Fitness

6 Glute Exercises That'll Improve Your Running Game

Think of your glute muscles as your engine for running.

The best glute exercises for runners.
Getty Images/ South_agency

Whether you want to train for a full-on marathon or simply feel less sluggish when jogging, one of the best ways to get better at running is by exercising your glutes. Within your glutes are three different muscles, and they all work together to give you more power, stability, and better form — essentials when it comes to propelling yourself forward.

The reason? “The glutes are the main muscles that generate force from the hip as you push off the ground and extend your leg behind you,” says ACE-certified personal trainer TJ Mentus. “By training them specifically, you will increase their strength and power production, meaning you will produce more force every time you make contact with the ground.” So, by adding glute exercises for runners to your strength training routine, you’ll be able to log mile after mile with better efficiency.

Training the glutes also ensures your body stays aligned in a way that helps prevent running-related injuries. Mentus says strong glutes stabilize your whole leg by holding your hips in their proper place, which in turn reduces strain on your knees, and thus lowers your chance of joint pain. “If the glutes are weak or weaker compared to the quads then that means that the knees will be taking on more load with each step,” he adds.

Ready to work it out to get stronger and faster? Below are six glute exercises for runners to try, as recommended by fitness pros.

1. Bulgarian Split Squats

martin-dm/E+/Getty Images

This squat variation targets two key players in your running form: your glutes and your core. “The reason the Bulgarian split squat is so good for runners is not only that it strengthens the glutes, which help power your running, but you also need to keep the rest of your core engaged,” running coach Claire Bartholic tells Bustle. “A strong core stabilizes the spine when you run, which allows you to keep running with great form for longer.”

- Stand with a low box, bench, or couch two steps behind you. Put one foot up so your toes are resting on the edge.

- Keeping an upright torso and straight spine, lower your back knee toward the floor. Your front knee should bend to a 90-degree angle.

- Press through your front heel to stand up.

- Do three sets of 8-10 reps, completing all your reps on one leg before switching sides.

- Hold a dumbbell in each hand to boost your workout.

2. Bench Step-Ups

AleksandarGeorgiev/E+/Getty Images

According to Jess Rose McDowell, a certified personal trainer, having strong glutes also helps you feel more stable and balanced as you run. “Think of your glutes as the ‘glue’ keeping your hip flexors, quads, and knees aligned,” she tells Bustle. When you’ve got strong glute muscles, you’ll have better posture — which leads to a better running stride, she explains. McDowell’s go-to move for a strong base? The bench step-up.

- Stand in front of a bench or box (something solid and stable).

- Step onto it with one foot and propel yourself up with the anchored leg.

- Keep your free leg in a “high knee” position while you squeeze your glutes, activate your quads, and maintain a flat back.

- Hold at the top, then bring your elevated leg back to the ground, keeping the anchored leg on the bench.

- Repeat this move with the other leg. Do four sets of 12 reps.

- Add a medium-strength booty band around your thighs to increase resistance.

3. Fire Hydrants

ciricvelibor/E+/Getty Images

Fire hydrants are perfect for runners because they target your quads, hip flexors, calf muscles, and core, all of which come in handy when running, according to NASM-certified personal trainer John Gardner. Remember, your goal is to strengthen your lower half so that it’s easier to maintain proper running form. Try fire hydrants twice a week and see how much of a difference it makes.

- Place your hands and knees on a mat with your hands directly below your shoulders and knees below your hips.

- Make sure your back is straight, your face is looking down, and your core is engaged.

- Slowly raise your left leg to the left side away from your body at a 45-degree angle while keeping your knee bent.

- Tighten your glutes, then slowly lower your leg back to starting position.

- Repeat for 12 reps before moving onto the other side. Do three sets.

- Add a workout band around your thighs for extra resistance.

4. Kettlebell Swings

alvarez/E+/Getty Images

Kettlebell swings help develop the glutes and hamstrings, two muscles that work together to help you run faster. The reason? “Kettlebell swings teach the glutes to fire powerfully and train the body to use that power to put more force into the ground,” ACE-certified personal trainer Marvin Nixon tells Bustle. Essentially, that power and strength translate to a more efficient running form — and a greater amount of force propelling you forward. These also increase your cardio endurance, another key component of a strong running game.

- Start with a kettlebell on the ground in front of you.

- Hinge at the hips, grab the kettlebell with both hands by the handle, and hike the kettlebell through your legs like it’s a football.

- As the kettlebell passes under your pelvis, drive your feet through the ground to push the floor away and drive your hips forward, pushing the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Stand tall.

- Let the kettlebell do its thing, Nixon says, keeping your arms are “like ropes” connecting the kettlebell to your body. All of the focus should be in your glutes, not your arms.

- Swing for 60 seconds.

5. Weighted Kickbacks

Kevin Dodge/Tetra images/Getty Images

Trainer Jack Craig notes that most runners tend to favor one side when running. “Some people don’t know that ‘handedness’ can follow all parts of the body,” he tells Bustle, which is why he says it’s essential to do unilateral work to make sure both sides of your body improve their strength at the same rate.

Unilateral work, or working out one limb at a time, is important for running because, when you think about it, you’re essentially balancing on one leg at a time as you go. So working each leg individually prepares the body for this movement in a way bilateral training can’t. With that in mind, try weighted kick-backs:

- Wrap a resistance band around one foot.

- On all fours, kick that foot straight back, pushing into the band.

- Keep your hips neutral throughout the full range of motion.

- Slowly return to the starting position then kick back again.

- Do 8-12 reps per side.

6. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

fotostorm/E+/Getty Images

Mentus also recommends unilateral training in the form of single-leg deadlifts. This move zeros in on your glutes and hips to improve that all-important stabilization. “With one leg working at a time, it also helps to balance the muscles from left to right,” he says. Work this into your strength training routine or use it in your pre-run warm-up.

- Start by balancing on one leg. Hinge forward at the hip, keeping your back straight. Make sure the standing leg has a slight bend in the knee and that you’re engaging your hamstrings and glutes.

- Lower the opposite hand to your foot. As you lower, the other leg should raise up behind you so that your heel is in line with your shoulders.

- Once you reach your foot, push the hips forward and squeeze your glutes to bring yourself back upright.

- Lower your back leg. Do three sets of 10 on each leg. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell for an added challenge.

Studies referenced:

Buckthorpe, M. (2019). ASSESSING AND TREATING GLUTEUS MAXIMUS WEAKNESS – A CLINICAL COMMENTARY. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6670060/

Folland, Jonathan; Allen, Sam; Black, Matthew, I.; Handsaker, Joseph, C.; & Forrester, Stephaniee. (2017). Running technique is an important component of running economy and performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(7), 1412–1423. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001245

Hanon, C., Thépaut-Mathieu, C., & Vandewalle, H. (2005). Determination of muscular fatigue in elite runners. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 94(1-2), 118–125. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-004-1276-1

Hung, K.-C., Chung, H.-W., Yu, C. C.-W., Lai, H.-C., & Sun, F.-H. (2019). Effects of 8-week core training on core endurance and running economy. PLOS ONE, 14(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213158

Semciw, A., Neate, R., & Pizzari, T. (2016). Running related gluteus medius function in health and injury: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 30, 98–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.06.005

Teng, H-L. (2015). Influence of trunk posture on lower extremity energetics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003780/

Experts:

Claire Bartholic, running coach

TJ Mentus, ACE-certified personal trainer

Jess Rose McDowell, CPT, certified personal trainer

John Gardner, ASM-certified personal trainer

Marvin Nixon, MS, NBC-HWC, ACE-certified personal trainer

Jack Craig, CPT, certified personal trainer