Activating your glutes

Runners, Activate those Glutes!

How many times have you heard, “Your glutes aren’t firing”, or “You have inactive glutes”, or “Use your glutes!”  

When you lose strength in your glutes, other muscle groups start to pick up the slack, increasing the risk of injury in that area. Because the glutes are one of the main stabilizers for your body, you can injure your back, your hamstrings, your knees, your hips, to be honest, pretty much any area of the body when you have weak glutes. 

So why is this? And how do we fix it?

Let’s find out.

Why your Glutes Aren’t Firing

A quick side note. Saying that your glutes aren’t firing is technically incorrect. They still activate, but they’re just weak and other muscle groups take on the load because your glutes are essentially slacking. 

Here are the two major reasons why you’re glutes aren’t activating properly. 

Traditional shoes with heel drops take the load off the glutes – meaning our glutes aren’t activated properly. I’ve talked about traditional running shoes in the past, and one reason I transitioned to a minimal shoe is to avoid glute deactivation. 

When we raise the heel higher than the forefoot, our weight is naturally pushed forward.  To counter this weight shift, we have to make a counter shift, and this often comes in the form of tilting our hips and pushing our bellies out. 

The shift in weight lessens the load on our glutes and forces our hamstrings to take over. And as you can imagine, this causes instability and possible injuries. 

We are sitting for long periods of time. In the modern world, many of us are having to sit at a desk day in day out. Because your body and brain are intelligent, they’ve decided to optimize themselves for the most common position of the day: sitting. The problem is, when we come to stand up and run, we are now tight, imbalanced, and weak in certain areas. And you’ve guessed it, the glutes are one of those areas! 

How to Fix your Glutes

Fix the cause of the issue!

Change your shoes! But slowly. If you’re still running in traditional shoes, look at transitioning to a lower drop shoe. Please, make sure you transition slowly to avoid injuring other underdeveloped areas. 

Get away from your desk and move around. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, find every excuse to get up and move around. Stand up desks are ok, but make sure you’re changing positions. If you have a desk that can go up and down, even better. It allows you to continuously change positions throughout the day. 

Personally, I like floor desks (or you could call them children’s desks ?). When sitting on the floor there are a huge variety of positions you can get in, and you naturally move around due to some “slight” discomfort. 

Set a timer to remind you to move. Set a timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, get up. Jump around. Do burpees, jumping jacks, or run on the spot. Anything to get your blood pumping again, and allow you to reset your posture again. You can practice correcting your posture, by tensing your glutes, before you start work again. 

Build your glutes back up!

Now that you’ve fixed the core problem, you have to find ways of building up your glute strength again. 

You can do this with targeted exercises. 

Finding ways to only target your glutes is really hard. Especially when you’ve got an imbalance. For most active movements, it’s likely that your hamstrings will just take over.

To pinpoint your glutes, we have to practice some special movements. 

Bridge with a Band

Start with a normal bridge exercise:

  • Lay on your back, and bring your feet up towards your bum while sending your knees towards the sky. 
  • Try and reach your hand towards your feet. You should notice your lower back arch.
  • Push your lower back into the ground and feel your core engage.
  • Start lifting your hips as high as possible with each vertebrae lifting one at a time. 
  • Make sure your knees are not falling inwards.

That last part is important, the more you try and twist your knees outwards, the more you’ll activate your glutes and hips. 

We’re now going to turn up the dial on this exercise.

Using a fairly strong, small exercise band, just wide enough to thread both of your legs through. Pull the band up just past the knees. Make sure the band is tight enough for you to have enough resistance when you actively push your knees out in a bridge pose.

And repeat the bridge up to 10 times and hold for 20-30 seconds each bridge.

Because the band is pulling your knees together, you are forced to push out. The act of pushing out allows for a deep activation of the glutes — ensuring that your hamstrings aren’t taking over! 

Explosive Squat Jump

The second exercise is utilizing explosiveness to force those powerful glutes to activate. 

  • Stand up with feet hip-distance apart and feet facing forward.
  • Lower into a squat until your thighs are just above parallel to your knees
  • Now explode up and jump up high.
  • Land as gracefully as possible and repeat.

To ensure you’re activating your glutes, consciously squeeze your glutes and quads when you are at the bottom of your squat.

One trick I find useful to make sure you’re squeezing your glutes is to screw your feet into the ground. When your thighs are parallel with your knees concentrate on screwing your feet outwards without actually turning your feet. This will force you to turn your knees slightly outward, which forces all of the power for your jump to come from your hips and glutes. Practice this in a squat first so you knew how it feels. 

Do 3 sets to failure, focusing on proper form.

And that’s it!
Focus on fixing the root cause of your glute inactivation and then integrate the exercises twice a week, and in no time you’ll be generating so much force you’ll feel like you’re flying!


Nick helps aspiring runners learn how to take a healthful approach to their training and races so they don’t crash and burn before they achieve their goals.

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