With weak glutes compromising her running form and speed, writer Lisa Bowman has been seeing if a five-minute glute workout can make a legitimate difference.

As a freelancer who works from home, I spend a lot of time, quite literally, sitting on my butt. I go for dog walks and do yoga every day, but in recent months, something’s felt a little off when I’ve been out running: my back has started to hurt during and after runs, my stride feels weird and my pace is being compromised.

Aware that I need to activate my glutes, I’ve tried doing so while running by consciously squeezing my butt but… this doesn’t work. Your butt needs to be primed and ready to work before you start running.

Heading to YouTube for answers, I found a bunch of 30-minute glute activation exercise routines, but I kept putting them off as I don’t particularly enjoy home workouts. Then, I stumbled upon fitness instructor Bailey Brown’s five-minute glute work videos. 

I found the short duration much more manageable, and set myself a challenge of doing them daily for a month, to see if it would make a difference to my running.     

Why is glute activation so important for runners?

“Your glutes have a variety of functions,” explains Helen O’Leary, physiotherapist and director of Complete Pilates. “One is helping to propel you forwards through hip extension – the more power you have here, the more power you have in your stride so the faster you can run.

“The other is to stabilise your pelvis and help control the hip when you are standing on one leg (ie to ensure you don’t sink into your hip in standing). Limiting this side-to-side movement will make you a more efficient runner as your energy goes forwards.

“There is also research that links weak glutes to common running injuries, though it’s important to remember that this normally isn’t the only factor for injury.” 

One year-long study of novice runners found that higher-than-normal hip abductor strength reduced the risk of patellofemoral pain – aka runner’s knee – during the first 50k of their running programme. Primary hip abductor muscles include the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (the glutes are a collection of three muscles, with the medius and minimus gluteus being stacked on the side of your butt cheeks). Further research also links lower back pain with weaker glutes. 

How can you tell if you need to strengthen your glutes?

“The most accurate way is to get some testing done such as isokinetic, force plate or hand-held dynamometry testing,” advises O’Leary.

“However, this means you have to go and see a professional. If you can’t do that, there’s a really easy test you can do to see if you have a bit more of a functional weakness.”

At-home glute strength test, according to Helen O’Leary

  1. Stand on both legs with your arms on your hips.
  2. Lift one knee so that it moves towards your chest. If you have some weakness in the stability of your lateral (outside) hip then your pelvis will dip (do this in front of a mirror to see if you dip or not).
  3. If you want to test more power in your gluteus maximus, doing hip thrusts in the gym with a barbell will also tell you whether you have some weakness there. 

Is five minutes long enough to reap the benefits of a glute workout?

I could feel the difference in my running (and walking) pretty soon after starting the challenge – it felt like my posture, pace and stride had improved, and I could really feel my glutes firing up. Thankfully, the back pain also disappeared.

“Five minutes of glute activation a day is definitely enough for you to get better body awareness and activate your muscles,’ explains Gaunt. “However, if you want to make bigger strength gains you need to do around 20-30 minutes at a time in order to fatigue the muscle groups.”

O’Leary stresses the importance of doing these exercises before or after you run, to make the most of them.  

Motivated by my five-minute workouts, I began including glute strengthening exercises in my running warm-ups, which have shown even better results. 

This one (above) by sports rehabilitation therapist James Dunne is amazing but a bit boring, so once you’ve figured out the moves, whack on a Spotify playlist and do it with your phone’s stopwatch.

Exercises to include in your glute programme

Here’s the thing: to make those five minutes work for you, you’ve got to go hard, but as Bailey says in her videos: “You can do anything for five minutes.”

I like Bailey’s five-minute videos for days when I want to do floor-based activity and use Koboko Fitness on YouTube for standing glute exercises – like single leg deadlifts, leg raises, reverse lunges and side lunges – which are important for runners.

“Doing mostly standing glute exercises is much more functional and looks a bit more like running,” explains Gaunt. “As a result, the muscles will be better prepared when you do head off on that run.”

Performing a variety of exercises will activate all muscles in your butt, and help prevent boredom. “Hip adduction exercises are the ones to do for the gluteus minimus and medius,” advises Gaunt. 

“With a resistance band around the legs and above the knee, perform a glute bridge and open your legs at top, then lower in straight alignment. Adding bands helps maintain constant tension in the glutes and directs pressure away from the hamstrings. Another is side plank leg raises or knee down plank leg raises.

“Your classic glute bridge will activate your gluteus maximus. You can add a band around the legs above the knees to help the glutes – rather than the quadriceps – dominate. You can also try it on alternating legs to isolate the glutes, hugging one knee to the chest or extending it outwards.” 

I’ve been really enjoying my daily five-minute workouts, so I was pleased to hear I could continue them without taking a break.

“You don’t need to allow a rest day for five-minute glute exercises,” advises Gaunt.

“In fact, if you’re sitting a lot in your daily life, it’s best to do them every day. If it’s not feasible daily, aim to do them at least two to three times a week.” 

Images: Getty

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