Running: it’s all in the hips?
When it comes to running, is it all in the hips? What are the most important muscles for distance runners?
The poor glutes. This group of muscles is often blamed by health professionals & runners alike as the cause of both running injuries & poor performance.
Are the glutes the number 1 muscle for runners?
Let’s delve into the research to see what it says. A 2012 study by Dorn et al examined the different muscle contributions at various running speeds ranging from 4:46min/km to sprinting (1:51min/km). Let’s have a look at the table below to see what they found (NOTE forces were normalized for body weight, so 1.97BW is 1.97 times the bodyweight of force produced by the muscle).
As you can see the calves (gastrocs & soleus) are the muscles doing a considerable amount of work during running, especially the soleus generating upwards of 6.7 times bodyweight of force (for a 70kg runner, this equates to 469kg of force!!!). So what about the poor glutes? Well at slower speeds, they only contribute a maximum of 0.38 times bodyweight, increasing to 2.22BW with sprinting, which rank the glut max below all the other muscles examined in this study.
From the work of Hamner and Schache we also know that the calf muscles combined are responsible for a large portion of the ground reaction force in the vertical direction (up to 75%, with the quads absorbing the remaining 25%), AND nearly ALL of the propulsive component of the ground reaction force in the anterior-posterior direction. Simply speaking, the calves are the muscles responsible for moving us forward, which is a pretty important thing for running!
Does this mean we forget the glutes?
No. The gluteal muscle group is actually made up of 3 muscles: glut minimus and glute medius on the outside of your hip, & glute maximus around the backside.
If we take a look at a 2014 study by Lenhart et al, they examined a number of other muscles around the hip, that weren’t included in Dorn’s study, including the glute medius. The running speed of the 30 runners in this study ranged from 2.4m s (6:57min per km) to 3.8 ms (4:43min per km). And here is what they found:
Now as you can see, whilst the glut max is again not doing a whole lot of work, the glute medius (muscle on the outside of the hip) is generating close to 4 BW of force, so we can say with confidence this is an important muscle for distance runners.
Who takes the coveted number 1 spot?
If we were to rank the muscles purely in terms of work done for distance runners, we would see the podium look something like this:
Iliopsoas (hip flexors)
Test don’t guess!
We at Health & High Performance are big on a thorough assessment of strength for all our runners, utilizing our state of the art AxIT technology. This allows us to accurately measure your strength and identify any weaknesses that may be present.
There are also a number of tests you can perform at home including:
So next time you or your health professional is going to attribute lazy glutes as the cause of your running woes, firstly ensure that they or you have the data to back it up (are they even weak?) and secondly ensure your calves are up to the task as these are number 1 muscle for running!
For help with your running injuries, please don't hesitate to contact us or download our FREE "5 tips to injury-free running" E-book via the pop up!
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.
Lenhart, R., et al. (2014). "Hip Muscle Loads During Running at Various Step Rates." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther: 1-30.
Schache, A. G., et al. (2014). "Lower-Limb Muscular Strategies for Increasing Running Speed." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther: 1-44.