What to do if you hear your Glutes quoting Shakespeare…..”To be or ….?”. Well, don’t freak out!
It is well documented that the Gluteus Maximus (Glutes) play a huge role in running. They couple with the Lats in the posterior chain to drive propulsion. They couple with the hamstrings in terminal swing to decelerate the leg and bring it down powerfully to an underbody ground contact. They help stabilize the pelvis in side to side movement. In theory they developed to their modern size and power so that early forms of “us” could run long distances. “The Gluteus Maximus, whose increased size is among the most distinctive of all human features, is strongly recruited in running at all speeds…..” They also look good, right?
They are the result of millions of years of natural selection, so why don’t they work? Why do I so often hear, “My Glutes don’t activate”? Why are there so many exercises designed to activate them? And, most importantly, why do I see styles of running form that compensate for their absence by increasing the activation of other muscles that are not as efficient? A problem that often causes poor performance, injury or both. Currently the fashionable “fall guy” is that we sit on them too much. This is not the only cause, but is reasonably a big player. Chair sitting can range from neutral to very detrimental. If you add bending forward, staring at a computer as I’m doing right now, things can get worse. This can often result in a weakening and/or shortening of the hip flexor. That, in turn, can result in two common variations in posture and running form. One is the “arched or bowed back” and the other is aptly named “sitting back in the bucket”.
In both cases the hips remain flexed throughout the stride. These unnatural running positions can often result in either Quad and Hamstring dominance or lower leg and calf dominance. That means you overuse the muscles of the thighs and calves for your power because that big, beautiful, naturally selected, Glute max is sleeping, soundly. The power demands have shifted to the legs.
With the arched or bowed back style of running form, the Lats are shortened and the Abdominals are unnaturally lengthened. Muscles have a normal length, and work most efficiently in a specific range that is maintained with normal posture. But with bending and bowing of the torso these muscles are either shortened or lengthened, and they can’t create the same torque that is needed for the body to work right.
Now you have, to varying degrees, Positional Deactivation of some of the most power, mobility producing muscles of the core. The perfect storm for limited performance as well as muscle, joint, and tendon injury in the legs and thighs. (Muscles overused for power production will operate in an unnaturally over-contracted range limiting natural reflexes, spring action function, and the unimpeded movement of impact forces through soft tissue. More simply stated: you beat yourself up).
So what came first, the position or the deactivation? If you’re of the school thought that makes deactivation the primary cause of your problems it would be natural to gravitate toward muscle activation techniques and will have you sitting in front of your computer watching You Tube videos to find the right exercises. Or having some professional work done to help activate the Glutes. This is not a guarantee that the activation will hold when the rubber meets the road. Without corresponding adjustments in running form, the default position of the torso will reinforce the deactivation of the Glutes. This work isn’t difficult, but it is essential, and perhaps all that is needed to challenge the Glutes and get them up and running.
- Dennis M. Bramble & Daniel E. Lieberman 350 © 2004 Nature PublishingGroup NATURE | VOL 432 | 18 NOVEMBER 2004