“Sleeping Glutes,” or the inability to effectively engage the gluteal muscles so necessary for faster, more powerful running, is a relatively unsung problem that plagues many athletes at all levels. It can lead to a variety of problems, from lack of power and speed in sprinters, to overuse injuries in other muscles and tendons of the leg in distance athletes as the body compensates for the glutes inability to engage and drive power down into the lower portions of the leg.
If you find that you struggle to run faster, climb hills and drive the leg down and push off powerfully in your running stride, or if you are dealing with injuries anywhere in the “drive train” of the lower leg, “sleeping glutes” may be part of the problem. Typically, runners who have this problem will use the muscles of the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings to compensate for the lack of activation in the gluteal muscles, so problems in these muscle groups can be another indication.
Still wondering if you have this problem? Here’s a simple test: lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms pushing into the floor. Now pull in your feet towards your buttocks and lift up your hips into a hip bridge. Hold the position for as long as you can. If you feel soreness in your quads and lower back, you likely have “sleeping glutes.”
So, how does one wake up these napping muscles? By learning to use them properly through performing exercise that target, strengthen and force them to engage. Just running more miles or lifting weights to strengthen them usually doesn’t work, as people who have this problem have learned how to use other muscle groups to compensate. So the exercises must target and isolate the glutes, allowing the runner to feel the engagement and learn to repeat it in their running stride.
Four Exercises to Wake Up Those Glutes
Butt Squeezes – This is one of the best exercises around because you can do it anywhere. And it is very simple: when walking, standing, running or performing any other exercise, simply remember to squeeze the glutes. This allows you to feel when they are working and when they are not.
Forward pivots in saggital plane – Standing with your feet slightly apart and toes pointing straight forward, lift up your left foot about 30cm so that you are standing balanced on your right foot. Raise your hands straight up over your head and reach them forward and down towards the floor, pivoting forward through the right hip. The left foot will be stretching behind you so that your body forms a T, with your right leg as the base and your arms and left leg forming the top of the T. Now engage and tighten the right glute muscles as you return your arms to the overhead position, and return your left leg to its’ original raised position. Repeat this exercise 10 – 15 times on each leg.
Plank with leg raises – Adopt the plank position, with your hands and feet planted shoulder width apart, straight arms, with a straight line from the top of your head down through your toes planted on the floor. Focus on getting your buttocks down, and feel the engagement in your shoulders, core and hip flexors as they support your body. Now, raise your right leg, keeping the leg straight and thinking of pushing down and back through your heel as you use your buttocks muscles to raise the leg. Do this 15 – 20 times on each leg.
Leg Bridges – Yes, the test to determine if you have sleeping glutes is also one of the exercises you should do to help resolve the problem. Repeat the exercise outlined in the test, holding the position for up to two minutes. A variation to make this more difficult and target the glute muscles even more effectively is to straighten out one leg, lift it over your hips and then lower while continuing to hold the bridge position with your other leg. Repeat 10 – 20 times on each leg.
Incorporate these exercises into your workout routine and in a few weeks you should find that your glutes are wide awake and providing more power and speed than ever to your running.