Category Archives: Glute
To say I’m a workaholic is like saying Tiger Woods has commitment issues. Through all the lifting, training, reading, and researching that I do, I’m constantly being exposed to and coming up with new ideas.
This column will introduce T Nation readers to just some of what I happen to stumble upon every day, in no particular order of importance. The typical lifter, athlete, personal trainer, strength coach, or physical therapist is bound to find something useful in this article.
1. Low Load Glute Activation is Legit
One thing I love about T Nation is that often the best coaches in the world are years ahead of the research. You might remember Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey writing about glute activation as early as 2004. I can remember thinking, “Why in the hell would I do some silly Jane Fonda exercises?”
When other top coaches including Mark Verstegen, Mike Boyle, and Martin Rooney started recommending glute activation, I could no longer ignore their advice. I got down on the floor and got my bridge, clam, and bird dog on and immediately recognized the potential in these simple movement patterns.
And thus began a love affair unparalleled by any other. Some guys have pictures of their girlfriend on their nightstand. Me? A picture of some glutes with a bouquet of roses stuck in-between the cheeks.
Kidding. But I do keep my eyes and ears open for new glute research. Case in point:
Australian researchers recently put 22 professional Australian Football League (AFL) players through three different warm-up protocols:
- Standing on a whole body vibration platform for 45 seconds at 30 Hz.
- A 5-7 minute, 7-glute exercise routine consisting of glute bridges, side lying clams, quadruped hip extensions, side lying hip abductions, prone single leg hip extensions, fire hydrants, and stability ball wall squats.
- A control group.
The researchers found that during a countermovement jump, the whole body vibration group fared 2.4%worse than the control group, while the glute activation group outperformed the control group in peak power by 4.2%, along with outperforming the whole body vibration group by 6.6% (Buttifant et al. 2011.).
My conclusion is that you’d be wise to include some low load glute activation work in your warm-ups. Remember, the purpose of glute activation isn’t to “rep-out” or “max-out,” but to groove proper motor patterns and focus on getting the glutes working efficiently. Ten high-quality repetitions of each exercise is all you need.
2. Cue the Glutes!
Speaking of glute activation, Cara Lewis and Shirley Sahrmann tested the gluteal activation of a prone hip extension exercise (Lewis and Sahrmann 2009). They showed that compared to no cueing, simply uttering the phrase, “Use your glutes to lift your leg while keeping your hamstrings relaxed,” resulted in over double the gluteus maximus activation and caused the gluteus maximus to fire quicker in hip extension.
Based on my experience as a trainer, most beginners suck at using their glutes. It’s important to remind individuals over and over to use their glutes until it becomes automatic.
3. Lifters vs. Weaklings – Lumbopelvic Rhythm
After a couple of months of training with me, my clients always tell me that their backs feel stronger and better than ever. Is it due to increased hip mobility, or is it core stability? Maybe it’s just increased glute strength? Perhaps it’s due to improved fundamental movement patterns? Or is it a case of all of the above?
In his book Low Back Disorders, Stu McGill discusses the mythical lumbopelvic rhythm pattern explained in textbooks – supposedly the first 60° of bending is accomplished by flexing the lumbar spine while the remaining flexion takes place at the hips (McGill page 74). While most individuals bend with a blend of spinal, pelvic, and hip motion, weightlifters possess unique movement patterns at the hip. Stu states that:
Of course, Olympic weightlifters are better at hip hinging than normal individuals, but the importance of this information is that the movement patterns developed in the weight room transfer over to everyday life.Master the hip hinge first and everything else seems to fall into place.
Here’s my man Tony Gentilcore demonstrating proper hip hinge patterning with a dowel.
4. Powerlifters vs. Olympic Weightlifters – Hip and Knee Moments During Squatting Tasks
Swedish researchers measured the hip and knee moments of six powerlifters and eight Olympic weightlifters during parallel and deep squats (Wretenberg et al. 1996). The results were intriguing: during deep squats powerlifters exhibited 41% higher hip extension moments and 37% less knee extension moments compared to weighlifters, and during parallel squats the powerlifters exhibited 43% higher hip extension moments and 42% less knee extension moments than weightlifters.
This study shows that during squatting tasks, powerlifters use a low-bar position, sit back more, and use their powerful hips to a greater degree than weightlifters, whereas weightlifters use a high-bar position, stay more upright, and use their powerful knee joints to a greater degree than powerlifters.
Maximum sports performance requires strong hips and knees so it’s wise to rotate between different types of squats throughout the year, including low bar parallel, box, front, and high bar full squat variations.
5. Bench Press and Lateral Forces on the Bar
Wonder why the bench press elicits more triceps activity than a dumbbell bench press? A new study out of Penn State showed that the lateral forces exerted on the bar equaled roughly 25% of the vertical forces (Duffey and Challis 2011).
Ten men and eight women were tested in the bench press and the total vertical forces totaled on average 187 pounds of force whereas the lateral forces applied to the bar totaled on average 53 pounds of force. With these proportions, a 600-pound bench presser would be exerting around 150 pounds of outward pressure on the bar throughout the movement.
If you’ve listened to Dave Tate over the years and learned to use your triceps while benching, chances are your lateral forces are even higher than 25% of the vertical forces.
This extra work is simply a byproduct of the prime mover’s maximal contractions against the barbell – which isn’t possible with the dumbbell bench press as the dumbbells would split apart and result in a failed lift.
