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Building Stronger Glute Muscles to help prevent running injuries

Building Stronger Glute Muscles to help prevent running injuries

After having my daughter, finding time to be active became a challenge. The easiest solution… hop on the treadmill during nap time. Power off as many kilometres as I could before she woke up. Lace up and repeat the next day. But I was neglecting a key component. STRENGTH. I soon began to get a bit achy… the knees and hips let me know they weren’t a fan.

Does this sound familiar? Or do you notice that as your mileage increases you start to get aches and pains? Is muscle fatigue and/or pain affecting your ability to run long distances? If so you are not alone. Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world. But up to 50% of all runners will sustain an injury that will affect their ability to run or their performance.

What are the common injuries related to running?

The injuries most commonly reported related to running are:

Patellofemoral pain syndrome

  • An umbrella term used to describe pain around the patellafemoral joint (your knee cap and thigh bone)
  • Ususally results in pain on the front of the knee
  • Usually related to overuse and overload of the patella femoral joint
  • Often underlying muscle weakness is a contributing factor

Iliotibial (IT) band friction syndrome

  • Compression of structures on the outside of the knee from tension generated in the IT band
  • A non-traumatic overuse injury
  • Pain around the outside of your knee
  • Weakness in the hip abductor muscles through to play a large role

Plantar fasciitis (10% of all running related injuries)

  • The most common cause of heel pain
  • An overuse injury that is primarily due to repetitive strain causing micro tears in the fascia on the bottom of the foot

Patellar tendinopathy

  • Pain located at the bottom of the knee cap
  • Pain is made worse with increased load and increasing demand of the knee extensor muscles

Do you see a theme with these common running related injuries? Overuse!

Some of the strategies that can be used to prevent or lessen the likelihood of an overuse injury include:

  • Cross training
  • Progressively increasing training load
  • Preparing your body to manage an increased load… Strengthen!

What muscles are active during running

There are two main phases you go through when you run. Stance and swing (these make up your gait cycle)

Stance Phase: from when your foot strikes the ground to when you push off

Swing Phase: when the foot is not in contact with the ground

When it comes to injury prevention the stance phase is what we tend to focus on. It makes up about 40% of the total gait cycle. It is also when your foot and leg are supporting your body weight.

What Muscles are used During the stance phase

Of all the muscles in your leg, studies have shown that the gluteal muscles are the group that are the most active during stance phase. That’s right, your butt muscles are working hard to give you a stable base to work off and propel you forward.

The gluteal muscle group is made up of the following three muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus.

Here is some more information on each of these muscles, along with some of the best exercises to get them working and build strength.

Gluteus Maximus


  • located on the back of the hip
  • originates along the hip bone and sacrum and attaches to the greater trochanter and the Iliotibial band


  • Extends the hip
  • Externally rotates the hip (turns it outward)

Activity during stance phase or running (peak muscle force): 15.8 N/kg

(a measure of peak muscle force via EMG study)

Exercises that target Gluteus Maximus

(1) single leg glute bridge

  • laying on your back with your arms at your side, lift one leg off the floor slightly
  • as you push into your foot, lift you butt off the ground keep your pelvis level (don’t let it dip side to side)
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds (without sacrificing form) and slowly lower back down
  • Repeat

(2) Donkey kick with bands

  • start on your hands and knees
  • wrap a band around your foot and hold it with the opposite hand
  • maintain a neutral spin position as you kick back
  • keeping the knee bent will decrease the role of the hamstrings during this exercise

(3)Step ups

  • Start with a step that comes midway up your lower leg, if the exerice is too easy you can choose a higher step
  • Place a foot on the step and step up so both feet are on the step before coming back down
  • You should focus on bending more at the hips than the knee. If most of the movement comes from the knee you will be using your quadriceps more than your glutes.

Gluteus Medius


  • on the outside of the body
  • extends from the top of the pelvis (iliac crest) across the hip joint to the top of the femur (on the greater trochanter)


  • moves your leg out to the side (abduction)
  • stabilizes the hip during single leg stance, keeping the pelvis from dropping

Activity during stance phase of running: 32.05N/kg

Gluteus Minimus


  • located underneath the gluteus medius muscle


  • assists the gluteus medius with abduction
  • stabilization of the hip during single leg strance

Activity during stance phase of running: 22.97 N/kg

Exercises that target the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus

(1) side lying abduction

  • lay on the ground with your bottom leg bent up
  • think about tipping your belly button towards the ground at about a 45 degree angle and keep it pointed here during the exercise (this cue just helps insure that you won’t rotate back).
  • As you lift the top leg up, you should think about keeping the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle in a straight line.

(2) banded walking

  • Place a looped band, or tie a theraband, around your feet. There should be a fair amount of tension in the band just standing with feet hip width apart.
  • in a slight squat position take a large step forward and to the side, repeat with the other side

(3) side wall sit/squat

  • Stand beside a wall with both feet hip width apart, the foot that is closest to the wall should be 2-3 inches from the wall
  • Place your leg closes to the wall against the wall, with the foot a couple inches off the ground and the knee and hip bent
  • Push the knee into the wall as you squat down slightly
  • Hold
  • The goal would be to hold this for up to 5 minutes

So the next time you have a running injury or if your just not meeting your running goals give us a call at Evidence Sport and Spine. I would love to help you meet your goals of running pain free and preventing injuries.

Written by Jenna Armstrong, Physiotherapist MScPT, BKin, FCAMPT, cGIMS, Gunn IMS Practitioner
Jenna obtained her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Distinction from the University of Calgary in 2010 and a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Alberta in 2012. She has achieved the highest designation in Manual Therapy with successful completion of her Advanced Diploma of Manual and Manipulative Physiotherapy and is a fellow with the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physiotherapists (FCAMPT). Jenna has completed her Integrative Dry Needling certification as well as the Gunn Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) certification at the University of British Columbia. Jenna is an avid learner and continually pursues training to advance her practice. She strives to incorporate information from the courses she has taken and the latest research into her treatment and uses a wide variety of treatment techniques. This includes education, dry needling, joint mobilization and manipulations, neural tissue mobilization, soft tissue techniques and exercise prescription. She enjoys treating a wide variety of conditions both acute and chronic but has a special interest in complex spinal conditions.
Outside of work, Jenna enjoys spending time outside with her young family. This includes hiking, gardening, playing at the park with her young daughter or going for long walks with their dog.


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