The glutes are one of the most talked about muscle groups in the human body, yet glute development is terribly misunderstood. The reason for this, I'm guessing, is that every fitness guru and workout enthusiast now claims to be an expert on the subject.
I'm here to offer a little of the info you don't commonly find in glute training articles, DVDs or locker-room rants.
Here are some areas where well-developed glutes really make a difference.
If you've seen elite sprinters, you've seen well-developed glutes. Powerful hip extension is imperative to sprinting mechanics, especially at the start of the race.
More Powerful Swings
Whether you swing a baseball bat, a tennis racquet or a golf club, you generate power from your hips—"hips" as in the gluteus maximus.
Whether you're an MMA fighter or linebacker, your glutes have the most potential of any muscle to create peak power in a given instant—power you can translate into your tackle, block or punch.
Want to know a standard in high-level plyometric programs? Glute development. The glutes are one of the most important muscle groups to train for grabbing that rebound, clearing that hurdle or nailing that back flip.
Keys to Glute Training
When training for optimal glute development, here are a couple key ideas to consider:
The gluteus maximus (the muscle that brings shape to the butt) consists primarily of type 2x fiber. This simply means it has the ability to produce a lot of force and grow really big, if you train it right. It also means the muscle will not respond to lightweight movements, like simply raising your leg in the air or working on certain machines. The glutes exist to produce a lot of force—either to move a heavy load or create a fast, dynamic impulse. Your glutes will not adapt (grow) if you don't require them to do so.
Practical Implication: Quit with the rehab exercises (unless you're actually in rehab). Leg Raises, Fire Hydrants, and other movements that we often hear "target our glutes" will not prompt the glutes to adapt, because they are simply not demanding enough. Get back to training heavier movements that you can do no more than 12 times. You know, the movements that make you actually have to work. And just because you feel your butt burning during light movement doesn't mean it will grow. Mechanical overload (going heavy) and metabolic stress (till failure) are the keys to creating a stronger butt.
Range of Motion
Hopefully you've heard that deeper is better (to a certain extent) when it comes to building glutes. Going halfway into a Squat gets you less than half the glute activation of a full Squat. Imagine that. The bottom of the Squat is the hardest and most productive part. The glutes are not in high demand until the halfway point (45 degrees of hip flexion). To focus constant tension on your glutes, you need to keep between 20 and 90 degrees of flexion at the hip throughout most of the movements.
Practical Implication: You've heard it before. Be sure to hit the bottom range of motion in your Squats. If you want to challenge your glutes even more, consider not fully rising until you end the set—somewhere between 6 and 12 reps. For movements such as Walking Lunges and Step-Ups, minimize the amount of time you spend near the peak (top) of the exercise. Also, consider movements that allow for glute activation all the way through the rep, such as Hip Thrusters.
If you're an advanced lifter whose glutes are not developing anymore, it could be because they are growing beyond what the surrounding muscles can support.
The lower back commonly limits Back Squats. Before squatting, prime your lower back with mobility movements, or take the limiting factor out of the equation by doing Split Squats. Another option is a modified Step-Up, since the lower back is not normally a limiting factor in single-leg movements.
Practical Implications: Don't neglect other muscles along the posterior chain. As always, perform a proper warm-up so your kinetic chain can support the high amount of force your glutes can generate. Advanced lifters should consider single-leg movements to further overload their glutes.
An underlying principle that applies to glute training as well as other types says the harder you work, the bigger your reward.
Speaking of work, try some of the exercises listed below, along with a few advanced tips to help you build the ultimate set of glutes. For maximal glute stimulation, don't be stingy with the weight. Aim for full range of motion and accelerate through each lift.
Advanced Tip: A staple of any glute development program, the Back Squat is a fundamental movement that engages and challenges the glutes.
Advanced Tip: Sprint uphill and focus on the starts. This is a great way to develop your glute musculature while refining your sprint mechanics. The uphill-start movement also requires more force generation at a greater degree of hip flexion, further targeting the glutes.
Advanced Tip: Use one leg per set instead of alternating, and minimize the amount of time you spend near lockout to create constant tension and metabolic stress on the targeted glute.
Same-Leg Reverse Lunges
Advanced Tip: Stepping backward into the kneeling position, then driving your chest up to the starting point is a great way to overload and challenge the glutes. To create constant tension and metabolic stress, continue with one leg before moving to the other one.
Advanced Tip: This one may require two or three workouts before you can start overloading, due to the unstable nature of single-leg movements. But once you start adding weight, your glutes will have no choice but to adapt. Think of your leg on the bench as a "kickstand," whose only role is to provide stability, not force production. As you move up in the reps, contract the targeted leg and relax the leg supported on the bench.
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