6. Elite Fitness Glute Ham Raise
I’ve traveled the world and performed glute ham raises with over twenty different glute ham developers. In a nutshell, 99% of glute ham developers suck. Instead of feeling smooth, the lift usually feels awkward and unproductive.
That is, unless you have an Elitefts glute ham raise. If you’ve never performed a glute ham raise off of an Elifefts model, then you can’t possibly imagine the exercise’s effectiveness, as chances are the one you’re using pales in comparison.
Sometimes I wonder if equipment manufacturers even work out or understand biomechanics. Big props to Elitefts for spending the necessary time getting the design right.
7. Crunch Like This
Research out of Stanford University from 1979 showed that a sit-up exhibited 38 degrees of lumbar flexion, but a crunch where only the scapulae are lifted off the ground exhibited only 3 degrees of lumbar flexion (Halpern and Bleck 1979).
Given that the lumbar spine has between 40-73 degrees of ROM in males and 40-68 degrees of ROM in females (Troke et al. 2005), I think it’s safe to say that this type of crunch remains in the neutral zone for the lumbar spine.
If you limit the lumbar ROM and use a controlled tempo, it makes the exercise much more challenging and you’ll no longer be able to bust out hundreds of repetitions.
Start from a slightly hyperextended position by using a rolled up towel, ab mat, or stability ball. Raise the torso to only around 30° of trunk flexion, moving mostly in the thoracic spine. Control the tempo and accentuate the negative portion of the exercise. I discuss this further in the video below:
To prevent hyperkyphotic postural adaptations in the thoracic spine, make sure you perform thoracic mobility drills and include plenty of exercises to strengthen the erectors.
For example, some mobility drills include thoracic extensions off a foam roller and quadruped thoracic extension and rotation, while some strength training exercises include squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, and farmer’s walks.
8. Four to Six Weeks to Harden Up
When I was 18 years old, I was in the gym quarter-squatting 275 pounds with a pad around the bar. A giant behemoth of a man walked up behind me and told me to back down to 135 and squat down deep to the floor like a real man and quit using the pussy pad. Thankfully I took his advice and never looked back.
I can remember using the bar pad because squatting freakin’ hurt my back. The pressure was overwhelming. After ditching the bar pad, it took around four weeks to stop hurting.
When I started front squatting, the same scenario occurred – it hurt. But I stuck with it and a month later I could no longer feel any pain. Zercher squats took a bit longer to quit hurting – around six weeks – as did hook grip deadlifts. Just recently I started hip thrusting without a bar pad and it hurt like hell. I’ve been doing this for a month and it no longer hurts.
The take home message is, the more frequently you perform the lifts, the quicker your nervous system will become densensitized to the stimuli. So man up and fight through the discomfort. Just remember, what seems like torture today in a month will feel like a hot oil massage from a pair of busty Asian masseuses. I kid you not.
9. Resistance Training vs. Stretching for Flexibility Gains
Many long-term lifters have noticed that they don’t have to stretch much to maintain their flexibility. Fact is, many of us have noted superior flexibility gains from weight training compared to stretching.
In the past few years, several studies have emerged showing that resistance training increases flexibility (Monteiro et al. 2008; Santos et al. 2010). This isn’t surprising, but some have shown resistance training protocols to be just as effective or even more effective in terms of flexibility gains when compared to stretching protocols (Aquino et al. 2010, Simao et al. 2010; Morton et al. 2011; Nelson and Bandy 2004).
I’m a fan of doing all sorts of things for improved mobility and soft tissue functioning such as foam rolling and static stretching. But know that full range of motion resistance training is one of the best things you can do to increase and maintain mobility.
Just make sure your programs are well-designed, as structural balance is critical for postural and functional adaptations. To add icing on the cake, make sure you foam roll, stretch, and perform mobility and activation drills.
10. Broz Mentality – The “Shoot Your Family” Scenario
I’m a big John Broz fan. When I met him at his Las Vegas facility he said something that really hit home. He told me to envision someone capturing my family and informing me that they were going to shoot all of them unless I put a hundred pounds on my squat in one month. Then he asked me how often I would squat if this actually happened, and followed up with this gem: “Something tells me you’d squat more than twice per week.”
I like to think of this scenario for a variety of purposes in strength and conditioning. What if you had to put an inch on your arms in one month without gaining any weight? Something tells me you’d perform some curls and triceps extensions. What if you needed your abs to be the strongest they ever were? Something tells me you’d perform dynamic spinal movements and not just core stability exercises.
I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps picked up something useful you can use in your own training.
- Activate the glutes
- Learn to sit back and hinge properly at the hips
- Learn to use the triceps properly for maximum bench press performance
- Buy an Elitefts glute ham developer if you want a real GHD
- Limit your lumbar ROM when you crunch
- Know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for dealing with pain from barbell pressure on new movements as they only take a month or so to get accustomed to
- Perform full ROM resistance training for maximum flexibility
- Pick a new goal each month and attack it with purpose.
See you next month!
by Nate Green
Bret Contreras wants you to know he’s read every single article TMUSCLE has ever published. (That’s online and print, buddy.)
Passionate about training? You bet your ass.
Speaking of asses, Bret also wants you to know that yours is weak and ugly, and he means that in the nicest way possible. But you should still do something about it. (He also wants you to know he regularly massages the ass of one of his clients who just happens to be a figure competitor.)
