This is quite common among runners and there are lots of articles and videos out there on activating your glutes before a run. There is a very good chance that you could be wasting your time as it’s unlikely to make any difference to how you run.
There are more and more runners out there I meet in person or online who complain that their glutes are weak (usually as a result of a diagnosis connected to an injury) or that their glutes aren’t firing when they run. This is understandable that when there is an injury, tests can often highlight a weakness in the glutes as well as tightness or weakness in other muscles as well. The natural reaction is to start performing a series of exercises that will strengthen the glutes, or whatever muscle group has been highlighted as the weakness, but is this the right course of action? I would say yes AND no.
Why are your glutes weak?
I say yes here as we need our muscles to be strong to support the activity we do but I would be more inclined to say no as I don’t believe that exercising a muscle group in this circumstances will actually solve the problem. The reason I say this is that no-one is asking the big question, WHY have the muscles become weak in the first place especially with an exercise like running which requires these muscles to perform the activity? It’s impossible to move forwards without activating your glutes but we tend to take things at face value rather than look for the cause. There can be many reasons but the biggest one for me is occupation or lifestyle.
The majority of us now spend most of our days sat behind a desk then sat in a car/bus/train to get to and from work and this often results in poorer mobility at our hip joints. If we look at the average runner and compare to the likes of Mo Farah, you will notice far less range of movement at the hips when they run.
With this reduction of movement from the hip, it’s likely the runner in the photo on the right (taken from the recent Cambridge Half Marathon) won’t be getting the same workload from his glutes as much as Mo is. It would be fair to say that the guy with the high-vis top and the guy with the white top with black sleeves have limited movement at the hips as well. It can be unfair to compare your average runner to Mo Farah but what if any of these guys in the photo on the right did more glute strength work than Mo?
The solution? Work on improving hip mobility not muscle strength. Everyone squats day in, day out and we all know that squats are great for working the glutes so why then do we still have the problem of weak glutes? We are all good at flexing from the hip but there are other movements at the hip we don’t often train and these would be more likely to get us the result we desire.
The most effective exercises we, as runners, can do though are the ones which best replicate the movement of running (or for whatever activity you need to use your muscles in) to become better at running. After all, in any other aspect of life, we become better by doing things which are linked directly to what we need to do.
Study the photo of Mo above, look at how he appears to be running, and practice that movement of bringing your leg through and see if you begin to feel more happening in your glutes.
PS If you still feel like you need to activate your glutes before you run, just squeeze them or prod them with your finger, it would probably make more difference.