By Marc McCulley, MS ACSM HFS; Wellness Director, Caine Halter Family Branch
In the world of endurance sports, it is not uncommon to see a steady stream of people suffering from pain in their hips, backs and knees. The majority of these problems stem from one source: weak gluteal muscles. Even when you think you're working your glutes, you may be overcompensating with other muscles and setting yourself up for injury.
Three muscles - the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus - make up the buttocks. The biggest of the glutes (and largest of the 639 muscles in the human body) is the gluteus maximus, which works to extend and rotate the hips and legs. The gluteus medius is a broad muscle that sheathes and stabilizes the pelvis and core. The underlying, fan-shaped minimus helps support the hip area. When you run, the maximus propels you forward; while the medius and minimus muscles provide control for your femurs, which help keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned.
The glutes are some of the most important muscles in the body, they're also some of the most troublesome. For example, if your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, it can make your hip flexors tight and overactive, which will deactivate your glutes.
Weak glutes can cause the hamstring and quadriceps muscles to overcompensate, which can lead to strains. Without a strong, working medius to align the femur, knee and ankle; you're also more likely to over pronate your feet, which can cause plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and shin splints. Inhibited gluteal muscles can lead to tight iliotibial bands, also known as ITB syndrome, and patello-femoral pain also know as runnerís knee.
Hereís good news! By activating your glutes, you can help prevent injuries, and boost your fitness performance.
Gauge Your Glutes
Inhibited gluteal muscles can lead to chronic pain and injuries. Try this self-test to see how they rate: 1. Stand on your right leg on top of a step or small platform, your left leg out in front of you.
2. Slowly bend your right leg, reaching your hips backward as far as is comfortable. If your right leg leans or caves inward at the knee, your glutes are probably weak or inactive. Repeat with your other leg.
Make Them Stronger
Here are two exercises to strengthen your glutes:
Quadruped Hip Extension
1. Start on your hands and knees and contract your abdominal muscles to keep the spine in a neutral position.
2. Keep your left knee on the mat and your right knee bent at 90 degrees.
3. Slowly lift your right leg until the bottom of your right foot is pointing toward the ceiling and your femur (thigh bone) is aligned with your spine. Slowly lower your right leg. Repeat for 10 reps; switch and do 10 reps with the left leg.
1. Standing, hold a lightweight dumbbell in each hand and step forward with the left foot. Keep your head up and your spine neutral.
2. Drop your right knee toward the floor by bending both knees; make sure to keep the left knee directly over the center of the left foot.
3. Push down and forward through your left heel to return to the start position. Repeat on the other
side; alternate for 10 reps per side.