You want to develop your glutes? You need to squat!
That’s the extent of the advice given by the industry “experts” these days.
It’s no secret that for quite a while now women have wanted to focus most of their muscular development energy on the glutes. It’s the female version of what the chest muscles represent for men (in my opinion).
And, now most men are finally catching on to the trend and shifting their focus from training legs, but actually developing their glutes. And it’s not just so everyone can fill out their yoga pants and jeans. The gluteus maximus muscles are hands down the most important muscles in sports.
Squats and deadlifts aren’t the best exercises for building bigger, stronger glutes. They are, and should be, the bread and butter exercises for building mass, strength and power. But, from a glute specific standpoint, they are not the most optimal choices. The amount of muscle activation during any particular exercise is key in any hypertrophy training program. This same concept applies to glute isolation. Most people can contract their glutes harder during body weight glute activation exercises than during their max in squats and deads.
The movements that target glutes the best will activate them with little to no weight. That sentence is worth stating again. The movements that target glutes the best will activate them with little to no weight.
So, lets get a little more technical about what’s going on down there:
The lower gluteus maximus is responsible for performing hip extension, hip hyperextension, and hip transverse abduction.
The upper gluteus maximus is responsible for performing 5 movements; hip extension, hip hyperextension, hip abduction, hip transverse abduction, and hip external rotation.
The strongest joint action at the hip is hip extension/hyperextension.
The hip can hyperextend ten degrees with bent legs, twenty degrees with straight legs, and thirty degrees when pulled back.
Muscle contracts best when it’s at resting length, which means that the gluteus maximus muscles contract the hardest from zero to twenty degrees of hyperextension.
Hip flexor flexibility allows for hip hyperextension and is an a fundamental necessity component to maximum glute activation; tight hip flexors prevent hip hyperextension and maximum glute activation.
A sprint activates 234% more mean gluteus maximus muscle than a vertical jump.
In resistance training, there are two distinct types of hip extension exercises: those that mimic vertical jumping and those that mimic sprinting.
Hip extension exercises that mimic vertical jumping operate in a vertical range of motion and include squats, deadlifts, and static lunges.
Hip extension exercises that mimic sprinting operate in a horizontal range and involve hip hyperextension, reverse hypers, back extensions, hip thrusts, and pull-throughs.
We will refer to exercises that mimic jumping as hip extension exercises. And hip extension exercises that mimic sprinting will be referred to as hip hyperextension exercises.
The vertical jump involves simultaneous hip, knee, and ankle extension, whereas sprinting involves hip hyperextension.
Hip extension exercises are usually performed while standing while the hip hyperextensions are usually performed in the supine(lying facing upwards) or prone(lying facing downwards).
Hip hyperextension exercises can be performed with bent legs or straight legs. But, straight-leg hyperextensions recruit more hamstring into the equation.
Bent-leg hip hyperextension exercises place the hamstrings in a shortened state which limits their contribution and foces the glutes to do most of the work.
The hip extension exercises with the highest glute involvement are the kneeling squat (67%), deadlift (55%), sumo deadlift (52%) and Zercher squat (45%).
The hip hyperextension exercises with the most glute activation are the single-leg bent leg reverse hyper (122%), hip thrust (119%), and the bent-leg reverse hyper (111%).
Hip abduction, transverse abduction, and external rotation exercises emphasize the upper gluteus maximus muscles to a much greater degree than hip extension or hip hyperextension exercises.
A well balanced gluteal routine involves hip extension exercises, hip hyperextension exercises, hip abduction exercises, and hip external rotation exercises.
So, after reading through this do you feel your glute training may be a bit off track? Have you been paying more attention to bro-science than real science? Let’s get you on the right track! Remember, customized workout programs are available for anyone who wants a program optimized for their body, goals, lifestyle, and available gym equipment. But, if you want to optimize your own routine, here’s how to go about it!
Step 1. You can’t effectively activate your glutes if you can’t achieve a quality contraction. Before anything else, we need to ensure you are actually flexible enough to achieve the necessary ranges of motion for peak contraction and activation. This may sound boring, but it also might be your main limiting factor in your glute development. Stretching. The hip flexor is the most commonly under stretched and thus under performing element in any lower body work. You need to loosen the hip flexors before you can effectively perform any lower body moves involving the hips (which all glute isolation moves do).
Step 2. Transition into some body weight glute isolation moves. For those newer to lifting, this may be the step you need to stay on for some time. These first two steps are often skipped, but it’s the equivalent of skipping arithmetic and trying to progress through the subsequent math courses. It just won’t work. Hip Thrusts, Glute Bridges, Single Leg Glute Bridges, and lying abductions are all good moves.
Step 3. Once adequate performance is achieved in steps 1 and 2 we can move on to step 3- Hypertrophy training. At this point we incorporate some light resistance into the equation. Either with bands, free weights, or machines. Staying within the optimal hypertrophy training ranges you can now begin progressively overloading your glutes over time.
For those of you who are interested in taking this to the next step (optimizing athletic performance) you can email me directly. The focus of this article optimizing the glute training for aesthetic purposes.