The Role of the Lateral Glutes in Running

The aim of this study is to explore the role of the lateral glute muscles in running kinematics, performance and injury. Recommended exercises for strengthening are also provided.

Introduction

The hip region is integral for running mechanics with over 20 muscles acting on the joint.

The glutes are the most important muscle group in regards to running performance.

Glute maximus, medius and minimus – form the largest muscle group of the hip.

The glutes allow the leg to move in 3 planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse)

Running is a sagittal plane activity with hip extension being the main fundamental movement pattern.

The glute max is the hips primary extensor; therefore, it is the focus of many strengthening programs for runners and various athletes to increase force, speed and performance.

The focus on the glute max can result in a lack of strengthening for both the glute medius and minimus. Weakness in these muscles are quite common and are linked to:

  • Reduced metabolic efficiency and running economy
  • Increased overuse injuries
  • Low back pain
  • Plantar fasciitis

The function of Lateral Glute Muscles

Glute Maximus – Largest and most superficial of all glute muscles

Glute Medius – 2nd largest and deeper than glute max

Glute Minimus – smallest of the 3 and deeper than medius

Glute Medius and Minimus are hip abductors which move the leg away from the midline

  • Medius – 60% of total cross-sectional area of hip abductor muscular
  • Minimus – 20% of total cross-sectional area of hip abductor muscular

Contribution of Lateral Glutes in Running

The primary function of lateral glutes during running is to stabilise hip joint during gait cycle.

Electromyography (EMG) of glute medius suggests peak activation at the beginning of gait cycle acting eccentrically to control hip adduction to concentrically abducting the hip.

Increased levels of activation correlate with increase running speeds

Glute minimus assists in stabilising the hip during the mid and late phases of gait cycle.

Weakness in lateral glutes can result in 

  • increase in thigh adduction
  • frontal plane pelvic drop  – having a negative effect on running performance.

Influence on Injury Prevention

Instability from weakness of lateral glutes = increases peak vertical ground reaction forces.

This impairs the body’s ability to absorb forces which can potentially lead to lower limb injury.

Lateral glute weakness = increased knee valgus or dynamic Q-angle, which theoretically can cause tension on the IT band (iliotibial band), thus increasing the risk of impingement against the femur. 

Impingement is more likely during the early stance phase of gait cycle when absorbing ground reaction forces.

Increase Q-angle may also increase the risk of ACL injuries on landing activities or/and cause patellofemoral tracking issues.

A study has found that women who display a delay or short glute medius activation tend to have patellofemoral pain.

Stronger lateral glutes = less pain and better function for individuals with patellofemoral pain, although studies among athletes are limited

Weakness in hip abductors linked to lower back pain (LBP)

Strengthening this muscle group also shown to help reduce plantar fasciitis pain.

Strengthening the Lateral Glutes

Exercises that involve hip abduction, external rotation recruit glute medius and minimus

Muscle ActivatedExercise (Click for video)
Medius + minimusHip Hitch
Medius (posterior fibres)Wall Press
MediusSL Glute Bridge
MediusClamshells
MediusSide plank w/ hip abduction
Medius + Minimus (posterior fibres)Lying hip abduction

The use of compound-based exercises is also recommended

These exercises train the lateral glutes to stabilise the hips and have been shown to promote high levels of glute medius activation.

SL squats and skater squats = advanced exercises, which place a big load on quadriceps also.

The author recommends becoming proficient in the bilateral (2 leg) squat before progressing to a single leg. 

Progress external load over a period a time and ensure sufficient rest periods between sets (1-2 mins).

Use of unstable surfaces to activate lateral glute is not recommended.

Due to risk associated with weak lateral glutes, it is essential for practitioners to strengthen this muscle group.

Reference

Fetters, K. Aleisha. “Exploring the Role of the Lateral Gluteal Muscles in Running: Implications for Training.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 42.1 (2020): 60-66.

doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000486

Link to Paper

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