Bret wants you to know a lot of things, but that’s just because he wants to know a lot of things, too. That’s why he received his Masters degree from ASU, his CSCS from NSCA, took a full year off to conduct EMG research, wrote a book about glutes, and is planning to head back to school for his Ph.D.
In fact, Bret’s so eager to share his knowledge about bodybuilding, speed, new exercises, and sports training, that he’ll start ranting immediately after answering the phone for your interview.
But I guess you really didn’t need to know that.
TMUSCLE: Hello? You there? Hold on. Shit. Let me turn this thing on.
Bret Contreras: Sorry about that.
TM: Nah, it’s cool. We’re recording now. What were you getting all pissed about? Something about being “anti-bodybuilding?”
BC: I was saying that a lot of experts seem to be anti-bodybuilding. While I agree the vast majority of people see more results when they follow a routine that hits each major muscle group two or three times per week, I believe that every person should experiment with HVT, HIT, HFT, EDT, body-part splits, upper/lower splits, and total body training to find what works best for them.
There’s no need to bash any particular system. We all have unique physiologies so we all respond differently to various exercises, splits, volumes, frequencies, intensities, and densities. In fact, the best part of strength training over the long haul is discovering our own unique system.
TM: Good point. I’ve also noticed a lot of guys shitting on the bodybuilding philosophy in the past couple of years, but I think it’s making a comeback.
BC: I agree. But I’ve seen a lot of strength coaches and corrective exercise types who employ sport-specific training but wouldn’t be caught dead using bodybuilding techniques. However, bodybuilders have been preaching about developing intense mind-muscle connections, reaching optimal levels of body composition, and hitting the muscles from a lot of angles for many decades. Are you telling me their athletes can’t benefit from all that?
We all know the sport-specific crowd trains “movements, not muscles.” Now they have to teach people how to activate certain muscles like their glutes because they were too focused on the movements. They didn’t pay any attention to the muscles.
If you’re performing the right strength exercises through the proper range of motion and squeezing the right muscles, then muscle activation takes care of itself. Had we listened to what bodybuilders have said all along and applied it to sport-specific training there would be no need for activation work.
TM: That’s going to piss some people off.
BC: Yeah, but that’s okay. It’s time for a change.
If a coach prescribes solely axial lifts for his athletes like squats and deadlifts without prescribing anteroposterior lifts like hip thrusts and back extensions, then the athlete will be robbed of maximum glute and hamstring activation and sprint speed development.
Had we listened to the bodybuilders about hitting muscles from various angles we wouldn’t have been overly-focused on performing standing barbell and dumbbell exercises and would have been more open to supine, prone, and quadruped movements. And our athletes would be faster because of it.
I don’t think there are many trainers right now who are raking in the dough, and considering that people hire trainers for a myriad of reasons including fat loss, muscle gain, increased strength, enhanced speed, and improved health, it’s very important for trainers to have a good understanding of each sub-field of strength training so they can be of maximum benefit to their clients.
TM: Let’s forget about the trainers for a minute and talk about the guys who are in the gym busting their ass. You wrote me an email a few days ago and said they were married to the methods. What did you mean?
BC: Most guys have too many goals or none at all. I think each month you should choose a new primary goal. I don’t care if it’s to gain ten pounds on your bench press, perform two more reps on a chin-up, or gain five pounds of muscle.
But too often we’re married to our methods to reach our goals in what we think will be the quickest manner possible.
In strength training we have a lot of divisiveness. There’s a time and place for every type of training and we should look at all of these methods as “tools” to help us reach our goals. Guys like Christian Thibaudeau and the late Mel Siff truly understand fitness. They have an appreciation for all types of training, are very open-minded, and can see value in most methods. These are my favorite types of experts. I don’t like when people make judgments about certain exercises or training systems having never tried them.
I mean, get good at Bulgarian split squats and single leg RDL’s and you’ll swear by them. Do HIT training for two months and you might see the best gains of your life.
If you’ve been training for strength but want increased power, put the strength work on the back burner and focus on speed-strength, explosive strength, and reactive ability.
However, many people have serious hang-ups with abandoning their favorite exercises or methods for a period of time. You can’t train for maximum power, maximum strength, maximum size, and maximum conditioning at the same time.
TM: But what if a particular method has been working great. Are you saying we should change it up even if we’re consistently making gains?
BC: Not at all. I’m just saying that your new goal will require you to add something in. To do that, you must take something out. So if you’re still getting a benefit from a certain exercise, then sure, keep it in. But I bet there are other parts of your program that aren’t doing much for you.
And you gotta know the difference. Most guys will still keep the bench press even though they haven’t progressed on it for months. They simply can’t let go of an exercise or method in order to advance at something new.
Nate, if I told you that you had to increase your vertical jump by five inches in the next two months or I’d molest your dog in the worst way, what would you do?
TM: Wait, what? That’s weirdest threat I’ve ever received.
BC: I don’t know why I just said that. But, still, what would you do? Let’s say you’re a strong, powerful squatter. You’d likely improve your jump the most by eliminating squats for two months and doing solely plyometrics, Olympic lift variations, jump squats, and medicine ball work. But many people could never get over the mental hurdle of taking two months off squatting in order to reach that goal.
