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How can I strengthen my glutes for running?

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The question

While training for a marathon I developed some back pain. My doctor told me my glutes are not strong and I need to strengthen them. The pain is because my back is compensating. Can you suggest some exercises?

The answer

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When running, the glutes (bum) should be the muscle group primarily responsible for pulling the leg backward. When the glutes pull the leg back behind the body, the motion is called "hip extension."

If the glutes are not firing properly, the body has to find a compensation pattern. Often extension ends up occurring through the lower back instead of the hip. This can cause an overuse injury of the lower back.

Unfortunately, this is a somewhat common problem for runners. I suggest all runners incorporate glute-strengthening exercises into their routine to help prevent this problem.

To get the glutes to fire, try these exercises:

Bridges: Lie on your back with your legs bent, feet placed hip distance apart on the ground. Engage your bum muscles to lift your hips off of the ground. Try not to lift with your hamstrings (back of legs) or lower back. Repeat 10 times.

Side leg lifts: Lie on your right side. Lift your left leg up to hip height. Imagine your leg weighs 100 pounds and that you have to use your bum muscles (the ones located just behind the side seam of your pants) to lift the leg up. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.

Note: If you have undiagnosed back pain, meet with a physiotherapist or sports doctor before you incorporate any new exercises into your routine.

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Trainer's Tip: Make sure you stretch your hip flexors, because if they are tight they can inhibit your bum muscles from working. Stand in a lunge position. Bend your back knee and tuck your pelvis so your hip bones come toward your ribs. Reach the arm on the same side of your back leg up toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in the Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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