I had a brief chat with a very good runner on Instagram a day or two ago. She insists that having a bigger, stronger bum is detrimental to long distance running.
In a way I agree. Carrying a heavy lump of muscle around will slow you down but only if you aren't using it effectively.
The Gluteus Maximus (GMax) is the largest muscle in the body for a good reason. The job of any large muscle is to work often and hard.
The function of the GMax is to take your leg into extension (out behind you) and external rotation (turn your foot out). It attaches from the lower back and hip to the femur (thigh bone).
To run, you propel yourself forwards by pulling your leg backwards. Obviously the GMax is not the ONLY muscle that performs this, the hamstrings are also a primary muscle involved in this action working for hip extension at the proximal end (nearer the hip) of the muscle and knee flexion at the distal end (nearer the knee) of the muscle. To a lesser extent the other Extensors (muscles that pull other body parts away from your centre) of the lower leg also play a part but as we move down the body the muscles tend to get shorter and smaller in mass and number of muscle tissues. Therefore they have less potential and are "weaker" as a consequence. You might think that because the GMax is the largest muscle in the body that it automatically works.
Unfortunately that is not the case.
Where are you now? What are you doing? There is a strong chance that you are sitting.
When sitting the GMax is stretched (to an extent) and is unused. You spend large portions of your life in this position starting age 5/6 when you go to school and nowadays before 5 when you dump your kids on the sofa with a tablet or phone to keep them quiet instead of playing with them.
Your nervous system recognises this and to reduce Energy expenditure it puts this into a program - it wants to run on autopilot whenever possible to leave your brain open to higher thinking - things like breathing, heartbeat, body temperature and peristalsis are automatic. Imagine if you had to think about those?! Program:
"when my hips are flexed (shortened) and relaxed, my Glute is stretched and also off"
You might think that training will sort this out. Not in my experience - it may do, but it takes months if not years to override those programs. The exercises MUST be isolation type - only focusing on one particular muscle to try stop the compensating muscles from taking over. They are inherently boring and you need to do thousands of repetitions. My main problem with this is that running is never an isolation exercise. Your body reverts to its original program for running. It can completely ignore the fact that you have spent months performing Glute activation exercises. Unless you can train running WHILE your Glutes are activated you will never change your Running Program.
How to get your Glutes to work whilst running. You MUST change your running style:
keep your strides shorter and cadence higher.
When the Glute is stretched its ability to switch on is inhibited which is what would happen when you heel strike with the leg out in front of you. Keep the muscle shorter with shorter strides and it is more likely to be able to contract and propel you forwards.
Get flatter running trainers
Running in modern squishy trainers means you can't feel the floor, your foot, ankle and therefore the rest of your leg is not getting the correct feedback to activate the right muscles at the right time. Initially I wouldn't recommend going straight into minimalist trainers but think about a zero drop (or less drop) cushioned running shoe. Your foot is designed to absorb impact. Getting your shoe to do that means your body does not respond correctly.
80% of what your body does is based on sensory information, 20% is decision making. Remove a good portion of the sensing mechanisms and you've got a lot more decisions to make.
Sort out your posture
We can learn a lot from other animals - look how still this horses head is. Look at the hip and you can see that hip extension comes from the Glutes. The only thing that is moving are legs. Human mechanics have the same principle, but we have more rotational forces transferring through the core (this is another story for another day)
You might want to spend months or years getting your Glutes to work while you run. I'd rather have it next week or next month.
Your choice - Contact me Here - or Not.