I’ve met people who continuously re-injure their lower back from squatting and deadlifting. Their goals should be to rehabilitate themselves so they can lift pain-free. Avoiding squats, deadlifts, and good mornings for a month and sticking to all single-leg work will allow them to stress the hip and thighs while reducing the stress on their lumbar spine. Their strength could be maintained while their back is being rehabilitated.
TM: Good point.
BC: One final example. I know a lot of guys who want to lose some fat but can’t seem to tighten everything up. They’re typically really strong guys who are addicted to being big and strong. They lift big and eat big. If and when they ever decide to lighten up the weight, do more reps, hit the muscles from more angles, perform some cardio, and tighten up their diets, they’re usually very pleased with their new bodies.
Think of Christian Thibaudeau and Dave Tate. These guys have always been strong, but now they’re strong and ripped. The mental hurdle of dieting down for big strong guys is usually a very tough one to get over. But if they can do it, you should be able to.
TM: All right, man, I gotta ask. Why the glute fetish?
BC: Good question! I remember being 15 and my mom bought me a set of barbells. I’d do curls and military presses and push-ups and stuff, but I never knew how to do anything for legs. One day it occurred to me that I could get bigger legs and a better butt. I don’t know why it was such a quantum leap for me. I had friends who played football and the girls would say, “Oh, he has a nice butt,” and I wanted them to say that about me.
More recently, I read about glute bridges from guys I respect like Robertson, Cressey, and Boyle and thought it was a good exercise. Then I was watching a UFC fight and this guy was full-mounted on the ground. I couldn’t figure out why the dude on the bottom didn’t buck the other guy off. In truth, I knew he was tired and less powerful, but I still thought it was a movement that most guys have no power in. So I thought about putting a barbell on there, and the weighted glute bridge was born.
People think I’m psychotic because I wrote a 675-page E-book on the glutes. It’s just something I think everyone needs to work on.
TM: You told me earlier you actually massage your clients’ glutes. What’s up with that?
BC: It’s something I picked up from Charlie Francis who would get so in tune with his clients. He was their trainer, their masseuse, and their coach. I stopped doing 12-hour days training clients to focus on writing, but I still trained a handful of people. I found out I could help them break down scar tissue with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or by using my thumbs and elbows and it really did miracles with their form and their firing patterns. It’s not that weird. And I don’t just massage their glutes. There are other body parts, you know.
TM: Fair enough. I also heard you don’t like to get sore from training. What are you, a wuss?
BC: Ha! Hardly. But I’m glad you brought it up because it’s rarely talked about in strength training. Soreness is not an indicator of muscle growth and can very easily impede progress. Due to individuality and differences in anthropometry, everyone has exercises that get them really sore, and those exercises are often the one’s for which they are the best suited. For me it’s deadlifts and walking lunges. Deadlifts make my lower back very sore and walking lunges make my adductor magnus and lower glutes sore as hell.
But if I get too sore from these exercises, it’s hard for me to get a good workout the following day (or even the following several days), even if I’m doing upper-body work. Also, if my adductor magnus is crippled I won’t be able to do any high-quality hip extension work until the pain subsides or I might pull the muscle. So it’s to my advantage to avoid getting too sore on these exercises.
This leaves me with several options. I could avoid the exercise altogether, which is not a good choice. I could perform several sets but not go too hard on any sets, which is also not a good choice. I could perform dynamic work (explosive sets with lighter weight) which is a decent choice, or I could just do one hard set and walk away, which is the best option in my opinion.
TM: But would that one set still give you a training effect?
BC: Definitely. It would if you came back and hit that same muscle group one or two more times that week. Why cripple yourself when we know that working the muscle more frequently is better?
If you’re sore, you won’t get a good training effect at all. So it’s okay to perform just one or two sets of an exercise if it decreases soreness and allows you to function better throughout the week.
But you don’t do it on every body part. Personally, I often avoid high rep deadlifts and walking lunges. I once deadlifted 405 pounds for 12 reps and was crippled for nine straight days. I once did 20 walking lunges with 245 pounds and was crippled for nine days as well.
TM: Something about the nine days…
BC: Must be. But I won’t do that ever again. I always deadlift after I squat, so my hips and low back are already warmed up, but now I do 405 pounds for one rep and I use that set to determine how heavy to go for my work set. If 405 feels heavy, I might do 475 for one set. If 405 feels like cupcakes, I might go for 550 for one set. Then I’m done.
Now, squats and the bench press don’t get me that sore so I might do five sets of them. Everyone has their lifts where they should limit their total amount of sets due to extreme levels of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) production.
TM: After seeing your glute bridge variations, I’m crowning you King of the crazy-ass exercises. You got any others for us?
BC: Man, you have no idea. A few years ago I remember hearing some guys at my gym say that lunges are for pussies. I remember thinking to myself that walking lunges are probably the most difficult exercise I do. One hard set can force me to lie down for five minutes gasping for air.
I’d rather do a hard set of squats, deadlifts, or weighted chin-ups any day of the week than walking lunges. I then realized that these close-minded guys were referring to bodyweight lunges and had never tried a hard set of barbell walking lunges.
Last year I overheard a guy at my gym telling another guy that single-leg RDL’s are a “sissy exercise.” I tried them and sucked at them because I wasn’t very coordinated. Luckily, I decided to stick with them. Now I can perform 5 deep reps with two 100-lb dumbbells and they’re an amazing exercise for me.
