How to Strengthen Your Glutes to Improve Your Running

Woman doing a bridge exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Aside from the cardiovascular and mood-boosting benefits of running, the popular sport is also a full-body workout, meaning your muscles are worked from head to toe. Therefore, cross-training, such as with strength work, can enhance your stride and help ward off certain injuries.

A 2018 review of research found that two to three varied strength training sessions a week, be that heavy lifting, isometric, compound exercises, or even explosive resistance training, likely offer benefits to both middle and long-distance runners. Outcomes such as improved velocity, speed, and flexibility were noted when incorporating other forms of training alongside running.

Glute strength should be of particular focus for runners as this group of muscles (comprising the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus), keeps the pelvis steady as you pound the sidewalk.

Glute Strength For Runners

Your glutes help to stabilize your pelvis and hips during a run, improving your running gait, stride, and power.

The glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus (the largest of the three gluteal muscles) are the body's most powerful muscle group. As such, it has an important function in how you move and perform athletically, with weakness in this area sometimes leading to pain and injury, which can affect your running performance.

Gluteus maximus dysfunction can be a contributor to the risk of injury, especially for those with a chronic problem, stressing the importance of maintaining strong glutes to improve your run.

A common example is knee pain when running, or spinal misalignment caused by a forward-tilted pelvis.

A study assessing gluteus weakness in patients following knee surgery found that a lack of strength in the region increased activity and shortening of certain muscles alongside the leg. This compensation was improved for those on a gluteus medius strengthening program, who found their recovery and pain improved.

Glute Exercises to Try 

If you want to throw in some new exercises to strengthen your glutes, these bodyweight movements require no equipment (other than a yoga mat or towel) and can be performed before or after a workout, or interspersed with your running days.

Try this sequence together, allowing for a minute or two of rest between each round. Aim for three rounds and build it up to five overtime. Once you feel an improvement in glute strength, you can consider adding a set of light dumbbells to further challenge your muscles and build up strength.

Forward to Reverse Lunge

Lunges are exemplary for firing up your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and also your calves. For a more dynamic exercise, try alternating between forward and reverse lunges.

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders rolled back, chin lifted and your core braced.
  2. Take a big step forward with your right foot and place it in front to bring your legs into a wide stance. You can put your hands on your hips or clasp them together in front to help with balance.
  3. Bend both knees, lowering your back knee down and stopping as it hovers just above the floor. Check that your right knee is in line with your toes.
  4. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, push through the right heel and use your core to help lift the leg back to the starting point.
  5. From here, move into a reverse lunge, stepping the right foot back and lowering the body down toward the floor, this time making sure the left knee is tracking with the left toes.

Repeat on one side for 16 reps (a forward and back lunge counting as two reps), before switching to the other side.

Wall Sits

This isometric exercise is a burner for the glutes and other muscle groups in the legs, including the quads and hamstrings.

  1. Stand tall against a flat wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and two feet from the wall.
  2. Engage your core as your slide your back along the wall until your knees reach a 90 angle, keeping them aligned with your toes.
  3. Press into the heels and keep a flattened back against the wall.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds before sliding back up to the starting position.

Rest for 30 seconds and repeat. Aim to increase your hold time by adding a few more seconds to each round.

Standing Glute Kickback

This exercise works the glutes and hip joints, whilst also challenging your balance and core stability.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on your hips. You can stand near a wall or surface should you need support.
  2. Engage your glutes and core, and with a slight hinge at the hips, slowly extend your right leg behind you (foot flexed), squeezing your right glute for a second or two at the top.
  3. Lower back down to the starting position before repeating for 15 reps. Alternate legs.

For a more challenging exercise, avoid letting your foot touch the ground as you lower the leg back down. You can also loop a resistance band around your ankles for additional strength training.

Clamshell

A Pilates exercise to work your gluteus maximums and medius, the clamshell requires an abduction motion at the hip, which means moving your leg away from the midline of the body.

  1. Lie down on your right side and align your hips with your shoulders in a straight line. Rest your head in a neutral position on your extended right arm.
  2. Bend both knees in toward you at a 90-degree angle and place your other hand on the floor in front of you for support.
  3. Keeping the feet pasted together, engage your core (to stabilize the hips) and slowly rotate your leg at the hip to open up the knee. Squeeze the glute at the top of the movement for a few seconds before lowering back down with control.

