muscles. For example, your gluteus maximus inserts into your iliotibial band (IT Band) and partially into your adductor magnus. Both your IT band and adductor are extremely prone to overuse injuries which occur when your glute muscles are weak and thus your IT band and adductor must be overworked. They are not as substantial and strong muscles as the glutes and as such can be easily overworked and subsequently injured.
This is just one example of how weak glute can affect the rest of your body. There are many, many more which is why the glutes are so important, because they affect so much.
You hear about injuries due to glute weakness all the time...
Which you do. If you are an avid follower and participator of most endurance sports you will find that in many, especially in ultrarunning, amateurs and professional athletes alike are told by their physicians that physical therapy is needed to heal a certain injury. In a lot of cases that physical therapy consists of functional exercises that strengthen your glutes and hip. Which is why if you do functional exercises at home you can prevent injuries and become a better athlete altogether.
What can you do to strengthen your glutes?
Some exercises you can do to strengthen your glutes are...
-One Legged Dead Lifts (body weight): Stand on one leg, bend the standing leg's knee a bit, squeeze your glute, and bend down extending your arm opposite to the balancing leg. Reach down to about a foot off the ground or touch the ground if possible. Do ten reps on one leg and then switch, do as many sets as needed to get those glutes burning!
-Side Lifts: Lie on your side, bend your arm and place under your head to support yourself, bend your knees a little, lift the top leg up and back slightly. You should feel it right there in your glutes. Place your free hand on your outside glute area and squeeze a little to make sure you hit the right spot. Do ten, repeat for other side, do as many sets as needed.
-Bridges: Lie on your back, bend knees so feet are flat on ground (knee should be at a 45 to 60 degree angle). Lift your pelvic area up so that it's at the same angle as your knees and your body is flat at that angle. Squeeze your glutes. Hold for 10-20 seconds, repeat.
-Standing Squat: Stand on one leg, stick the other leg frontwards, keep your back straight, and squat down as far as you can. Do 10 reps on both legs and repeat until you feel it. Remember to stay over your ankle.
-Low Squat Switch: Stand in a wide legged stance and place your hands together like in prayer. Squat down towards one leg, then keeping low, switch to the other leg's squat. This is a hard one!
-To activate your glutes before your run, squeeze them and lean backwards at your waist. Make sure to engage your core to not hurt your back!
So there you have it! The what, why, and how of YOUR glutes. Which really are a paramount aspect of your physical ability and injury free endurance. Remember to do those functional exercises and make it a daily ritual! You will thank yourself later for it.