Got Glutes? How Runners Can Increase Power and Performance by Having “Smart Behinds”

by Jeniffer Pilotti, M.S and  Sarah Young, M.S.

–Runners might not like to admit it but most of them have under-performing glutes. When they get left behind in a race or workout by faster runners, the likely culprit is often their inefficient glutes! In other words, many runners have stupid glutes, or to use a more polite term, they suffer from what Dr. Stu McGill, refers to as ‘Gluteal Amnesia”.

As runners, our obtuse derrieres can lead to big trouble. When our behinds are slow and fail to do their job other parts of our body suffer. Dumb behinds can lead to low back pain, runner’s knee, iliotibial-band syndrome, Achilles tendonopathy, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and more. If your backside becomes totally doltish it can even result in “dead butt syndrome.”

On the other hand, smarter glutes lead to improved efficiency and faster running. Now ask yourself, “Do I want to have a dumb behind or a smart one?” We’re guessing the latter. So let’s get to what causes our behinds to be so dimwitted and what can be done to raise your Glute I.Q.!!

Probably the greatest contributor to the dumbing down of our behinds is something you’re most likely doing as you read this article, sitting. Yes, sitting. When we sit our hip flexors become functionally shortened and tight. Our rear ends become inhibited and stupid. The more we sit, the worse things get. And you might think that because you run you are immune to hazards of sitting. Think again!

If you sit for hours at work, driving to and from work, at your computer, in front of the television, all those hours sitting add up and take a toll. Add to that, most of our daily activities require little of our behinds.  Taken together, its no wonder our glutes have such a low I.Q.

When our glutes (maximus, medius, minimus, and also the deep hip rotators) are dumb they are clueless in regards to what they need to do and when. Glutes that are astute, perceptive, and adroit know exactly what job they need to do and when to do it.  Intelligent glutes know when to turn on to hold the pelvis level, when to act as shock absorbers, when to extend the hip, when to fire to keep the torso, hips, and legs aligned, and when to work to propel us forward. Savvy behinds are crucial to core strength and a highly functioning posterior chain.  A Mensa-candidate  behind will help you run well and safely.

So how can you raise your Glute I.Q.? We’ve put together some exercises to help your glutes. We’ve also provided an instructional video. (See top of this page.)

These exercises will help with strength, mobility, and stability. We’ve tiered the exercises into three levels; Glutes 101 Basics, Glutes 202 Intermediate, and Glutes 303 Advanced. These exercises will work best if you master the first level before going to the next. Think of it as mastering basic math before you attempt algebra and then mastering algebra before you attempt calculus. Each level is a prerequisite for the next. Skipping ahead to a more advanced level before perfecting the skills of the previous level will only show that your behind may not be the dumbest part of your body.

Glutes 101

These exercises are the first step in getting your behind on the smart and fast track. The other levels, Glute 202 and Glute 303 build on these basics. Glute 101 is designed to lay the foundation of the smart posterior groove. We highly recommend doing these exercises barefoot whenever possible. Bare feet will greatly add to your knowledge base via proprioception, or sensory awareness of the ground. And remember, proficiency at this level allows your buttocks to graduate to Glute 202. Get your basics down and grooved before you move to more complexity. Start by cycling through one series of these exercises and gradually building up to two cycles and then three. And, if you need to, gradually build up to the suggested number of repetitions.

1) Prisoner Squats
Stand with your hands behind your head, feet hip distance ahead, toes pointing straight ahead or slightly turned out. Moving from your hips, sit back like you are sitting in a chair. Keep your torso parallel to your shin bone and don’t arch your back. Feet should stay planted firmly on the ground. Lower down as far as you can while keeping neutral spine and proper leg alignment. Ideally, your thighs would be parallel with the floor. Press through your feet to return to center. Don’t let the knees move in or out. Make sure they stay straight ahead. Perform 15 repetitions.

