You’ve probably joked about running your butt off. The funny thing is, though, that without your butt—ahem, your glutes—you wouldn’t be able to run very far at all.
“Your glutes, especially your gluteus maximus, are some of your most important muscles as a runner,” explains Thomas Watson, a UESCA-certified running coach, ultra-runner, and founder of the Marathon Handbook. “The primary role of the glute max is hip extension, which propels the runner forward.” Your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus also help with hip extension, and all three help stabilize your pelvis—a pretty crucial part of staying upright while moving forward.
Lack of use from sitting all day and overuse from running too much can both lead to tight glutes. You want to avoid both scenarios because “tight glutes can cause muscular imbalances in the kinetic chain, which can lead to injury,” says Watson. Lower back pain, IT band issues, runner’s knee, piriformis, and more have all been associated with tight glutes. Translation: If you don’t treat your cheeks right, your performance is going to suffer.
All your glutes really need is a little TLC. Whether your mileage is super high or you’ve been riding a desk all day, you should be stretching your glutes out on the reg—so start incorporating these glute stretches into your daily routine ASAP to keep running your butt off, injury-free.
How to use this list: Runners can seriously decrease their risk of injury by including glute stretches 2 to 3 days per week, says Watson. Incorporate these stretches into your cross-training schedule or during a planned active recovery day.
Perform each stretch once per session, holding for 20 to 30 seconds before switching legs; for the glute bridge, do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. “You can also add in one or two of these stretches after training runs to loosen the glutes and hips,” says Watson. “Pigeon pose is one of the most effective postrun stretches.” Each move is demonstrated by Runner’s World+ coach Jess Movold, certified trainer, so you can master the proper form.
Activation: Glute Bridge
How to do it: Lie faceup, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands at sides. Roll up from bottom of spine until hips are lifted. Press through heels to send hips up and round chest towards chin. Hold at the top, then relax. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps, then do 2 to 3 sets total.
Why it works: “The glute bridge activates the gluteus maximus via hip extension,” explains Watson. “It also targets the core, and helps stabilize the pelvis so it doesn’t tilt excessively. It’s best performed at the start of a stretching regime or strength work session to warm up the glutes and hips.”
1. Stacked Leg Glute Stretch
How to do it: Sit with legs bent in front of you. Fold one leg, sliding the foot under the opposite knee toward the hip. Fold the other leg in the opposite direction, stacking it on top of the first leg. Relax both legs and, if you can, fold torso over to deepen the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Slowly unfold the legs, then repeat with opposite leg on top.
Why it works: “This stretch can be trickier for stiffer runners to get into, but once you’re in the pose, it deeply stretches the hips, glutes, and your kinetic chain all the way down to your ankles,” says Watson. “Gradually deepening the stretch with each exhale will improve your results.”
2. Standing Figure-Four Stretch
How to do it: From a standing position, bend knees slightly. Cross right ankle over left knee. Press right ankle into left leg, and push back with left leg. Keeping a neutral spine, try to send hips back to fold upper body forward to deepen the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Slowly release and repeat on the other side.
Why it works: “The standing figure-four stretch targets the glutes and piriformis, just as the seated version of the stretch does,” says Watson. “But the ‘standing’ element means you’re also focusing on balance and stability throughout your grounded leg, helping to strengthen your core.” (You can also modify the move by performing it in a seated position.)
3. Lying Figure-Four Stretch
How to do it: Lie on back with knees bent, then cross right ankle over left knee. Lace fingers behind the left hamstring, then gently pull the left leg toward you to activate the stretch on the right side. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, keeping upper body flat against floor. Relax, then switch sides.
Why it works:“This is a lying-down version of the figure-four stretch, and provides a great stretch for the gluteus maximus and hip flexors,” says Watson. “It’s especially great for less flexible runners—given you are on your back, it’s easier to initiate and you can deepen the stretch according to your level of flexibility.”
4. Pigeon Pose
How to do it: From a downward dog position, bend left leg and drop knee to left. Then, extend right leg behind you. Press right hip towards the mat. Inhale, then exhale as you walk your palms as far forward as is comfortable. It’s very important to keep your hips squared away in this pose. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the right leg.
Why it works: “Pigeon pose is excellent for runners as it stretches several important muscles at once: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, hips, and piriformis,” says Watson. “Each of these muscles plays an important part in a runner's kinetic chain, and any tightness or imbalances can lead to injury.”