Your Butt is NOT Dead! Butt, you can always get stronger!
By: Dr. Leda McDaniel PT, DPT
If you have ever worked with a running coach, physical therapist, or even just been involved in a local running group, you may have heard the advice that adding in strength training could improve your running performance and reduce injury risk. While this is good advice, sometimes it is not always clear what the best exercises are or what specific muscle groups are best to target.
One common group of muscles that can greatly impact your running strength and form are your “glutes.” When talking about this group of muscles, we are referring to three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus Medius, and gluteus minimus.
In working with a coach, you also may have even been told that a reason for adding strength training is that you have “weak glutes” or “dead butt syndrome.” Butt, what does all of this actually mean for your training as a runner? What types of strength exercises are best for runners to avoid experiencing the dreaded “dead butt syndrome.”
In Episode #11 of the More Than Miles Podcast, Physical Therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr.Kacy Seynders, talk about what is meant by, “dead butt syndrome,” why it is not actually the best phrase to use, and importantly some key strength tips to improve running form and glute strength!
So, the first factor to evaluate before recommending glute strengthening exercises to runners is to assess if there is actually some weakness in those muscle groups. As Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy discuss in the podcast episode, the muscles themselves are not “dead,” and other terms can help us understand what is happening in these areas. A better explanation could be that an individual may lack “neuromuscular
control” of these muscles, which basically translates to an inability to fully turn those muscles on appropriately. Or there could be some actual weakness of the muscles themselves. As Dr. Kate says, “How can we make it so these muscles (the glutes) are firing, and you can get the best out of them?”
So, as you can see calling your butt “dead,” is not really accurate and talking about your body in negative terms is not the best strategy for pursuing health! Language really matters when we start to think about cultivating positive body image and the impact that could have on our overall health and performance as endurance athletes! Practicing positive self-talk could really go a long way to impact your overall health (For more on the benefits of Positive Self Talk, check out this blog post: Stop Trash Talking Yourself…It Doesn’t Work).
As you work with a coach or physical therapist, there could be instances where running form or other tests could indicate that your “glutes” are not working optimally. Some indications of possible glute weakness or reduced function in this muscle group are described below.
Common Patterns Seen in Runners with NON-OPTIMAL glute function could be:
“Trendelenburg” gait or hip drop
“Quad” dominant or anterior chain dominant form
Anterior pelvic tilt and exaggerated lumbar spine lordosis (pelvis tips too far forward and increases the curve at your lower back)
Knee caves in and/or hip rotates in (i.e., increase in knee valgus and hip internal rotation; you could see this in running or in a single leg squat assessment)
If we find that there may be some insufficiency in these areas, there are different ways to go about improving function in the glutes. Read on below for tips and possible contributing factors.
How do we create OPTIMAL “glute” engagement and strength (and avoid the dreaded “dead butt syndrome”:
Strength training for the gluteus medius and minimus muscles. This may include starting with clamshell or side leg lifts exercises to learn control of these muscles (i.e., improve neuromuscular control). Butt, ultimately the goal would be to transition to strength training in more functional positions such as standing single leg strength exercises.
Strength training for the gluteus maximus muscle. This will usually involve some sort of hip extension exercise such as deadlift variations or hip thrusts. At some point it will be important to assess and transition to some single leg strength work to improve carryover to running.
Address mobility or position faults. This could mean trying to reduce anterior pelvic tilt which places the gluteus maximus muscle in a poor position to create power, because it affects the “length tension relationship of the muscle.” Check out the podcast for a more in-depth discussion of the length tension relationship affecting the gluteus maximus and hamstrings when someone has excess anterior pelvic tilt.
Train muscles above and below. This could mean improving and addressing strength and control at the foot and ankle so that the load at the knee and hip is reduced.
Benefits of improving glute strength and running form can make running feel easier! As Dr. Kacy relates in the podcast, as she has incorporated more strength workouts into her training during the week, this has allowed her to recover more quickly from hard training weeks. She has noticed that as her leg strength has increased, she has been able to increase her mileage and recover better without feeling “beat up” or achy from the added training volume.
For more information on choosing the best exercises and strength training for runners (especially focused on your glutes!), check out the full podcast episode below: