Mark Lindsay, from Eliza Park Stud (where Black Caviar was conceived) was once quoted as saying of the great sprinter “she’s got an arse like a bus”, which he meant as an utmost compliment. Her generous rump was one of the physical gifts she possessed that gave her such a phenomenal turn of speed. A distant view of her powerful back-end was all she offered her competitors across her perfect career!
For a horse, their gluteals act as a powerful hip extensor- in other words they drive the legs backward in order to propel the body forward. So having big, chunky glutes is a good thing for a sprint-distance horse. Black Caviar was built for speed.
Our glutes perform much the same role, or at least they have the potential to. In walking and even slow jogging on flat ground, the glutes should activate when the foot hits the ground to stabilise the hip and pelvis- and that’s about it. Start accelerating or going up a hill however, and they (should) kick into power-house mode and start quickly pushing us forward from behind. For proof, next time you see top-level sprinters on TV, check out their backsides. They are impressive (I am strictly speaking from an anatomical, physiological and biomechanical perspective here!).
Many people I assess in our practice, including runners, do not bring with them Black Caviar-esque glutes. Rather they are often like limp cushions, as that has probably been their primary use in the past.
Many ‘runners’ that I have assessed in the past have settled into a comfortable jog pace for their runs and hence do not challenge their glutes. The more dedicated and goal-driven runner will often do ‘sprints’ for conditioning, which is great. But if the glutes are dormant, sprinting will not automatically fire them. This can be seen in the awkward, lurching sprint gate I so often see around the Adelaide parklands.
You need your glutes working well to sprint well. And you need to be able to sprint well to be a versatile, ‘complete’ runner. You don’t need to be built like Black Caviar to run fast and feel great doing it. You just need to maximise the potential of what you already have.
A running-specific strength program can quickly get the glutes back to being the lively powerhouses they were always meant to be. And they will then become the view for the glute-less runners you leave in your wake!