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Wake up, glutes! Three simple exercises to boost running speed

Sitting at a desk all day can create muscle imbalances. Here’s how to fix it

Vahdaneh Vahid

Published: Updated:

If you’re seeking to improve your running speed and efficiency, it is vital that you learn to use your body functionally.

When running, our muscles work in a contralateral manner. This means we use the muscles in our lats (back) and the opposite glutes, along with the muscles in your trunk and core, to stabilize our gait.

Today’s working culture means many of us are sitting for long periods of time at a desk – something that can create muscle imbalances. We use other muscles in our body to compensate for not using our powerhouse muscles such as our glutes. As a result, these muscle no longer function well.

Infographic: Wake up, glutes! Three simple exercises to boost running speed
Infographic: Wake up, glutes! Three simple exercises to boost running speed

So here are three techniques to help wake up your glutes and allow your body to work as an integrated system, improving your running mechanics.

1. Myofascial release on the hip flexors

For most of us, the muscles located at the front of our hips tend to be tight due to sitting for long periods. This will restrict the ability for other muscles work efficiently. But apply these steps for improved blood circulation and mobility.

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a. Lie face-down over the object of your choice (a PVC pipe, tennis ball or baseball) with your elbows placed on the mat underneath you.

b. To start, locate the boney area at the front of you hips, move one inch down, and off to the side place the ball or PVC pipe undernealth as you lay your body weight on top, allowing yourself to sink into the tender spots slowly, holding the pressure on each tender spot for 1-3 minutes.

c. Slide the ball or pipe further down the front of your thighs. Once you find another tender spot hold that postion and breathe deeply, waiting for the muscle to relax and ease off. Most people will feel tender near the hip and halfway down the leg. Be sure to NOT roll on the joints or boney areas.

d. Slowly work your way up each tender point in the thigh, holding and breathing into that area for 2-5 minutes.

* This technique works best when performed prior to any exercise routine.

2. The functional lunge

I see many dysfunctional patterns in traditional lunges, from hips shifting over to one side more than the other, and poor joint stacking – which means more pressure in the knees rather key muscles, being the butt and back of the legs. Traditional lunges involve a long stride with the feet closer together – which decreases the ability for stability in the body.

The functional lunge, by comparison, focuses on joint stacking, and mimics a running stride, which reduces any pressure in the joints and better activates the muscles in the butt and legs.

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a. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and pointing straight forward.

b. Take one step forward into a staggered-stance position, ensuring that most of the weight is on the front leg

c. Keep the heel lifted on the back foot.

d. With a slight forward lean of your trunk, draw your navel in, and hinge your front hip back to help load your glutes, lowering yourself towards the ground.

* Avoid lifting the heel on the front leg off the ground as it should always remain grounded, and don’t allow the knee to move forward past the ankle.

* Be sure your feet do not get too close together as this will narrow the base of your support and decrease core stability.

* If this lunge is performed correctly you will feel a significant amount of muscle activation in the back of your thighs and glutes.

3. The contralateral step pull exercise

This functional exercise activates the muscles in your posterior oblique system (back, the opposite butt and trunk). Involving a step mimics the functional application of what we do when running, and therefore has an extremely high carry over to building functionality.

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a. Stand in a staggered stance position, one leg forward and one leg kicked back, with your back heel off the ground

b. Hold a resistance band with the same arm off the front leg, keeping the arm stretched out in front of you. Keep your shoulder blade retracted (pinched together) to avoid any rounding in your back. Slightly rotate your truck to the opposite direction of your arm to allow for a stretch to begin in your obliques (abs).

c. Keep your mid-back extended. Now posteriorally tilt your pelvis (tuck under your hips) and simultaneously draw your navel in to activate your core muscles.

d. Now press off the front leg to drive the opposite leg forward

e. Simultaneously pull the resistance band into a row as you do so.

f. Allow your opposite arm to shoot forward acting as a counterbalance. You may have to do this movement slow and controlled several times, making slight adjustments on each step.

g. It is important to keep the movement minimal in your hips. Instead allow for rotation to come from the ribcage and mid-back, whilst you remain upright with good posture.

h. Repeat this move with the other arm changing the foot positioning.

* There are no given sets or reps for this exercise, given it is more about performing it well, with good form, and activating the key muscles correctly in your trunk, back and the opposite glutes.

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Fitness expert Vahdaneh Vahid can be reached on Facebook and Instagram.