Why Your Glutes Aren't To Blame For All Your Running Problems
The glutes have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years. It seems like you can't turn anywhere in the health and fitness industry without hearing something about the glutes. Even the ridiculous term "deadbutt syndrome" has been invented to label people's inability to use their butt muscles because they apparently sit on them too long (which is bologna by the way). It's also become a common thing people jump to when they hear of anything that is painful or difficult for you. A group of people that I see this affecting a lot are runners.
Your low back hurts? Weak glutes. Knee pain? Weak glutes. Foot pain? Weak glutes. Your parents never taught you how to accept criticism and it's leading to poor performance at your job? Weak glutes. Ok the last one was a reach, but the others I hear all the time. Why is there constant focus on the glutes being the problem?
During running the the gluteus maximus contributes less than 14% of the energy required for forward movement (labelled as "hip extensors" in image below. I say less than 14% because the hip extensors also include the hamstrings and sometimes the groin muscles. You know those side glutes that you work with lateral band walks and by lying on your side and kicking your legs in the air? The contribute about 4%.
As you can see in the image above, the major contributor to energy during running is the ankle. More specifically the calf muscles. That's followed by the knee. There's a reason why runners more often get knee and lower leg pain than hip pain.
As you can see, the knee and below accounted for 78.2% of injuries in runners. The hips/pelvis only for 10.9%. Will glute strengthening help? Most likely, but probably not because you're taking weak glutes and making them stronger. If that were the case then people with "strong" glutes wouldn't run into as many issues but that's not true. If we are going to increase the capacity of an area for runners why not focus a little more on the areas that they are requiring more energy from and are more susceptible to injury?
Novacheck TF. The biomechanics of running. Gait Posture. 1998;7(1):77-95.
Taunton JE, Ryan MB, Clement DB, et al A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries British Journal of Sports Medicine 2002;36:95-101.