There are a number of aches and pains that can happen when your glutes (the biggest and most powerful muscle in lower body) do not work how they are supposed to. It is common to develop low back pain, knee pain, hamstring or calf pain when this muscle is not working correctly.
What the glutes do- the muscle is oriented in a way that pulls your leg backward through space, rotates your thigh outward and pulls your leg out to the side (extension, external rotation, and abduction respectively). The glute also controls pelvic position with the ability to shift it forward, do a tail tuck, or rotate it. This can be a 45 minute discussion easily with all the details, I think it is very useful, but easy to get lost in trying to understand the functions...
More importantly- Why do mine not work?!?!?
Muscle activation is simply a matter of position and leverage, when taking people through exercises i can tell when their glute is working and when not based on the angles of their body. So if you run with an excess pelvic tilt, not enough hip extension, or your foot is landing in the wrong place you may not get glute activation.
Most Importantly- How do I make sure my glutes are contributing to my stride.
Again, this is tricky. in general improving your gait cycle will be key. keeping your abdomen in and back flat may help, make sure you are pushing down into the ground with your foot instead of pulling yourself forward may also help. A very basic drill to help figure this out is A-skips (click here). As someone who has pretty good control of their body I will let you know that just running differently is not enough. You have to condition your body to react differently to make the biggest changes. Click Here is a video of a basic position that you can use to make sure you are training your glutes to work right. Here is a video of my mentor and biomechanics instructor talking about some similar details. If you have met me or heard me speak you know that I am a nut for Functional Patterns to learn more from them Youtube functional patterns or check out functionalpatterns.com I do believe it is the best system on the planet for rehabbing gait cycles. Please feel free to leave a comment or reach out with questions or more topics that you might want some information on.
James is dedicated to helping the Portland area decrease pain and improve performance. He believes education is an important factor in solving your problems.