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How to Know Your Glutes are Working on a Run

Updated: May 31, 2023

There's no neon sign.

Or red or green light.

There's not even a crazy contraction you can feel.

So how do you know then whether your glutes are working during your run?

The answer is somewhere between:

"you just have to trust the process"

and

"100% positive they're NOT working right now!"

(or maybe they are…you'll find out ;) )

Ready to dive in and find out for certain whether your glutes are up to the TEST?

Let's dive in


THE ON/OFF GLUTE SWITCH

If this exists, it would sure be nice to know

…because even as a physical therapist, it can be struggle to find the *right* glute activating exercise for a runner, patient, client,…myself.

But since we don't have a universal glute switch, let's do the next best thing.

TEST IT.

If you're new here, The Running Fit Fam Dares to Train Differently.

And we use a test and re-test method of actionable, objective data.

It helps us learn and understand our own bodies which leaves us empowered to build STRONGER GLUTES and become better runners.

This is definitely one of those scenarios.

When a runner asks, "how do I know whether my glutes are working on my run?", the answer is often…grey.

TRUTH #1:

If you are able to stand, walk, go up or down stairs, your glute is ON. Your glute + hamstrings MUST fire and activate whenever your hip travels into and through hip extension

(the movement of bring your leg backwards as if you're going to kick a soccer ball).

TRUTH #2:

If you can do all those activities easily, then your glute is also ON while you're running

(simply because your back trailing leg is in…hip extension)

TRUTH #3:

Fatigue is real.

Muscles compensate

The body gets smart and will always take the path of least resistance.

You're running for miles, you begin to fatigue, and you're body decides to shut down huge energy consumers like your powerhouse glutes and "kick the energy can" down the road and make your calves do the work….well, it'll do it.

Resulting in…your glutes "not working" while you're running.

Your glutes WERE working, to clarify!

…but overtime, your body might actually adopt this "energy saving kick the can down the road" method because it "conserves energy and effort".

Not that it truly conserves energy in the long run, but compensations happen.

And these become habits. And then bad movement habits become engrained and used repeatedly with every stride.

No wonder this is followed by injury.

So HOW do you know whether you glutes have started a coupe?

We TEST to determine whether they are weak or unactivated.

HOW TO TELL WHETHER YOUR GLUTES ARE WEAK OR UNACTIVATED

Let me start off with….there is MUCH more to this than just ONE test.

It's nuanced.


The exercises that work for me might not work for you…and that's OK! That doesn't mean you're a bad running, a failure, or you're incredibly weak.

It might mean it's the WRONG EXERCISE.

Disclaimer aside… we TEST.


Be sure to switch and perform on both sides, taking the time to see how this test looks like running.

The reason this test is running specific:

  • it looks like running

  • challenges your SL balance (which is a MUST with running)

  • It takes away the use of your feet (which a lot of runners overuse) which means…all you've got to relyon is your glutes (and the remainder of your posterior chain)

YOUR TEST RESULTS

Can you hold this position for equal amounts of time on both sides?

Does one side feel more wobbly than the other?

Or do you feel rock solid on both legs?

What you're looking for is equal balance on both, in other words, feeling steady, solid…and not falling over.

If you are able to feel much more solid, strong, equal, and balance on both sides after one of my exercise (or after a handful of your own!) then it's highly likely you simply have an activation issues.

If nothing at ALL seems to flick the glute switch, then…it's more likely it's glute strength issue, HOWEVER…before you can effectively strengthen, you STILL need to activate your glutes. (so keep reading)

WHEN DO I USE THIS TEST?

I highly suggest you test yourself BEFORE and AFTER you next run.

(it literally takes 10secs at the most)

If you're finding your flopping all over BEFORE your run, try my wall push exercise, some 1/2 kneeling halos, or your own favorite glute exercise and RE-TEST again.


Like I mentioned above, you're looking for near-instant results-this is a sign of GLUTE ACTIVATION.


You already had this strength; your body just didn't know how to access it.

Now that you're testing strong, you can rely and trust your body that your glutes are ready to run.

The reason to test again AFTER your run:

  • You're fatigued and so are your glutes.

  • By testing again, you're collecting data and obtaining a clear picture of "how do my glutes respond to fatigue? Does my body take the cheap way out and shut off my glutes?"

Testing afterwards will most likely feel shakier compared to the first time, but that's to be expected. You're still looking for equal balance, stability, and NOT immediately falling over!

WRAPPING UP:

Here's to feeling more confident and empowered that your glutes ARE actually working on your run!

But like I said before…this is a nuanced process.


But you don't have to guess or do it alone.

First you restore MOBILITY.

Then ACTIVATE.

Then build STRONGER GLUTES on top of this solid foundation

By doing all this is a way that looks like running, you're body is able to translate that strength and understand HOW to use that strength you just built into running.

Case in point:

  • I lifted seriously and heavy for about a 1.5 hear time span.

  • My squat got up to 350lbs.

  • But I ran the sloooooowest I ever have!

  • I built pure strength; but didn't train my body at the same time on how to translate that strength into the demands of running.

  • I was missing the performance part of building STRONGER GLUTES.

And I feel that you have been too, especially when you've been told by (multiple) health care professionals:

  • "you have weak glutes because you're a runner"

  • or "you don't know how to use your glutes when you run"…

but then NOT been given the correct tools to fix anything!

I want to empower you and hand you the manual to building STRONGER GLUTES.

Because you deserve actual solutions and better exercises than the ones you've already tried from Dr. Google.

I want to share everything I know from my physical therapy practice from how to know your glutes are working while you're running to how to unlock your tight hip flexors so you can run better and faster.

I've love to help empower you and guide you through my NEW STRONGER GLUTES workshop.

It's fun, engaging, empowering, and…YOUR INSTANT transformation never gets old. ;)

I can't wait to see you on the inside!

And until then,

Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. Need a taste-test first of what STRONGER GLUTES means? I have a FREE STRENGTH GUIDE for RUNNERS and it's exactly what you're looking for! Click HERE!


 

References


Mills M, Frank B, Goto S, Blackburn T, Cates S, Clark M, Aguilar A, Fava N, Padua D. EFFECT OF RESTRICTED HIP FLEXOR MUSCLE LENGTH ON HIP EXTENSOR MUSCLE ACTIVITY AND LOWER EXTREMITY BIOMECHANICS IN COLLEGE-AGED FEMALE SOCCER PLAYERS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Dec;10(7):946-54. PMID: 26673683; PMCID: PMC4675195.

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