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Runner: "Lazy" vs. unengaged glutes? TEST it to FIX it!


You know what they say about assumptions…

You need to confirm them. ;)

I see this problem a lot both in the clinic and on the wild wild web: Runners assume they automatically have "lazy" glutes...

Or a weak core.

Or tight hip flexors.

But if we're being data, science-driven runners who are looking for the best running performance of our lifetime…why the sudden urge to just assume?

And then…not confirm your assumptions? Because from what data are you drawing this lazy glute assumption?

"Runner's world said so!"

"There was this post on IG…"

"a running guru said it…"

Starting to see my point?

I won't deny it: I have definitely seen runners with weak glutes in the clinic! But I've also had runners in the clinic who have left me scratching my head because their strength work paid off and their glutes were SOLID when I measured for strength!

What would have happened for that "solid-glute" runner if I had just "assumed" her glutes were lazy?

  1. She would not have been happy with me because it means I didn't listen to a word she said when she gave me a detailed list of her strength work

  2. I would treated the WRONG AREA.

Yikes.


This is why Running Performance is so important, running fit fam.

Getting this kind of information into your hands (and brains) empowers you to learn and understand your body. And then, make appropriate daily training decisions. Because unless you're an elite, you *might* not have your coach on speed dial to confer with them at 6 in the morning.

But giving you the knowledge to understand your body and the tools to TEST YOUR ASSUMPTIONS.

Now, that's Daring to Train Differently.

Let's dive in!

"Lazy" vs "Un-activated" Glutes

First thing, it IS entirely possible you have weak glutes. So remember, with this test, we still need CONTEXT. We still need to respect and understand the ENTIRE movement system that is your body.

However…

Look at what you do as a runner:

  • You're on your feet for miles and miles

  • running up hills

  • doing speed work

The Key: ALL of this requires powerful glutes!

On the flip side…


Our bodies are incredible smart and adaptive.

Meaning, despite a muscular weakness, if it is possible for our bodies to recruit other teammate-muscles to get the job done (running), then it will.

(hello, compensations.)

And you'll keep running and running…

Without knowing you *might* have weak glutes.


(Confusing? Yes. But that's why you have professionals.)

The truth from this circular argument: if your glutes ARE weak despite you "doing all the things" (mobility work, cross training, etc), injury will probably still find you.


"Increased hip adduction and internal rotation during the early stance phase of running have been linked to an increased risk of lower extremity injury. Both the gluteus maximus (GMAX) and gluteus medius (GMED) eccentrically control these motions"

But back it up, Dr. Whitt. In this hypothetical scenario, I AM doing the strength work, cross training, etc… what gives?

Assumptions.

Assumptions are giving you that confusion.

The REAL question becomes: are your glutes weak?? Or are they strong but just NOT activated?


"The present findings suggest that concurrent strength and endurance training improves 1RM squat strength…. Changes in neuromuscular function underpin all of these improvements, yet none of these measures provide insight into the type of neuromuscular change occurring or how these manifest during running. Such changes could be caused by alterations in the timing and/or amplitude of muscle activity, motor unit coordination and synchronization, muscle co-activation, or any number of other factors."

"…changes in lower limb strength and coordination could alter running biomechanics, consequently improving ground force application or reducing metabolic costs at a given submaximal running speed."

How do you tell the difference? We test for it!

TESTING

Rule #1: Test and Re-Test

In order to see/feel/document change, you have to perform the test, follow it up with 1 exercise, and test again and observe the result.

This result could be you performed better, worse, or there was no change! Don't fudge the result here!

There is no wrong answer. This test and re-test method is designed to help you assess your body, listen to it, learn from it…NOT shame it!

Rule #2. Let It Be Easy

Don't fall into my mistake of over analyzing, overthinking the results of the test. Let the answer be easy and obvious.

If you fall over on your right side but not your left, the answer is pretty clear. If you can notice a subtle different, great! If it feels exactly the same on both side, also great.

TEST: 1/2 kneeling balance in tandem; R vs L


How to determine your results:

  • Hang out in this testing position for roughly 10secs. (remember, we NOT overthinking this. We're observing our body and what it does.)

  • Ask yourself: does this side feel easy or hard?

  • Switch and perform on both sides

  • Commit and decide on a firm result before jumping into an exercise!

CORRECTIVES EXERCISES:

Do 1 exercise from below

  • SL frog glute bridge

  • 1/2 knee halos

  • OR pick 1 exercise from your own strength workout!


RE-TEST

  • See Rule #1. Do the test again, same way as before.

  • Any change? If it's better, you've found your glute-activating exercise! If it's worse, don't panic! Use this same process again but with a different exercise. No change? Same thing: rinse and repeat.

Why This Test?

Can you see how this half kneeling test looks like running on my knees?

Also, did you notice what happens when/if you tip or fall over during the test?

  • If we get really technical, you fall into internal hip rotation and hip adduction (and knee valgus) that we talked about in our first research quote. And we know from the literature: this particular sequence of compensations is a recipe for injury.

  • So by putting your body into a position that looks like running, replicates the single leg stance of running, and challenges glute/hip stability like running while at the same time removing a potential source of false stability (aka your feet), we can test and assess which glute might be weak or simply not activated

Did you follow that uber technical explanation?

If not, that's ok.


Remember what I said about professionals: it's our job to go in depth and understand the mechanics. It's also in our job description to help teach you how to understand your own body.

And THAT right there, is good running performance:

Empowering YOU with the knowledge and tools to assess your body so you can understand when something is off. Being able to do initial triage on yourself and fix everyday imbalances is plus, too.

Because at the end of the day, running performance is about you becoming a better runner. And you get to decide what that better is:

  • Injury free

  • Learning about your body

  • Strengthening your body is ways specific ways unique to YOU as a runner-individualized!

Congratulations running fit fam, you're officially on your way to becoming a better runner. All by Daring to Train Differently.

Let me know in the comments below: did you give this test a try? What were your results?

Until next time…

Dare to Train Differently,

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

P.S. Looking for some more exercises to try out with these tests? Grab my FREE RUNNING GUIDE and skip to the strength section!

 

REFERENCES:


Connelly, C., Moran, M., & Grimes, J. (2020). COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF HIP MUSCLE ACTIVATION DURING CLOSED-CHAIN REHABILITATION EXERCISES IN RUNNERS. International Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy, 15(2), 229-237. doi: 10.26603/ijspt20200229


Cook, G. (2017) Movement: Functional movement systems: Screening, Assessment and Corrective Strategies. Santa Cruz, CA: On Target Publications.


Trowell, D. et al. (2019) “Effect of strength training on biomechanical and neuromuscular variables in distance runners: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Sports Medicine, 50(1), pp. 133–150. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01184-9.




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