Weak Glutes in Runners

Many runners are told they have “weak glutes”. But, what exactly does that mean? Are strengthening exercises needed? How does it affect my running?

Let’s clear up the accuracy surrounding the term “weak glutes”.

Glute AnatomyF90CF2DE-9159-43FA-B441-B015A6F50E26

We have three glute muscles; Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus. For the sake of this discussion, “glutes” will refer to Gluteus Minimus and Medius.

What do Glutes do?

Glutes have many functions including stability of the pelvis and the hip.

I have been told I have weak glutes. Are my glutes really weak?

When runners are assessed at Cadence Chiropractic, they are muscle tested from head to toe. A strong and functional muscle will score 5/5. More often than not, glutes in runners score 3/5.

If 5/5 means strong, then 3/5 means weak, right?

No! In our clinical experience we have never had a patient who had actual “weak glutes”. However, we have had many runners who have had “inhibited” glutes. 

Confused? Here are two explanations to help;

Here is an example of a weak muscle:

Someone breaks their arm and is in a cast for six weeks. During that time the muscles of the arm are not used because the arm is immobilized. When the cast comes off, the muscles are tested and score 3/5. Why? Because they are indeed weak! These muscles have atrophied (they have become smaller and weaker) and thus are truly weak. They need to be strengthened with a rehab program.

OK, I understand what a weak muscle is, but, what is an inhibited muscle?

When a muscle is inhibited is does not work to its full potential. An inhibited muscle works but its neurological input is diminished. The muscle is impaired.

Think of it like this: our body has protective mechanisms. Your brain-to-muscle system has controls and regulators. The brain controls muscle like a dimmer-switch. The brain has the ability, when necessary, to dim the signal to the muscle in order to prevent harm to the body. It is not possible to score 5/5 on a muscle strength test when a muscle is inhibited. 

In runners that have inhibited glutes, they will often score 3/5 or 4/5. 

My glutes score 3/5, they are inhibited, I am a runner, how does this affect me?

When glutes are inhibited the pelvis becomes less stable. When there is instability the body will protect the area by tightening the muscles around the instability. This tightness is often what runners feel and attempt to rectify with stretching. This instability can create a domino affect down the entire lower extremity. Therefore the muscles of the lower body are tight and susceptible to injury which can result in pain and dysfunction of the knee, ankle and foot. This ultimately leads to a running related injury.

Do I need to strengthen my glutes?

If your glutes are inhibited, they are not weak. Therefore they do not need to be strengthened. Glute specific exercises have a place, however, if there is inhibition, specific glute exercises will not fix the issue.

How do I un-inhibit my glutes?

Determining the root cause of glute inhibition is the first and most crucial step. Once you understand the mechanism behind it you will be able to understand the correction. There are a number of different reasons for the inhibition and a functional assessment is the only way to determine the cause of the impairment. 

How do I get a functional assessment?

The Practitioners at Cadence Chiropractic, Sport & Health are able to determine the root cause of muscle inhibition with a functional assessment. Learn more at www.cadencesportstherapy.com or call 403.521.2278.

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