2) Stu’s Almost Airplane
Pre-qualifier: Stand on your right leg, lifting the crown of the head up to the sky, creating length throughout the body. Place your hands on your hips and focus on keeping the hip bones even. Hinging at the hips, extend the left leg back, maintaining proper hip alignment. Go only as far as you can comfortably and without arching your back or collapsing either leg. Press strongly into the right leg and press the left heel firmly away from you. Hold for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. If you can do this while maintaining your balance, you are ready to move on to the exercise. If you cannot, work on this until you can perform this with perfect form.

Stu’s Airplane Primer Part One:
Stand in the position described above on your right leg. Extend your arms out so they make a T with your body. Keeping the body in a straight line, open the entire body and left leg to the left, so the left hand points up at the sky. Return to center. Perform 5 repetitions and repeat on the other side. It is important to keep the body in line and rotate around an invisible line that runs down the center of the body. Once you can perform this perfectly, you are ready for part two.

Stu’s Airplane Primer Two:
Stand in the same starting position as described above on your right leg. Extend your arms out so they make a T with your body. Rotate the entire body, including the left leg to the right. Rotate at the hip and maintain a straight line all the way down the body, again rotating around that invisible line running vertically down the center of the body. Perform 5 repetitions and repeat on the other side.

3) Bridges
Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. The feet should be about a foot’s distance from your bottom. Slide your shoulders down and back and gently tighten your abdomen. Press through your heels and extend your hips up to the ceiling. Your knees, hips, and shoulders should make a straight line. Pause for a count of 2 and lower back down. Concentrate on extending out of your hips. If you begin to feel a cramp in your hamstrings, lower down, stretch them out, and re-focus your attention on your gluts. Perform 10 -15 repetitions.

4) Stationary Lunges
Stand up tall, feet parallel, toes pointing straight ahead. Take a big step back with your right leg (about one leg’s distance). Place your hands on your hips. Keeping your back neutral by gently tightening the abdominals (not sucking in. More like bracing to be punched), drop your right knee straight down towards the floor. Your right heel will come up off the ground. Be sure the left knee stays straight ahead, and the left knee does not shoot forward over the left big toe. The right knee should come about an inch from the floor. Press firmly through your left foot (keep the left heel down), to come back up, and think about contracting your right butt muscle as you come, moving into hip extension. Repeat 10-15 times with the right leg back. Switch sides, and repeat on the left side. Keep your pelvis neutral and level throughout the exercise.

5) ‘You’re Almost A Cossack’ Lunges Part 1 and 2
Almost a Cossack Lunge (Part 1):
Stand tall with your legs wide (about one leg’s distance apart). Keep your torso lifted, your left leg straight, and bend your right knee, sinking into your right hip. Return to standing. Repeat 10-15 times on right side and repeat on other side.

Almost a Cossack Lunge (Part 2):
Stand tall with your feet together, neutral spine, abdominals gently engaged. Lunge your right leg to the right. Keep your left leg long, straight, and the foot pressing firmly into the floor. Sink into your right hip, bending your right knee. Press firmly into the right foot and bring the right leg back to center. Repeat 10-15 times with the right leg. Switch sides.

6) Disco Hip
Stand with your feet hip width apart. Shift your weight to your right leg so you are balanced in a single leg stance with your left off the floor. Drop your right hip out to the side then pick it up. Repeat 10 – 15 times and switch sides.

This instructional article is part 1 of a 3-part series. We hope that your glutes will enjoy becoming smarter. Master these exercises and then move on to Glute 202 . Glute 303 will follow shortly after.  It’s all about getting your behind in gear! If you have any questions feel free to contact Jeniffer Pilotti, M.S or Sarah Young, M.S.

15 Responses to “Got Glutes? How Runners Can Increase Power and Performance by Having “Smart Behinds””

  1. MarkC says:

    Thanks Jenn and Sarah!

    Readers…this simple stuff works. Trust me. The literature , clinical experience, and coaching methods are all waking up now to the importance of glute function.


  2. Remko says:

    When doing the airplane exercises, I catch myself putting strain on my ankles to keep balance. Is this normal/ok?


  3. Jenn says:

    You will feel the airplane exercise in the weakest link, which sounds like for you is your ankles. Before progressing to the rotation portion of the exercise, make sure you have mastered the anterior reach. This is a great place to work on developing endurance in the ankle stabilizers. While there, think about firmly pressing into your big toe, pinkie toe, and heel evenly. Also, try not to let your arch collapse. This will begin to strength the intrinsic muscles of the foot.

