Welcome to the first blog on The Rebuild Clinic website. In this blog, we are going to discuss the role of the all-important glute muscles, especially in running related sports. This blog ties in with a video I made on this subject which is linked below.
The glutes are vitally important in running related sports such as football, GAA, rugby and of course athletics. They have a number of important functions including extending the hip, abduction of the hip (moving the leg outwards away from the body) and crucially stabilising of the pelvis. Very often in the clinic I see people with underactive or misfiring glute muscles. When the big gluteus maximus muscle (the big one at the back) isn’t functioning properly other muscles such as the hamstrings and back extensor muscles have to take the load during hip extension. And when the two smaller glute muscles, the glute medius and minimus muscles are weak or inhibited they can cause issues with pelvic stabilisation. Weaknesses with these muscles can be related to a whole host of issues such as ITB syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy, anterior knee pain, shin splints etc.
So our first job is to test to see if our glutes are working in the way we need them to. On most of my clients that come up with the lower limb or lower back injuries, I will test their glute firing sequence. When we extend the hip in running gait we need the glute max to do the main bulk of this movement, assisted by the hamstring muscles and back extensors. Typically what I see in the clinic when testing this with clients is a strong firing of the hamstring and back extensor muscles and a weak firing by the glute max muscle. While the hamstrings and back extensors are important in the hip extension movement they are more prone to fatigue, unlike the slow twitch and fatigue resistant glute muscles. So it is VITAL to get the glute max working properly to lower our injury risk and to improve performance.
So how do we do this?! First of all, we test our firing sequence, which you can do at home yourself (it’s easier with the help of a partner). So the sequence we want to see when doing the test is glute max-hamstring-back extensors. To do the test (we are going to test the right leg in this situation):
- Lie on your stomach on the ground with a pillow under your stomach to take the arch out of your back
- Have a partner lightly lay a finger on your right glute max, right hamstring and LEFT lower back (just about an inch away from the spine)
- Slowly lift your right leg about 4-6 inches off the floor
- Your partner is looking to see which muscles fire first (remember we’re looking for glute max-hamstring/back extensors)
- Repeat the test on the other leg
So what was your result? Most likely hamstring/lower back and the glute max right?! Could you even feel the glute max contracting?! Don’t worry, failing this test doesn’t mean you’re a bad athlete or that you are going to get injured! To start to fix this the test position becomes the exercise. This time, before you lift you leg off the ground clench your glute muscles, really squeeze them! Then slowly lift the leg off the ground, up for 2-3 seconds, down for 2-3 seconds. Repeat 10-12 times and then repeat on the other leg. This is a very simple but effective exercise to begin to correct the glute firing sequence. Give it a go and let me know what you think. In the next blog, I will give you some simple exercises to start to strengthen the glute muscles, all of which are simple and can be done at home with minimal training.