As most people who weight lift know, the muscles that give one a nice rear end are the glutes. My purpose here is to help sift through the glute training BS being disseminated through social media by so many who haven’t a clue on training in general let alone how to build great glutes. Or by those who have educated themselves, but have become functional carny trainers with unilateral this, and bosu ball that, completely shying away from basic, proven methodologies.
This is not understandable, but is explainable. If you don’t have the iron bug, if iron isn’t running through your veins, if training isn’t your passion, of course you’re not going to do exhausting, kick ass, compound, tenable, transferable, functional movements that take all your effort to learn and execute correctly? Unfortunately, physical gains from training have a linear relationship with effort, and training your glutes is no exception.
The glutes are part of the posterior chain, which is comprised primarily of three muscle groups: lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The posterior chain is not only the strongest area of the body, it’s the most essential for athletic success; it’s a prime mover for many movements, e.g., running, changing direction, jumping, squatting, and deadlifting.
Gluteus Maximus – As the name implies the gluteus maximus (GMax) is the largest of the three gluteal muscles and contributes most of the size and shape of the butt. It is one of the strongest muscles in the human anatomy and is the most powerful extensor (primary function) and lateral rotator of the hip. Moreover the GMax is a hip stabilizer keeping the pelvis and femur in proper alignment during movement while one foot is off the ground, e.g., walking and jogging.
Gluteus Medius and Minimus – The gluteus medius (GMed) and the glute minimus (GMin) are the smaller of the gluteal muscles. The GMed lies under the GMax and on top of the GMin. The primary action of these two muscles is thigh abduction and hip stabilization especially when one foot is off the ground. If these two muscles are weak, you’ll see the side of the pelvis drop opposite of the leg that is on the ground when walking. More over if one’s knees move medially while squatting or leg press that is also a sign of weak glutes.
Now that you have a good background of the function of the glute muscles let’s get into what works and what doesn’t.
Barbell back squats – Hailed as the king of all exercises, it will not let you down when a better butt is on your wish list. I agree that the barbell back squat is unquestionably one of the most productive exercises there is, and is arguably the best overall leg exercise. However, not everyone can perform them correctly due to bio-mechanics, e.g., someone with long legs and a short torso, or injuries. But more importantly, most people who perform barbell squats suck at it because squatting correctly with 100% intensity is nothing short of grueling.
When performing barbell back squats do not use a narrow stance (equal or less than shoulder width). Place your feet at least just outside shoulder width and concentrate on depth with perfect form. Researchers found that a wider stance puts less torque on the knee joint than a narrow stance with no difference in quad or hamstring activation. Yet, the glutes become progressively more activated the deeper and wider one squats. This makes perfect sense when you understand the function and anatomy of the gluteal muscles.
Always remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You get what you give. If you want a better lower body whether it’s for bodybuilding, bikini competition, or just to look better in jeans, squats are numero uno. So, If biomechanics or injuries aren’t preventing you from squatting, and you’re not, you’re just plain lazy.
Romanian Deadlifts (RDL’s) – Being a hip extensor dominant exercise, it’s one of the best exercises for building size, strength or general health and appearance of the back side. This exercise can be performed with dumbbells or a barbell.
Some use the names stiff legged deadlift (SLDL) and Romanian deadlift (RDL) interchangeably, which is a mistake because the two exercises are very different. However, both exercises target the posterior chain.
One of the primary differences between the RDL and the SLDL is that the RDL works the spinal erectors statically utilizing their primary role as a spine stabilizer. In contrast, the SLDL works the spinal erectors more dynamically by rounding and un-rounding (flexion and extension) the low back.
The result of flexing and extending the low back under a load is a great deal of undue stress on the disks, ligaments, and vertebrae. Keep in mind that as the back rounds while performing SLDLs, research has shown that forces on the lumbar spine are at least tripled. Outside of light warming up, stretching, or rehab there is no place for SLDLs.
Deadlifts (DL) – Like the squat and RDL, the deadlift involves the largest muscle groups in the body, e.g., glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and back. And like the squat, it is a very hard, taxing exercise to perform. For this reason alone many people don’t use the DL in their routines, consequently not reaping the rewards.
The GMax is utilized most in the beginning of the movement when there is a large degree of hip flexion and is in a lengthened position. The glutes work in unison with the hamstring to extend the hips. As you raise the weight and decrease the degree of hip flexion, the upper leg becomes more involved and the GMax becomes less involved.
Hip thrusters – Currently this exercise is a perfect example of a good thing being abused and bastardized simply because of the narcissistic outlet of social media. Like sheep, one competitor or trainer sees another performing an exercise, so they have to upload their version. This is a huge problem because most of the people uploading “How To” videos and pictures don’t do any research, attend seminars, or give a rats ass if what they’re doing is correct. The only thing these social media addicts care about is others seeing them. They want the accolades, without putting in the work.
The following video is perhaps the best instructional hip thruster video I’ve seen by Bret Contreras. If you want to target the glutes, this is an outstanding exercise, but it must be performed correctly to reap the benefits.
Cable pull throughs – I included this exercise not only because of its efficacy, but because the learning curve for this exercise is so small. Learning the hip hinge pattern is crucial to performing many exercises correctly, and this exercise does the job as effective as any. Beginners and intermediates that don’t have a well developed kinesthetic sense will have a much easier time learning the pull through, which will help them progress nicely to the deadlift or squat.
While performing cable pull throughs…
…do not use a squat movement pattern of up and down bending at the knees. Move the hips in a back and forth pattern (hip hinge) with only a slight bend in the legs.
…lockout the hips in the standing position, but do not hyper-extend.
…do not be afraid to go heavy relative to yourself. If you want to add muscle you need to get stronger; you can’t get stronger without pushing yourself to failure. You get what you put in.
The following video is by Dave Tate, champion powerlifter, coach, and founder of EliteFTS.com
Always keep in mind
Hip extension strength increases linearly with hip flexion; e.g., your glutes are much stronger at the bottom of an RDL than standing upright. Hence, if you want to build your glutes, exercises that maximize hip flexion are necessary.
The load on the glutes is greatest during the RDL, DL, and squat at the bottom of the movement. During the pull through, the load is greatest on the glutes at the top of the movement. Super-setting RDLs with pull throughs is an ass kicker. No pun intended.
High reps and multiple sets with moderate weight don’t cut it. If you’re able to do multiple sets with the same weight for the same number of reps your not training hard. Building muscle is work, period.
Go heavy relative to yourself. Always strive to increase the intensity, not volume. Many people can move a lot of weight, but relatively few get progressively stronger utilizing correct form activating the target muscles.
Spot reduction is not humanly possible. If you think your going to firm and tone, I hate those words, your butt with the above, or any other movements, you’re totally in the dark. If you want to reduce your body fat levels, learn to eat right.