  4. Amy says:

    Great article. I have strained my high hamstrings b/c of glutes not firing
    When I first started sprinting with my sweet Gordon Setter….Then really nailed them playing tennis. Working to make them smarter!

  5. Lucy says:

    Hi, I have been doing these exercises for a week now , due to a weakness in that ankle and poor arches, and these exercises have got me centered on my feet and balanced properly. Only problem is that I have had a niggle in my right thigh (outer curving in at top)for the stationary lunges and cossacks & today it has gotten so that I can’t complete my sets. Any suggestions? Many thanks, I am also on the lookout for Glutes 202 & hope they aren’t far away. Cheers.

  6. Lucy says:

    oops, sorry something got deleted in the earlier question. Should have said that I am regaining strength after plantar fasciitis in the right foot, due to the weak ankle etc.

    • Jenn says:

      I am so sorry for the delayed response- I just saw this. I hope you are still finding the exercises useful. If the niggle in your thigh happens again, you can try a couple of different things. First, check your knee alignment and make sure the knee is pointing straight ahead over the second and third toe and that it isn’t shooting forward of your toe during the movements. Next, really think about using your glute muscles to come up. I sometimes find that pressing into my heel a little bit more helps recruit more glute activation (you ideally want a balanced foot, but sometimes this can be helpful to get the right muscles working. Lastly, you can also think about lifting the arch of your foot by spreading your toes, pressing the big toe firmly into the ground, taking your index finger to the outside of the big toe applying just a little bit of pressure to the outside of it. You should notice your arch activating and lifting from the ground just a little bit.

      I hope this helps and feel free to e-mail with more questions!

  7. Jeff Fisher says:

    Hey Mark,

    You’re killing me–I guess it’s time to smarten up my dumb ass! Will this help the Achilles issues I haven’t gotten over yet? Also, my hip extension is pathetic. I’m sure this will help get some power back into my running.


  8. Arne Munther says:

    Hey Jeniffer.

    Great exercises.
    Would it be possible for you to post these exercises as graphics ?
    It would be more handy when doing them.

    • Jenn says:

      I just saw this. I apologize for the delayed response. If you are still interested in graphics, e-mail me at and I will send over the pictures we took (we were going to include them, but it became too long). I hope you are doing well!


  9. world_runner says:

    This is great information and these are great exercises. I love the progression you have provided and I am looking forward to the 303 portion.

    I was curious how you would suggest implementing these into a training program? I am up to 3 sets per exercise on the 101 exercises and I am finding that it takes me nearly half an hour to complete the entire sequence. It is quite a bit of time in addition to my daily runs. Any suggestions on how to manage the exercises?


    • Sarah says:

      World Runner…

      If you’re up to 3 sets of Glute 101 you might want to try progressing to Glute 202. Start with one set and then build up to three sets of Glute 202 and then gradually progress to Glute 303 which will be up soon. And yes, doing the reps/sets takes time. So perhaps you could do them 2 to 3 times a week on shorter run or rest days. If you’re satisfied where you’re at with Glute 101 then stay there. It’s all about what serves you best. The important thing about these exercises is that they get you moving in a variety of ways your body wants to move but doesn’t usually get to.

  10. Keith says:


    Thanks for this routine – it’s really good. Quick question… Are you only supposed to do Part 2 of the cossack lunge once you’ve mastered the stationary Part 1, or should I do both?



    • Jenn says:

      Yes, I would recommend progressing to the cossack portion of the lunge only after you have mastered part 1. It is important to have adequate hip mobility before you attempt the more complicated move. I hope you are doing well!

  11. Bill says:

    I’ve been running for years without any particular conditioning program for glutes, core, etc. Now I think I’m paying the price with sore knees.

    Question about exercises like these…as I strenthen my glutes, should I be consciously “using” them to run, or will the stronger glutes simply take care of themselves, improving my form and posture simply by being stronger and more efficient?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *