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  • Writer's pictureLuke Nelson

Runners, introducing the glutes

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Whilst I’m sure by now you would all know of our love for the calves as the most important muscle for runners, we certainly cannot discount the importance of the hip muscles, and in particular the lateral hip muscles. So what function do the lateral hip muscles serve for runners?

In this blog we will look at the lateral hip muscles. The lateral hip muscles are the muscle group on the outside of the hip and include:

  1. Gluteus medius

  2. Gluteus minimus

  3. Tensor fascia lata

What do the lateral hip muscles do?

In running, the primary function of the lateral hip muscles is to stabilize the hip joint throughout the gait cycle. Upon foot strike, the glute medius acts eccentrically to control hip abduction, and then from mid stance to propulsion acts concentrically to create hip abduction (Semciw 2016, Burnet 2009). Faster speeds have been shown to increase the demand on the lateral hip muscles.

Most think the glut max is the most important hip muscle for runners, but from Lenhart’s study we see the glut medius performing just 4 times bodyweight of force, compared to the glut max which only approaches 0.38 x bodyweight (Lenhart 2014, Dorn 2012). The glut minimus also assists in stabilizing the hip, and is mainly active during the early and late stance phases of gait.

What are the consequences of weak lateral hip muscles?

Weakness of the lateral hip muscles has been implicated in both poor running economy (Burnet 2009) and could also increase peak impact vertical ground reaction forces during running, and result in an impaired ability to absorb forces.

Regarding injury, from the literature we see:

  • 28.3% and 21% loss in hip abduction strength in women with patellofemoral pain (Ferreira 2019, Nunes 2019)

  • 20% weakness in those with FAI (Diamond 2016)

  • 30% loss in those with greater trochanteric pain syndrome (Ganderton 2017)

  • Glut medius weakness is also seen commonly in those with low back pain (Cooper 2016)

  • Athletes unable to generate 35% bodyweight were significantly more likely to sustain a non-contact ACL injury (Khayambashi 2016)

Recently, studies have also found a link between rate of force development (RFD) & injury:

  • Women with PFP had 30% loss in RFD of the hip abductors (Ferreira 2019)

  • Similarly, Nunes found those with PFP had a 31% loss in hip abduction RFD & 29% loss in hip extension RFD (Nunes 2019)

So now we’ve learnt about what the lateral hip muscles do, in our next blog we will delve into how we can measure its function (read here) and how to improve it (read here)!

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  • Burnet, E., et al. (2009). Relationship Between Gluteus Medius Muscle Activity, Pelvic Motion, and Metabolic Energy in Running (P190): 267-271.

  • Burnet, E. N. and P. E. Pidcoe (2009). "Isometric gluteus medius muscle torque and frontal plane pelvic motion during running." J Sports Sci Med 8(2): 284-288.

  • Dorn, T. W., et al. (2012). "Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance." J Exp Biol 215(Pt 11): 1944-1956.

  • Cooper, N. A., et al. (2016). "Prevalence of gluteus medius weakness in people with chronic low back pain compared to healthy controls." Eur Spine J 25(4): 1258-1265.

  • Diamond, L. E., et al. (2016). "Isometric and isokinetic hip strength and agonist/antagonist ratios in symptomatic femoroacetabular impingement." J Sci Med Sport 19(9): 696-701.

  • Ferreira, A. S., et al. (2019). "Impaired Isometric, Concentric, and Eccentric Rate of Torque Development at the Hip and Knee in Patellofemoral Pain." J Strength Cond Res.

  • Ganderton, C., et al. (2017). "A comparison of gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor facia latae muscle activation during gait in post-menopausal women with and without greater trochanteric pain syndrome." J Electromyogr Kinesiol 33: 39-47.

  • Khayambashi, K., et al. (2016). "Hip Muscle Strength Predicts Noncontact Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Male and Female Athletes: A Prospective Study." Am J Sports Med 44(2): 355-361.

  • Lenhart, R., et al. (2014). "Hip Muscle Loads During Running at Various Step Rates." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther: 1-30.

  • Nunes, G. S., et al. (2019). "People with patellofemoral pain have impaired functional performance, that is correlated to hip muscle capacity." Phys Ther Sport 40: 85-90.

  • Nunes, G. S., et al. (2019). "Clinically measured HIP muscle capacity deficits in people with patellofemoral pain." Physical Therapy in Sport.

  • Semciw, A., et al. (2016). "Running related gluteus medius function in health and injury: A systematic review with meta-analysis." J Electromyogr Kinesiol 30: 98-110.

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