TM: Okay, but where are you going with this?
BC: What I’m saying is, until you try it you have no idea how effective an exercise will be. And just because it looks crazy doesn’t mean it won’t kick your ass. One exercise I’d like everyone to try is the pendulum quadruped hip extension.
You know why most of the butt machines at the gym suck? Because they’re made for women. They’re too small, uncomfortable, and don’t have enough weight on the stack.
The pendulum beneath the reverse hyper is the perfect tool to allow you to maximally target the glutes. Just place a mat underneath the machine, get on all fours, place a heel against the pendulum bar, position the body far back so the heel is almost touching the butt, hold onto the side rails for support, and extend the hips, keeping the knee at around a 90-degree angle and avoiding any rotary motion at your core.
This exercise absolutely kills me. The plate-loadable bar allows you to load up as much weight as your want. I can do 100 pounds for ten reps and 125 pounds for five reps. When I’m finished with the set, I feel like I got run over by a truck. My core is demolished, my glutes are on fire, my quads are pumped, and my lungs are gasping for air. How many glute isolation exercises have this effect?
Sure, it’s a “machine exercise” but machines are okay in sport-specific training if they hit a certain muscle really hard, train a functional movement pattern, and as long as the big basics are covered in the program.
The pendulum quadruped hip extension will get you strong glutes and increase your hip hyperextension strength which will transfer over to running and sprinting.
TM: I’ll have to try that one. Let’s wrap up. Is there anything else pissing you off?
BC: At the risk of sounding like a typical meathead I’m going to go out on a limb and call for a “return to strength.” Don’t get me wrong; I believe there’s a time for unstable training, unilateral and bilateral exercises, free weight and machine exercises, closed chain and open chain exercises, compound and isolation exercises, and stretched-position and contracted-position exercises. I believe we need to learn how to activate certain muscles, get flexible, and get the core really strong.
TM: However, how long does this take?
BC: After a solid year of glute activation, stretching, and core training, those qualities should be brought up to par. After that, glute activation work doesn’t need to be performed. You simply need to integrate level-appropriate glute strengthening exercises like hip thrusts and pendulum quadruped hip extensions into your strength program.
The total amount of stretching can be reduced once adequate flexibility is reached, and if you’re doing exercises like full squats, Romanian deadlifts, chin ups, dips, and Bulgarian squats, then you’re already doing loaded stretching during your strength workout.
I think we can easily go overboard on things like warm-ups, mobility work, flexibility, activation, movement prep, and core work.
If I’m training an athlete, then I’ll spend more time warming them up.
But when I’m ready to lift, I want to slam an energy drink, listen to some insanely loud music, do a few warm-up sets, and start lifting my balls off.
TM: Sounds good to us. Thanks, man.
Nate Green writes about muscle, girls, and lifestyle at his blog.
Bodybuilders know a thing or two about the mind/muscle connection.
Where’s explosive glute strength when you need it?
Figure competitor Katie Cole’s ass.
The only glute bridge picture we ever want to see again…
…except for this one.
You should always loofah yourself after a hard workout.
© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
by Bret Contreras
In 1995, my cousin and training partner at the time bought me The Complete Book of Butt and Legs because, in his words, he’d “never met someone so obsessed with training his glutes.”
I pored over that book, and since then I’ve read almost every study, article, and book ever written on the glutes. My bookshelf is loaded with glute and hip extension exercise material, including four extra-large three-ring binders full of glute articles and studies that have been printed and highlighted over the years.
Whether the publication was geared toward bodybuilding, powerlifting, or sport-specific training, if it pertained to the glutes in any way, I read it.
In 2006, I opened up Lifts, a Scottsdale-based fitness studio that specialized in glute training. I developed several brand new glute exercises, which my clients and I believed were much more effective than what most people were doing for their glutes. Lifts quickly became known as the butt-perfecting gym in Scottsdale.
Early in 2009, I was trained by Noraxon to use their Myotrace 400 and Clinical Application Software, a system that measures and records the muscular activity of exercises via a process known as electromyography, or EMG.
I’d long suspected that the methods and exercises I developed in my training studio were far more effective than what the typical fitness publications were printing, but after performing thirty straight leg workouts and experiments in my skivvies with wires and electrodes attached to me so I could measure and record the glute, quad, hamstring, and adductor activity of over a hundred different hip extension exercises, it became clear to me that the glutes are the most wrongly-pegged muscle group in fitness.
I tested common and unique bodyweight, dumbbell, band, barbell, apparatus, and machine exercises, and then tested three other individuals with varying anthropometry or body segment lengths to make sure the results I saw weren’t atypical.
Knowing that the fitness population would seek scientific explanation to lend support to my data, I knew what my next step needed to be. Fourteen years after reading the book my cousin bought me on the glutes, I wrote my own glute-book entitled Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening.
Within its 675 pages, you’ll find pictures and descriptions of over 200 glute exercises, many of which you’ve never seen or tried before, as well as over 700 references and links to other sources. The book dispels many myths surrounding the glutes, “functional training,” and “sport-specific training.” If you’re interested in glute training, this book is a must-read.
The Glute Guy
Recently, a colleague of mine nicknamed me “The Glute Guy,” and it stuck. I’m certain that I’ve done more research on the glutes than any other person on this planet. My research has made me realize two things.
