The role of the glutes

‘Everyone is talking about the glutes, what do we do….. stretch or do we strengthen them?’

The glute muscles are a very popular talking point as most people that get injured over the last number of years are being told they have WEAK glutes or that they have TIGHT glutes. In other words the glutes are blamed for everything but can also be your savior. Hmmmm….. Now that's confusing. I don't blame someone for asking that question because for a long time I was confused but now I have seen the light.

So I am going to break down what you should do with your glutes as it really isn't that complicated, all I will say that some people reading this might struggle with some of the exercises and if you do or are injured you need to be assessed to figure out what's going on.

The glutes are a major muscle group that are a key link from the spine to the legs. They are extremely powerful and control how we walk and run. When used correctly they can give you all the control but when in a bad position they can cause a world of problems.

They are primarily a hip extender, it contracts when your leg is pushing off and it should be the main reason why we propel forward when running and walking. The problem is that most people can't even access their glute muscles to use them. The reason for this again goes back to the anterior pelvic tilt.

Most people are stuck in excessive anterior pelvic tilt (sitting too much) and this position is bad for the glute muscle because anyone with excessive anterior pelvic tilt cannot extend their hip. That doesn't mean you can't run but you will run extending your lower back not your hip = dead glutes.

So in a previous piece (see last week) I discussed repositioning and anyone that has a decreased hip extension should do those exercises. For the people that have good hip extension what should you do?

The answer is simple train and maintain hip extension because the reality is we are now using achilles tendons as glutes, so train your hip extension and get it strong.

Should I stretch the glutes?

Yes you should but a lot of people do ‘the hugging the knees into the chest’ exercise but no one thinks about the glutes on the side of the body. Also there is a very important structure called the hip capsule and I regularly find that people struggle to stretch this structure more than any other muscle. So try these stretches instead of your regular ones and see how you feel.


(A)Lateral glute stretch

  • Set up in all fours

  • Straighten back the right leg and stick the toe into the floor

  • Maintain a straight right knee throughout

  • Sit the left hip to the left

  • Feel left lateral hip stretch

  • Hold 5 breaths x 3 sets


(B)Post hip capsule stretch all fours

  • Place both knees on a cushion

  • Place the forearms on the ground in front

  • Bring the right knee behind the left

  • Sit back slightly to feel the left outer buttocks

  • Hold for 5 breaths x 3 sets


Retraining the glutes

Teaching hip extension to someone that has lived/ runned without it for years is not easy so we have to start slow.

So what we have to look out for in all our progressions is that we are not loosing control of the pelvis and the client isn't reverting back to extending the spine instead of the hip


(C) All fours sliding hip extension

  • Start in all fours as it allows for good abdominal contraction

  • Make sure to take a deep breath out to allow the ribs to descend

  • Slide the leg behind until the knee is fully extended

  • Return the leg to start and repeat for 8 reps x 3 sets


(D) All fours hip extension

  • Start in all fours

  • Straighten the leg behind so the knee is fully extended

  • Lift so the leg is parallel with the hip

  • Hold for 5 breaths x 3 sets


(E) All fours hip extension with opposite arm reach

  • Start in all fours

  • Straighten the left leg behind so the knee is fully extended

  • Lift so the leg is parallel with the hip

  • Lift off the right arm and raise so it is parallel with the shoulder

  • Hold for 5 breaths x 3 sets


(F) Hip thrusters - Top position holds

  • Have your shoulders and mid back on the bed/ bench

  • Bend the two knees to 90 degrees and keep your feet flat on the ground

  • Push the hips towards the ceiling so your knees are in line with the hips

  • Hold for 5 breaths x 3 sets concentrate on the out breath

  • When mastered this exercise you can add in weight by placing on the belt-line


After training hip extension and regaining the ability to extend your spine without overcompensating with your spine you can move on to training the lateral muscles of the glutes. These muscles are more important for change of direction sports but will also improve straight line running as they will allow a smoother transition from one leg to the other.


(G) Glute med sit.

  • Set up in a side plank position with the forearm flat on the ground

  • Bend your knees to 90 degrees

  • Lift your hip towards the ceiling and push forward so your hips are in line with your knees

  • Take your top leg off and bring it towards your chest

  • Return to the bottom position as if it was a running motion

  • Repeat 8 reps x 2 sets slow and controlled


(H) Retro walking with band (My favourite)

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place tubing around your ankles. This activity can also be performed without a resistance band/tubing.

  • Round out your back.

  • Place your right foot forward and left arm forward, while your right arm is behind you.

  • Shift your left hip back and bend your left knee, keeping your weight through your left mid-foot/heel. Side Bend your trunk to the left. You should feel your left outer hip (buttock) and left abdominals engage.

  • Keeping your back rounded and left hip back, slowly bring your right leg out to the side and back (making a half circle) with your right toes pointed straight ahead, as your right arm moves forward and left arm back. Hold this position 3 seconds before placing your right foot on the floor. You should feel your left outer hip (buttock), front of your left thigh and right outer hip (buttock) engage.Place your right foot on the ground.

  • Shift your right hip back and bend your right knee, keeping your weight through your right mid-foot/heel. Side Bend your trunk to the right. You should feel your right outer hip(buttock) and right abdominals engage.

  • Repeat 4-6 steps backwards with each leg


How do I warm up my glutes before running?

(I) Step heel drops (also can be performed on a curb)

  • Start with both feet positioned on a step

  • Drop the right heel to the floor

  • Make sure there is minimal weight put through the heel it should be a light tap

  • Repeat this for 10 reps on both sides

Tommy Conway