by VALERIE HUNT
“Your glutes aren’t firing when you run.” My PT told me this one day about ten years ago when I was suffering from hip pain during long runs. A decade ago my programming included high-rep, low-weight strength training + high-volume running. I was shocked at the news — as many squats, lunges and step-ups that I did weekly, how could my glutes not work right? It was a good learning experience for me both as a coach and an athlete, and supplemental hip exercises have remained an integral part of my programming ever since.
Today as both a CrossFit and running coach, I can attest that the weak hip syndrome is still prevalent in both the strength and endurance communities.
The Need for Better Hip Strength
However, when you are running (or moving), the goal is minimal muscle activation, instead letting the muscles work as needed in response to your body weight. You cannot “squeeze your glutes” or “engage your midline” as you run; they need to activate — or “fire” — on their own, at the right time. If your glutes are not working correctly, other muscles will step in, leading to imbalances and potential injuries.
A common trait seen in lifters is the knees buckling during a squat. As a coach, recognize this as an immediate signal to make sure to add in extra hip/glute strength work. Knees buckling is also very common in runners, although sometimes harder to see without a video analysis.
When I film runners, the primary goal is to correct their run technique. It is also a way to introduce the concept of the necessity of hip strength if we can see a hip imbalance such as bending at the waist, knees diving in, hip drop or ankle collapse. Including strength training for endurance athletes is still relatively new but becoming more accepted. Because everyone would like to run pain free, the new book Unbreakable Runner by T.J.Murphy and Brian MacKenzie was well received in the running community as the success of programs such as CrossFit Endurance is becoming more mainstream.
At the box, the members are much more open to adding extra skill, strength and mobility work to get better — it is part of the CrossFit culture. Coaches, film your athletes squatting or doing a wall ball and look for knees buckling, ankle collapse, and/or hip drops. These are signs that the hip is not stable or strong enough to hold a good position. You can also monitor progress as they add in the extra work and want to up their weight load.