The glutes are one of the biggest muscles in the body. Yet it receives little attention compared to the lower abdominals. Gerald Smith examines the significance of this power house muscle.
The abdominal muscles
By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below)Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 392, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=531409
Core training has been commonly prescribed for people with lower back pain and to improve performance.
It is an area poorly understood and many people include different muscles in their definition of the core.
What does the core do?
The core acts as a bridge between the upper and lower body and there is no question of its importance to performance.
Many runners develop over-use injuries which I like to term running imbalance injuries, due to the muscular imbalance caused by just running alone and not incorporating weight training, or stability training into your running regime.
Due to the reliance on just running to improve speed many people don’t develop the core or any other key muscles for injury prevention.
The core plays a key role in stabilising the pelvis (hip region), improving performance and decreasing back pain.
One of the deeper muscles of the core actually raps round into the back and tightens like a corset. This muscle is called the transverse abdominus. See below.
The core reduces stress on the lower back
This makes the back more rigid and resilient to stress. However, when we consider the most common type of injuries in running or cycling are to the knee and not to the back perhaps it’s worth increasing your focus on the glutes and giving this muscle the focus it truly deserves.
The Gluteus maximus
Can the glutes stabilize as well as the abdominal muscles?
The glutes are also important for stabilising the pelvis, preventing lower back pain, reducing injuries at the knee, and are a power house performance muscle.
I commonly come across people with weak glutes, poor stabilisation of the hip, who think that all they need to do is just strengthen the core and everything else sorts itself out……..
This is not true.
Anatomy of the gluteal muscles
The gluteus muscles are three separate muscles. One of the muscles, which is the one we spend most of our time sitting on, is the power house muscle.
The gluteus maximus is your power house!
It is one of the most powerful muscles in the body and is one of many muscles that provide great hip strength.
Due to the fact that we sit on this muscle all day the constant pressure placed on it can weaken the glutes.
When this muscle becomes weak it can become the source of lower back pain because the lower back has to do more work.
For example, during the running stride after the foot strikes the floor, the body passes over the foot and then the leg extends behind the body.
The glutes play an important role in extending the leg, and if the glutes are weak than the muscular work for the leg extension is carried out by the back and places the strain on the back muscles.
The other two muscles of the glutes have a different role. They are important stabilisers of the hip muscles.
The Gluteus medius and minimus muscles.
Why is hip stabilization important?
Hip stabilization is very important and must go hand in hand with hip strength. Think of the front wheel of the bike you ride.
When you get on your bike you make sure the front wheel is attached tightly. Now imagine if that wheel is loose and as you put force through the pedals the wheel becomes unsteady, it shakes, it moves from side to side.
Eventually the bike will give way and collapse. Your hip joint is similar to that bike wheel, and if it is not stable it will lead to an injury.
Well this is what the glutes do for your entire leg. The wheel falling off would be the equivalent to you getting an injury because your hip can’t transfer the forces properly.
During running three and a half times your body weight is going through your knees, and body.
When your hips are unstable it is actually your knee that will be put in an unfavorable position by the hip, in the same way that the wheel is placed in an unfavorable position by the unstable joint.
This can lead to a knee injury. The two key injuries that manifest themselves are Patelofemoral syndrome (PFS), which is a grinding feeling in your knee when you bend it, or illiotibial band friction syndrome (IBFS), which is where you get a pain on the outside of the knee.
The gleuteus minimus muscle
The glutes are as important as the core.
As you can see the importance of the glutes are comparable to the core. The core plays an important role in protecting the lower back, but so do the glutes.
Some may argue that their influence on reducing lower back pain is greater than the abdominals, but the glutes affect on preventing knee injury are greater, and knee injuries are more prevalent in running, and cycling.
It is important to include exercises for the glutes in your training programme no matter what level you’re at as a runner.
Training the muscles of the glutes should be done in stages. By that I mean start with easy exercises for stabilisation and strength.
Even if you are a fast runner you can strong legs with poor stability which can lead to an injury.
I recommend these running core exercises for strength and stabilisation.
Gerald has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health. He is an ASA qualified swimming teacher, and a qualified personal trainer. Gerald has developed his own exclusion diet, which he uses to help his clients lose weight.