First, the experts don’t know shit about the glutes. Yes, this means all of your favorite authors, professors, trainers, and coaches. Despite the fact that the gluteus maximus muscles are without a doubt the most important muscles in sports and the fact that strength coaches helped popularized “glute activation,” none of them have a good understanding of glute training. Neither do bodybuilders, powerlifters, or physical therapists. They all think they do, but they don’t.
In fact, the experts are so far off the mark that their best glute exercises can only activate half as many fibers as the glute exercises I’m about to show you.
And second, athletes’ glutes are pathetically weak and underpotentialized. Even people who think they have strong glutes almost always have very weak glutes in comparison to how strong they can get through proper training.
Follow the Logic
I expound upon these concepts much more in Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening, but for this article I’ll be very brief. Some of this might contradict what you’ve read in the past but keep in mind this is coming from “The Glute Guy.”
• The lower gluteus maximus is involved in three distinct actions; hip extension, hip hyperextension, and hip transverse abduction.
• The upper gluteus maximus is involved in five different distinct actions; hip extension, hip hyperextension, hip abduction, hip transverse abduction, and hip external rotation.
• These motions are the most important motions in sports and include sprinting, leaping, cutting from side to side, and twisting.
• 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 forcibly pulled back.
• Hip hyperextension is safe and occurs naturally during walking, running, sprinting, grappling, throwing, lunging, and hip flexor stretching.
• Length tension relationships dictate that a 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 absolutely critical component to maximum glute activation; tight hip flexors prevent hip hyperextension and maximum glute activation.
• A vertical jump involves maximal vertical propulsion; whereas a sprint involves maximum horizontal propulsion.
• A sprint activates 234% more mean gluteus maximus muscle than a vertical jump.
• Due to the increased glute activation, sprinters commonly experience “butt-lock;” whereas repetitive vertical jumpers experience “quad-lock.”
• 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 have vertical or axial directional load vectors and include squats, deadlifts, and static lunges.
• Hip extension exercises that mimic sprinting have horizontal or anteroposterior directional load vectors, involve hip hyperextension, and include reverse hypers, back extensions, hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and pull throughs.
• Hip extension exercises that mimic jumping will be referred to as hip extension exercises, whereas hip extension exercises that mimic sprinting will be referred to as hip hyperextension exercises.
• The propulsion phase of a vertical jump involves simultaneous hip, knee, and ankle extension, whereas sprinting involves hip hyperextension.
• Hip extension exercises are usually performed while standing.
• Hip hyperextension exercises are usually performed in the supine, prone, or quadruped positions.
• Hip hyperextension exercises can be performed with bent legs or straight legs.
• Straight leg hip hyperextension exercises maximize hamstring contribution.
• Bent leg hip hyperextension exercises place the hamstrings in a shortened state which limits their contribution and maximizes gluteal contribution.
• In order, the hip extension exercises with the highest glute activation are the kneeling squat (67%), deadlift (55%), sumo deadlift (52%) and Zercher squat (45%).
• In order, the hip hyperextension exercises with the highest glute activation are the single leg bent leg reverse hyper (122%), hip thrust (119%), pendulum quadruped hip extension (112%), bent leg reverse hyper (111%).
• Hip abduction, transverse abduction, and external rotation exercises often maximally recruit 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.
As mentioned earlier, most people think they have strong glutes, but they don’t. They believe this because they think that squats, deadlifts, and lunges are the best glute exercises, and they’ve spent years getting very strong at these. Even though they can make your glutes very sore, squatting, deadlifting, and lunging don’t strengthen the glutes much. They target the quads and erector spinae. Even box squatting, walking lunges, and sumo deadlifts don’t activate much glute in comparison to the exercises below.
If you studied glute activation like I have, you’d be blown away by the data. Most individual’s glutes contract harder during bodyweight glute activation exercises than from one-rep max squats and deadlifts.
This isn’t due to the fact that the individuals don’t know how to use their glutes or don’t adhere to proper exercise form. It’s due to the fact that biomechanically the glutes aren’t maximally involved in squatting, lunging, and deadlifting. They’re only maximally contracted from bent leg hip hyperextension exercises.
Furthermore, just because someone’s glutes are big, it doesn’t mean that they’re strong. In addition to training around three hundred “normal” clients over the past few years, I’ve trained various elite athletes, from NFL players and powerlifters to sprinters and figure models. I taught each of these individuals the exercises listed below, and I almost always had to start them off with their own bodyweight for resistance.
Although one of the powerlifters could do raw squats and deadlifts with over three times his bodyweight, when he first performed hip thrusts, he had to start out with two sets of twenty reps with his own bodyweight. We initially tried using 135 pounds on the hip thrust, which was roughly a third of what he squatted and deadlifted, but he could barely budge the bar.
The NFL players were both 350-pound offensive lineman who’d do hip thrusts for two sets of twenty reps as well. When you weigh 350 pounds, bodyweight exercises can be very productive! Both linemen mentioned that the hip thrust was the best posterior chain exercise they’d ever performed and remarked about how they loved the fact that they didn’t have to wrap their knees or wear a belt to perform the exercise.
The Olympic sprinter had the best relative glute strength of the bunch, easily being able to perform twenty single-leg hip thrusts on his very first workout.
Strength gains for the new exercises come very quickly. I started off using 185 pounds for ten reps on the hip thrust and within a year I could do 405 for five.
