There are three major muscles that make up the glutes: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. The gluteus maximus propels us forward when we run, while the gluteus medius and minimus stabilize the pelvis in a neutral position during single leg activities such as running. The gluteus medius is primarily responsible for hip abduction (moving the leg away from the center line of the body) and external rotation of the hip. When we stand on one leg, it is the gluteus medius on the grounded leg that prevents the pelvis from dropping on the opposite side.
Numerous studies indicate that the hip abductors and external rotators of runners with lower leg injuries are significantly weaker on the injured leg than the non-injured leg. Additionally, their hip adductors (inner thighs) and internal rotators are stronger on the injured leg than the non-injured leg. This same pattern is also found between injured runners and healthy runners. A weak gluteus medius can cause athletes to internally rotate their legs, which can lead to such issues as IT band injuries, runner’s knee, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and even plantar fasciitis.
For these reasons, it’s very important for runners to strengthen the gluteus medius. I thought lateral movements such as side lunges and lateral plyometrics were enough to strengthen all the muscles in my booty, but what I found in the research is that these exercises are not the most effective in targeting the gluteus medius. The most effective exercises are single leg bridges, side lying hip adbductions (or what I like to call Jane Fonda leg lifts), clams, sidestepping, and quadruped hip extensions. I complete about two sets of 10-15 one or two times weekly, but I recommend that people new to these exercises start off with just one set of 8-10 one or two times weekly. With all of these exercises, really focus on the mind-muscle connection.
Instructions per American Council On Exercise:
Starting Position: Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this gentle muscle contraction throughout the exercise.
Upward Phase: Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability. Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.
Lowering Phase: Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.
Progression: Gradually progress this exercise by starting with both feet together and extending one leg while in the raised position.
Avoid arching your low back as you press your hips upward, which normally occurs if you attempt to push your hips as high as possible. This can be achieved by contracting your abdominal muscles prior to lifting, and keeping them engaged throughout the lift