Forget the Glutes

by | Run, Training

For some time now I have been searching for that elusive ‘flow’ in running. That gravity-defying grace bestowed upon the world’s elite that allows them to effortlessly soak up the road. Each foot strike gripping and propelling the athlete forward, hips and upper body so smooth, gliding on a set of out-of-sight rail tracks. Vertical oscillation, the bane of long-distance runners, measured in millimetres rather than inches. I searched. I listened. I failed.

Glutes are a hot topic in running circles. It’s hard to scroll through a social media feed without tripping over a ‘Buy my ‘how to’ guide’ post in glute strengthening / stretching / activating. You could be forgiven for thinking the entire world has a pit bull for a backside; muscled, angry and primed to break a bone or two with one clench. When it comes to running there is a deafening chorus of ‘Activate Your Glutes!’. Seriously, I tried. I tried really hard. Like everyone I shout this mantra to, and let’s face it most human beings are going to struggle with this, I find it pretty impossible to either run with my Glutes engaged full time or try and fire then at the right time in the gait cycle. I tend to be Hip Flexor heavy when I run, they are switched on and it certainly feels like that when a long run is completed.

Let’s start with the ‘Glutes switched on full time’ approach. I am pretty sure when Schwarzenegger took on the role of The Terminator, the Director said “.. Just walk around with your Glutes engaged, that’s the look we’re going for here..”. I haven’t studied it fully but I have a feeling that injury, or haemorrhoids, or both, are likely outcomes. I felt flexed, but no flow.

Repeatedly firing your Glutes when you run is equally amusing. The audacity of thinking that mere mortals have both the ability and control to consciously ignite their posterior muscle fibres at just the right time 180 times a minute over the course of a run is laughable. At least it is very funny whenever I have told someone to do just that. An okay running style morphs into ‘scared man running on hot coals’. Like The Terminator, it is neither fast, efficient or a good look.

If you’ve tried the ‘Driving with your Glutes’ method and failed as miserably as I have then read on.

The Solution

Ignore the Glutes. The clue was in the title really and the answer lies with the Glutes annoyed, and in my case abused, cousins – the Hip Flexors. The lazy amongst us will know that not doing something is a lot easier than actually doing something. Relaxing is a lot easier than working. So, with two key elements of leg swing being Glutes and Hip Flexor, let’s just tell the Hip Flexors to go on strike. If you run, and relax your Hip Flexors, guess what; without a moment’s hesitation your Glutes finally roll up their sleeves and get with the program. No Terminator stiffness. No walking on hot coals.

The flow starts to happen behind you, leg extension becomes easier, leg recovery happens naturally rather than being pulled through too early by the Hip Flexors. You can feel a subtle shift in Glute workload but it is almost subconscious. It’s doing it because it needs to, it has to; if you want to run and your Hip Flexors are relaxed then subconsciously your body chooses the Glutes the best available thing for the job. Nothing forced, nothing over-thought. Just nature, doing its thing.

Great performing glutes are an essential tool for the endurance warrior. But when it comes to flow, forgetting about the Glutes and focussing on relaxing the Hip Flexors might be the key to a better run form. ?Give it a try.


Further reading: Want to learn more? What might cause this issue? Take a peek at LOWER CROSSED SYNDROME. Thanks to Greg at WAVE PHYSIO for that addition.