The following plan will get your glutes much sexier, stronger, and speedier. Since everyone possesses varying ranges of glute strength, I’m going to provide four phases, which become progressively more challenging and difficult.
If you belong at phase one and start off at phase three, you’ll just end up improving your existing dysfunctional patterns, which will lead to a pulled low back, hamstring, or groin muscle. You’ll have to be the judge as to which phase you start at, but I suggest playing it safe and starting on phase one, spending two to three weeks in each phase.
I also included an array of exercises, some of which can be performed at your local gym or garage gym, and some of which require specialized equipment. I believe that the equipment below should become staples in glute training and sport-specific training, as they effectively train the sprint-vector and maximize glute activation.
Don’t stop performing your squat, lunge, deadlift, and back extensions movements. Do these on your regular leg day and perform two weekly glute workouts on separate days. The workouts will be brief and won’t get you very sore. Always begin each glute workout with a simple warm-up consisting of hip flexor stretches and a couple of bodyweight glute activation exercises.
Phase One: Hip Flexor Flexibility and Glute Activation
You must possess adequate hip flexor flexibility in order to open up the hips and maximally activate the glutes. Furthermore, you must be able to control your own bodyweight and learn how to contract the glutes properly before you begin adding weight. Mark Verstegen, Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, and Mike Robertson have done an excellent job of discussing the importance of glute activation.
Perform two sets of hip flexor stretches for sixty-second static holds, progressing deeper into the stretch as time ensues.
Pick two exercises and perform two sets of ten reps with a five-second isometric hold up top:
Quadruped hip extension
Single-leg glute bridge
Pick one exercise and perform two sets of ten reps with a five-second isometric hold up top:
Phase Two: Glute Hypertrophy
Now it’s time to progress into more challenging exercises and start packing on some functional glute mass.
Pick two exercises and perform two sets of ten to twenty reps:
Barbell glute bridge
Pendulum quadruped hip extension
Single-leg hip thrust
Weighted bird dog
Pick one exercise and perform two sets of ten to twenty reps:
Band standing abduction
Band seated abduction
Band external rotation
Phase Three: Glute Strength
At last, we’ve reached the maximum strength phase. By this time, you’ll have developed a superior mind-muscle connection and will be able to maximize your glute activation through heavy strength training.
Pick one exercise and perform four sets of five reps:
Barbell hip thrust
Bent-leg reverse hyper
Bent-leg back extension
Phase Four: Glute Power and Speed
Finally, it’s time to test out your new-found glute strength and increased locomotive capacity.
During these sprint sessions, you’ll notice increased gluteal recruitment while running, and you’ll be able to hold the “sprint position” throughout the entire 100-meter race. Make sure to spend about twenty minutes warming up and progressively increase speed as the sets progress.
Perform these workouts five days apart. On your first sprint session, work your way up to four 100-meter sprints at 80% max-speed. On your second sprint session, work your way up to two 100-meter sprints at 90% max-speed. On your third sprinting session, work your way up to one 100-meter sprint at 100% max-speed. Have a buddy bring a stop-watch and see if you can set a personal record.
When you finish with these phases, you can simply mix together your own glute program based on equipment availability and individual exercise preference. After building up strength on these exercises, your workout will never feel right without having at least one maximum glute-strengthener in your routine. The days of just squatting and deadlifting are long gone.
Tips for Special Populations
Ronnie Coleman upped the ante for bodybuilders’ glutes when he showed up at the 2003 Mr. Olympia at 293 pounds with huge, shredded glutes. If you’ve seen Ronnie’s videos, you’ll know he loves his heavy squats and deadlifts, as well as his grueling parking lot lunges. I can’t imagine what his glutes would’ve looked like had he done hip thrusts or pendulum quadruped hip extensions.
Bodybuilders are right on the mark with quad training and way off the mark with glute and hamstring training. Their arsenal of exercises is too narrow. Bodybuilders should stay away from sprints, plyos, and one-rep maxes, as the risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t great enough.
A better strategy is to just integrate some of the exercises listed below into your routine for higher reps. If you’re a 300-pound bodybuilder, performing 20 controlled reps with a slight pause up top on the hip thrust with just bodyweight will really tax the glutes. Since the glutes are on average a 68% slow-twitch muscle, they may respond very well to higher reps.
However, there’s also much evidence that shows that since the gluteus maximus is often the largest muscle in the body, it remains dormant during low-intensity activities in an attempt to spare energy for more intense purposes. In this way they are like “sleeping giants”; they only want to be bothered when absolutely necessary.
If you’re a bodybuilder and you need bigger glutes, then you must perform the exercises below. Squats, deadlifts, and lunges aren’t doing it for you. I like Haney Rambod’s FST-7 method where he suggests performing a couple of heavy exercises in the eight to twelve rep range, followed by seven sets of a lighter isolation exercise for eight to twelve reps with shorter rest-times.
I’d suggest performing four sets of heavy hip thrusts followed by seven sets of either an abduction movement like a band abduction or a more targeted movement like a single-leg glute bridge or even a quadruped hip extension with a five-second isometric hold up top.
Many gyms have good glute machines too. These machines can activate the glutes to a much higher degree than typical standing free-weight exercises. Just pin extra weight to the stack if need-be.