Repeat for 15 repetitions on both sides (taking a short break between reps if you need to). To enhance the intensity, you can elevate the clamshell by lifting both knees off the mat and repeating the exercise as above.

Pilates Bridge

Another effective Pilates exercise, the bridge not only recruits the glutes and hamstring but lengthens the posterior chain (back of the body, to improve posture.

  1. Lie flat on a mat or towel and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Press your tailbone into the mat as a starting position, keeping a neutral spine.
  3. Engage your core and take a breath in before exhaling and pushing through your heels to bring your glutes off the mat, bringing your hips above the ribs. Your shoulders will remain on the mat and your arms will float up to reach behind your head and rest on the mat.
  4. Squeeze your glutes at the top for a couple of seconds.
  5. Take another deep breath in and as you breathe out and lower the body and arms back down, starting from the top of the spine to the glutes. Imagine your spine as a bicycle chain connecting from top to bottom.
  6. Return to the starting position before repeating.

Aim for two minutes each round.

To intensify, try floating one leg out in front (aligning both knees) and pressing through the heel of the supporting leg.

A Word From Very Well Fit

Running is great for your cardiovascular health. It's also a simple workout to add to your week, whether as a hobby or training for a race or competition. Be sure to take rest days between your runs and cross-train with strength and flexibility workouts to give your muscles the best preparation.

Nutrition and hydration are also key to your recovery and will help keep your body healthy. If you experience any new pains or have an old injury flair up, speak to a health care professional about the best treatment options moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often should runners do glute exercises?

    Strength training for your glutes is important to incorporate into your weekly workout routine, ideally two to three times to improve your movement patterns, lower-limb coordination, and potentially your running speed. Not to mention, lowering the risk of running injuries, such as knee pain.

  • What is Dormant Butt Syndrome?

    If you experience chronic knee pain, tightness in the hips, or even lower back issues, dormant butt syndrome may be to blame. The issue is mainly weak glutes and tight hip flexors, which can cause compensating muscles to overload at other joints. Both glute and hip extension exercises can counteract the pain and strengthen these areas to help improve your running.

  • Does walking activate glutes?

    Both walking and running activate the glutes. While walking works mainly your quads and calves, you can still tone your glutes by squeezing your bum with each step or incorporating hill walks or stair climbs to further engage the muscles.

    As for running, different paces will recruit either fast or slow-twitch muscle fibers which will activate your glutes in their own way.

    For example, endurance runs build up your type I (slow-twitch) muscle fibers, that use oxygen with aerobic metabolism to carry you for longer periods before fatigue sets it. Whereas sprints require type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers that work with the anaerobic metabolism to fire quicker and produce more speed and power, although for shorter periods.

  • How can you tell if you have weak glutes?

    If you are not in a regular fitness routine and have tightness in your glutes and lower back pain, weakened glutes may be the problem.

    You can test your glute strength by trying a few of the above exercises, as well as other glute activation movements, to assess your glute strength and develop more muscle in the region.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Nunes GS, Pizzari T, Neate R, Barton CJ, Semciw A. Gluteal muscle activity during running in asymptomatic people. Gait Posture. 2020;80:268-273. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2020.06.008

  3. Buckthorpe M, Stride M, Villa FD. Assessing and treating gluteus maximus weakness – a clinical commentaryInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(4):655-669. doi:10.26603/ijspt20190655

  4. Kim EK. The effect of gluteus medius strengthening on the knee joint function score and pain in meniscal surgery patients. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(10):2751-2753. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.2751

  5. Balsalobre-Fernández C, Santos-Concejero J, Grivas GV. Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners: a systematic review with meta-analysis of controlled trials. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016;30(8):2361-2368.

  6. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Dormant butt syndrome may be to blame for knee, hip and back pain.

  7. Cooper NA, Scavo KM, Strickland KJ, et al. Prevalence of gluteus medius weakness in people with chronic low back pain compared to healthy controlsEur Spine J. 2016;25(4):1258-1265. doi:10.1007/s00586-015-4027-6