Now that the weather is (finally!) warming up, it’s getting much more pleasant to trade our living room workouts for a run on the open road or some trails. Running is a fabulous cardio exercise, no doubt, and it also strengthens our major leg muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, and calves, according to the nonprofit Run Trails.
Another muscle group it’s great for? The glutes. They hold your pelvis steady and power you forward with every stride. And if you really want to use your run to fire up your backside, all you need to do is add a little elevation to your route.
Steve Stonehouse, USATF certified run coach and director of education for STRIDE, says getting those glutes working is all about homing in on your hip extension—the movement of your thighs away from the front of your pelvis. “If you think about what the glutes do, it is hip extension,” he says. Running uphill allows for greater extension, Stonehouse explains: When your knees come up further to climb the higher elevation, you’re working through a greater range of motion, and your glutes have to work harder against gravity to push you up the incline. “Hill work is strength training for runners,” he says.
And the benefits don’t stop at your behind: As Charge running coach Betsy Magato previously told Well+Good, hills can be “great for form, increase people’s strength, improve their stride and the way their muscles work, and generally help muscles become more efficient.”
Try this hill workout for stronger glutes
If you’re ready to activate your glutes, Stonehouse suggests finding a road or trail with a solid incline to try some hill repeats. Warm up by walking or jogging to the hill—10 to 20 minutes should do the trick.
Activate the muscles you’ll need to tackle hills with this runner’s warm up:
Once you’ve arrived at the bottom, hit the jets and start running up. “Shoot for a time that makes sense for you—you’re not going fast up the hill, but you are pushing—it’s not easy,” he says. Then, walk down the hill as your recovery. Turn around, and start again.
For reps? In the early stages of training your glutes, Stonehouse suggests focusing on distance rather than hitting a certain number of repeats. “You want something that’s 100- or 200-meters long,” Stonehouse says. Do it a few times so that you feel the burn, but aren’t getting so exhausted that your form falls apart.
If you’re training for a long-distance race like a marathon, you could also work in 2- or 3-mile gradual hill work, he says. “You could plan for a standalone hill repeat workout including longer work and rest periods, or plug these rolling hills into a longer run,” Stonehouse says. Keep in mind, however, that hill workouts are not easy and the effort can get pretty high on the later repeats. He suggests saving hill sessions for higher intensity days—not your easy runs.
For any kind of hill work, one tip Stonehouse gives to the runners he coaches is to use short strides so you can charge up the hill and build that muscle. “This shorter stride puts your hamstrings and glutes in a position to produce more force,” Stonehouse says. “When you’re ‘reaching’ with longer strides, you can’t produce nearly as much power.”
Watch your steps
As with any running, Stonehouse says to keep safety and ability in mind. “Be careful of the surface you’re doing hills on,” he says. “Hills and trails can be really tricky, especially in extreme weather like ice or rain.” Make sure you have a clear path and won’t hit any slick spots on your way up. “Your safety should always be your first concern, because if you get hurt, then all that training is wasted.”
The treadmill question
While you can get a similar effect by running on the treadmill at an incline, Stonehouse says hitting some real hills allows for greater glute activation.
“When you’re running outside, your body and muscles are pulling your weight from one place to the other as you run,” he says. “On a treadmill, the belt is doing that work for you, so the treadmill entails less glute activation than the actual road.”
Running isn’t the only route to glutes
If running isn’t for you, never fear: Uphill walking can also work the glutes by challenging that hip extension. You can try a similar workout where you push for a faster pace going uphill, then take it easy returning to the bottom before trying again. “These same hip extension benefits apply for walkers, too!” Stonehouse says.
We can feel the burn already.
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.