TC has alluded to the importance of the “A-shape” for sexy female glutes. While the shape of the glutes are largely genetic, women still need to attempt to preserve the sexy A-shape as much as possible and watch their upper glute to lower glute ratio.
The girls in the “good” category have a sexy A-shape and can perform all types of glute exercises. The girls in the “bad” category have well-developed glutes, but are losing their A-shape due to overdeveloped upper glutes. Their upper glutes are getting too big. These girls should avoid hip hyperextension, abduction, and external rotation exercise and stick to solely hip extension exercises. Although hip extension exercises don’t work the glutes like hip hyperextension exercises do, they focus on the lower glutes and limit upper glute involvement.
The glutes can’t get too strong in sports. The stronger they get, the more powerfully they contract in sprinting and the better they protect against low back, knee, hamstring, and groin injuries. Charlie Francis talked about how there were only a few athletes in the world who could maintain “sprint form” in the 100-meter sprint and how sprinters knew they had a bad day if they felt their sprints in their quads.
Over twenty years ago, he was prescribing reverse leg presses as his main glute and hamstring exercise in order to prepare his athletes for the big race. The reverse leg press was like a donkey kick performed while standing backwards facing away from a leg press on a Universal gym. Talk about being years ahead of your time! The reverse leg press is a great exercise, but the hip thrust and pendulum quadruped hip extension are even better.
Q: Your research sounds pretty crazy. Is there any existing research to substantiate your claims?
A: Yes, there are, including a study performed by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2006, which showed that a bodyweight quadruped hip extension activated more gluteus maximus muscle than a one-rep max squat. There’s also a study performed by Kearns, et al. which showed that back extensions activated more gluteus maximus muscle than straight-leg deadlifts, and a study performed by researchers at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital that showed that jogging on a treadmill activated over twice as much gluteus maximus muscle as the Stairmaster. Even walking beat out the Stairmaster.
In Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening, I explain these studies by exploring and analyzing muscle fiber orientation, load vectors, length-tension relationships, and angular kinematics. In the three studies described above, quadruped hip extensions, back extensions, and treadmill running (all anteroposterior actions) beat out squats, deadlifts, and the Stairmaster (all axial actions).
Q: You’ve been having your clients hip thrust for over two years? It looks pretty dangerous. Is it safe? Have any of your clients injured themselves?
A: Yes, the hip thrust is perfectly safe. In the past three years, I’ve had around ten male clients regularly hip thrust over 365 pounds for ten reps and around ten female clients hip thrust 135 pounds for ten reps. I’ve been hip thrusting 405 to 455 pounds for two year now, and my back has never felt healthier.
In almost three years of prescribing hip thrusts, not a single individual has ever hurt themselves from performing the exercise. Not only do they not lead to lower back injury, they even prevent lower back injury because they maximally strengthen the glutes; the best back-sparing muscle there is.
Why would any movement that focused on targeting the glutes — the strongest muscle in the body — through direct hip extension while keeping the spine in neutral be unsafe?
Q: Ronnie Coleman had the best glutes of all time, and he never did hip thrusts. Neither did Andy Bolton, and he deadlifted more than any man in history. Usain Bolt is the world’s fastest man, and he never did any hip thrusts. What gives?
A: Ronnie’s glutes would have been even bigger from hip thrusts. Andy Bolton could get stronger at his deadlift lockout if he did hip thrusts. And Usain Bolt could get even faster if he performed hip thrusts. They are that good! Expect this exercise to be very popular in time.
Q: Activation exercises were meant to just activate muscles with bodyweight resistance. I don’t think you’re supposed to load them up.
A: You can load any movement in exercise. I agree that you shouldn’t try to load exercises like scapular wall slides, but glute bridges? Come on! We’re talking about the glutes. The powerhouse of the human body!
Q: Those exercises look funny. I don’t want to do them at my gym.
A: You don’t like humping? What’s wrong with you? Just kidding; they are indeed strange looking. I have to confess that when I first started doing these at Powerhouse Gym I got some strange looks. Now I have half the gym doing them. I have people come up to me every day and say, “You’re the guy who taught my friend the hip thrust. He taught me them and I never do a leg workout without them!”
They’re no more awkward than Romanian deadlifts or hip adductions, but we’ve gotten desensitized to them. In time, they won’t look so awkward. If you’re okay with settling for half your possible glute activation, then don’t do them. But if you want maximum glute strength, sprinting speed, low back health, and sex-appeal, then you better start thrusting.
Q: Are you sure that lunges aren’t the best glute exercise? Every time I do them I can barely sit down for a week.
A: Yes, I tested them many times on myself and on several other people to. They sure make the glute-ham tie-in sore, but they don’t make the upper glutes sore, nor do they cause a burn or a pump in the glutes like the exercises listed above. Contrary to popular opinion, they only get glute activation to at most 30% of MVC, while others can get glute activation to over 120%.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Single-leg Glute Bridge
Barbell Glute Bridge
Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extension
Single-leg Hip Thrust
Weighted Bird Dog
Band Standing Abduction
Band Seated Abduction
Band External Rotation
Barbell Hip Thrust
Bent-leg Reverse Hyper
Bent-leg Back Extension
About Bret Contreras
Bret Contreras received his master’s degree from Arizona State University and has been a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and fitness studio owner for the past several years. If you have comments or questions for Bret, or if you’d like to purchase Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening, please visit his website at TheGluteGuy.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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