Turning on the glutes

There’s a lot of controversy and differing opinions about what passes for good running technique, but one thing almost everyone agrees on is the need to be stable and strong at the hips. Yes indeed your butt needs to be switched on.

Depending on whether you’re reading a coaching manual or a scientific journal paper this might be expressed as holding your hips high or forward, pushing hard when doing hill sprints and faster running or activating your glutes, gluts, buttocks, hip extensors, abductors or external rotators. Whatever way you describe it, what we’re talking about is getting your butt working during running.

One of my favorite ways of coaching this with runners is to use a combination of simple body weight strength training exercises and drills to build awareness and capacity to get the booty switched on. This is immediately followed by some run throughs to allow the runner to get the feel for what we’ve just been discussing and working on.

It’s very easy to talk about getting the buttocks working in running, but difficult to implement if you don’t have an innate awareness of what it feels like to activate certain muscle groups, however it can be learned.

How to use your glutes in running


In this short video below I demonstrate this approach using a simple bridging exercise combined with an A Running Drill. Is this a perfect approach? Probably not, but it’s simple and relatively effective. Actually doing something movement oriented is a great way to learn. If it’s a smaller component of a greater whole that’s ok too. Sometimes you need to start with what you can do rather than worry about what you can’t.

I think the effectiveness of this approach depends somewhat on the individual and how they run. The majority of runners are not very strong, well coordinated or highly conditioned, so keeping things simple is the way to go if you’re coaching, (or are) a recreational athlete looking to get in touch with your rear wheel drive.

Runners who are more bum shuffler types (not a criticism) may find exercises like bridging and squats a closer approximation of their running method, whereas more hamstring/glute oriented athletes might like single leg dead lift/body snap/single leg back extension as the way to go.

Dynamic Single Leg Back Extension

Single Leg Back Extension

A well executed kettle bell or medicine ball swing could also suffice. The best way forward is to experiment with a range of exercises that are similar to running until you narrow down on the ones that most closely approximate or more importantly stimulate what you’re trying to achieve. Keep thinking: what will work for me?

If you’re a coach or runner what approach do you use? What works well and not so well. I don’t think there’s any wrong answers here so please chip in and share your experience.

Words and images by
Model: Lisa @ Model Hideout

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5 Responses to Turning on the glutes

  1. Andrew Cowell October 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Another great article! I think you wrote this especially for me ha ha! The fact that my children frequently refer to me as “no bum” might be a clue 🙂

    • Brian October 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Thanks Andrew, it’s a common affliction amongst runners!

  2. Jen Brown ~ Sparta PT September 29, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Hey Brian,

    I *love* the bridge and use it as part of the warm-up in every training session I do. As I mentioned on Twitter last night, the modification I like to make it to is to get people to roll their pelvis so that their lower back is flat on the ground (ie, posterior pelvic tilt) then to hold that position while squeezing their butts to lift their hips off the ground.

    As you know, many triathletes and runners are quad dominant and have over-active erectors in their back. So this pelvic tilt effectively takes those muscles out of the equation and forces them to use their glutes & hamstrings properly.

    It also prevents people from over-extending through their lower back when they bridge (as the model is actually doing in the 1st pic).

    I also love the single work exercises like the deadlift but find them harder to teach in a group setting (especially with people who don’t have a great sense of spatial awareness) and so I tend to save those types of exercises for smaller groups and/or 1-1 sessions.

    Great up the great work – love reading your site!

    All the best,

    • Brian September 29, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Thanks Jen, I think keeping it simple is a great way to approach it with groups. Good advice on taking the hep flexors out of it as much as possible. I’m not sure how group exercise instructors manage to keep an eye on everyone in their classes! Regards Brian


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