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You’ve heard of selective amnesia—but did you know that could apply to your legs? Thanks to a culture of sitting, which causes tight hip flexors, it’s common for runners to overuse our quad muscles and underuse our posterior chain when we stride. Physical therapists and trainers refer to this as “gluteal amnesia” (or, more charmingly, “dead butt”), because what’s happening is our brain forgets to tell our glutes to switch on.
The result? The natural push-pull equilibrium of your body in motion (quads pushing your legs forward, while glutes and hamstrings pull them back) is thrown off. The body overcompensates with long, pounding strides and heel striking. In short: By turning off our glutes, we put ourselves at a higher risk of injury. If you’ve experienced shin splints or runner’s knee, the culprit might be right behind you. In order to counteract this, we need to be doing glute activation exercises.
This workout routine is designed to wake up your glutes and hamstrings, while strengthening the muscles too. Let’s fire those babies up!
Before starting these glute activation exercises, take your shoes off and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on your glute cheeks. Notice the tension or lack of tension as you stand there. Now think about gripping the floor with your feet as if you have both feet on a paper towel that you are trying to rip apart. Feel how your glutes kick in and engage. In every standing exercise you should be gripping the floor with that intensity to really engage your backside.
Perform the exercises below as circuits of two. The exercises with the same number go together as a pair. Perform one then the other and then repeat them each again before moving on to the next pair.
Glute Activation Exercises in Circuits
The first circuit (1A/1B) is a great way to get your booty firing. We recommend you perform it at the start of this workout—and before your runs, too, to ensure everything is switched on.
1A: Glute Bridge
a) Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Shift the weight to your heels and think about engaging your backside. b) Slowly lift your hips off the ground as if you are peeling off a sticker until your hips are in line with your knees and shoulders. Be careful not to hyperextend. c) You can place your hands on your glutes to feel if they are firing as you perform the exercise. (2 sets; 10 reps)
1B: Band Walking
a) Place a band around your legs above your knees. If you don’t have a band, that’s okay. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. b) Step out to the right, creating tension in the band engaging your hips. Continue with 5 steps to the right, 5 steps to the left, c) 5 steps forward and d) 5 steps back. Stay in an athletic stance the entire time. (2 sets; 20 reps total on each side)
2A: Hip Extension With Leg Curl
a) Lie on your back with both feet on an exercise ball and your arms by your sides, palms up. b) Lift your hips off the ground as high as you can. Your feet, knees, hips and shoulders should form one straight line. c) Maintaining this line, bend your knees and pull the ball underneath you. Stretch your legs back out, then lower your hips and return to the start position. Make this easier: Skip pulling the ball beneath you and only raise and lower your hips. Make it harder: Try one leg at a time. (2 sets; 10–12 reps)
a) Stand in front of a step and place your right foot on it. b) Lean into the right leg, shifting your weight onto the step without pushing off of your left leg. c) Drive through your right leg, contracting your right glute to stand up. Without letting your left leg ever touch the step, lower slowly back to the start position. (2 sets; 10–12 reps)
3A: Reverse Lunge
a) Stand up tall with your chest lifted, shoulders back and feet shoulder-width apart. b) Shift your weight to one foot and lift the other leg straight behind, engaging your glute to lift the leg. Step down about 2.5 feet behind you, lowering into a full lunge. Return to the start and repeat, then switch legs. As you get stronger, you can hold dumbbells. (2 sets; 10–12 reps)
3B: Romanian Deadlift
a) Hold a weight (either two dumbbells or one barbell) in front of you with your knees slightly bent. b) With a slight arch in your lower back, slowly lower the weight as you hinge your hips back. The weight should stay in contact with your quads, shaving your legs as you lower just below your knees. Hinge your hips forward and return to the start position. (2 sets; 10–12 reps)