Nowadays, both men and women aspire to develop a pair of good-looking glutes. But glutes also play a key role in achieving and maintaining optimal posture, joint and muscular health, and the ability to perform the most basic everyday tasks. The glutes are the pillar of strength and stability for the entire body. Unfortunately, most people have weak and underperforming glutes, even some of them that look good.
I had this client last winter, Jennifer, in her 20´s and troubled about her “flat butt”. She had tried a lot of celebrities workouts that she found on social media but none worked the way she wanted. Sadly, this happens more than you think. People who spend hours and hours working out but don´t get properly rewarded.
More recently, I trained George, in his 40´s, working in an office for almost 20 years, and later hitting the gym 3 times a week, where he performs the typical exercises: bench press, squats, rows, and so on. Despite his effort and workouts, his body posture was poor, and needed to visit a physiotherapist at least once a week because of his lower back pain. His physiotherapist recommended finding a specific exercise plan to ease that pain.
When we look at glute training, we find out that people have opposite approaches, like Jennifer and George. Can you relate?
The Problem: Too little or too much.
Approach #1. Too little.
- Don´t train their glutes at all, or
- believe that squats are enough to target the glutes.
Well, the first point doesn´t need further explanation. You don´t work them, your muscles stay the same.
On the other side, the squat is a great exercise, but it´s not the best option for strengthening and developing the glutes. It´s a compound movement (several muscles involved) and you need to perform it correctly to actually involve all those muscles, which is not easy or automatic.
In particular, George had been squatting once a week without impacting his glutes. He felt his quads and hamstrings burning but his glutes felt more like a bah! Even performed with perfect form, there is a good chance that at least one muscle group involved in any compound movement is not properly activated.
But David, squats are so old school! The barbell hip thrust is the real deal now to work glutes. What about hip thrust? I´m sorry to ruin your day but, there is no “one best” exercise; so don’t believe the hype!
Squats and barbell hip thrusts need specific setups, and later variations according to each person in order to achieve a safe and effective targeted training effect.
Meaning, while performing squats and hip thrust many people feel a burn or muscular fatigue in the lower back or hamstrings. You´ve probably heard that this is because these muscles are “weak”. But more often than not, this burn or fatigue is a result of either inefficient glute activation or incorrect execution of the exercise. When we cannot activate the glutes as well as we need to perform these exercises, the body will involve the closest available muscle group. The common “helpers” are typically the hamstrings or the lower back muscles.
It wasn´t too hard to help George. Squats? Ditched. Hip trusts? Out! I included two specific lower back-friendly exercises in every training session to target his glutes and in 3 weeks he noticed a significant improvement.
* I must clarify that it was not hard for me… but George complained of soreness in the ass every week.
Approach #2. Too much.
- waste time performing hundreds of reps of ineffective ”toning” exercises, and
- train too often.
Light training is a plague from the ’80s, the golden era of toning exercises. Exercises need to be performed with a challenging resistance. By challenging I mean “heavy enough” to perform just the prescribed number of repetitions. For instance, you´re supposed to perform 12 reps. Can you do 10 more reps? 5 more reps? Resistance is too light! Using a resistance that is too light prevents many people from achieving strong, developed, and highly functioning glutes (or any other muscle for that matter).
Give yourself a minute to reflect on this fact: Your glutes are involved in every step you take, every day. You may not walk the infamous 10,000 steps a day but still, you sure take some thousands of steps every single day. Do you think that 50 extra bodyweight hip thrusts will get you the glutes you want? It defies all logic!
Some people work on their glutes every single day. Their dedication and commitment are admirable but this is a rookie mistake. Your body needs rest to repair itself before you train again. Jennifer really wanted a “celebrity-booty” and wasn´t afraid of putting time and effort into it. But often, too much is not better, it´s just too much and doesn´t get you any closer to where you want to be.
This case was a little harder because it involved a mindset switch. People who use to work out every single day are reluctant to accept that training less will get them better results. No matter how hard I try to explain that they need more rest, it´s hard to believe.
I accepted that a long time ago so, I usually ask them for a week or two to try my way. Once they notice progress, they´re more open to explore different training methods, give themselves a truce and not obsess.
We went from 6 booty workouts per week to just 2. She got results from the first week. She had been pounding her glutes for so long that her poor muscles just needed to reduce the frequency of training and have real-time to grow.
Problems associated with weak glutes
You may relate to George or Jennifer, nonetheless, there are some other problems associated with weak glutes that can indicate you need to focus on them:
- Lower back pain. When the glutes are weak, the muscles in the anterior side of the hip, mostly the psoas, tighten up to provide the pelvis and spine with the stability that it is lacking.
- Chronically ‘’tight’’ hamstrings. Due to glutes weakness, pelvis tilt. As a result, the hamstrings are in a permanently lengthened state and feel tight.
- Piriformis syndrome. When the glute medius is deactivated and the pelvis is unstable, the piriformis muscle along with the deep group of femoral rotators will work overtime to stabilize the hip. This can lead to piriformis syndrome.
- Runner’s knee (Patella-femoral syndrome). A common condition that plagues plenty of runners, is one of many issues that can be caused by weak glutes.
- Lower leg and foot problems. Weak glute medius and minimus muscles often cause poor alignment in the knees, ankles, and feet. This can cause Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, ankle sprains, and other issues in the lower leg and foot.
- Posture and alignment. When our glutes are weak, this can tilt our hips (tight hip flexors, weak glutes, and lower back). It creates a domino effect throughout the entire body and can lead to a belly that pushes out, an unnatural arch in our back.
Let´s take a glance at this muscle group before I explain to you how to build a well-structured glute workout.
Glute Muscles Explained
The gluteal complex is composed of three muscles; Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus.
The Gluteus Maximus is the most superficial of the muscles in the hip. It is responsible for extending your hip/leg backward and also assists in the abduction and external rotation of the femur, and the stabilization of the knee.
Since this muscle is very large, people who want to grow their booty focus too much on it. You shouldn´t neglect the other two.
The Gluteus Medius is a large fan-shaped muscle located in the posterior hip. It is responsible for the abduction, internal and external rotation of the hip, and stabilization of the hip and pelvis.
The Gluteus Minimus lies deep to the gluteus medius muscle. It´s the smallest muscle of the group and also the deepest. The Gluteus Minimus helps the Gluteus Medius in the rotation of the hip.
The medius and minimus are the main stabilizers of the pelvis and femur, and externally rotate and abduct the femur. Both of these muscles are essential to the alignment of the hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
As you see, the glutes fulfill several functions and a single exercise is not going to train them completely.
Tips for healthy good-looking glutes
Tip #1: Attending to their main functions, I recommend you to include hip abduction movements (Gluteus Medius and Minimus) and hip extension movements (Gluteus Maximus), in that order. Here are my favorite glute training exercises, truly spine-friendly and well-tolerated even by my clients battling through lower back pain. (Click to watch the videos).
Hip abduction movements
Hip extension movements
Tip #2: Pick two exercises of each group and perform 4-5 sets of each one. 10-12 reps per set.
*You need to use a challenging resistance, if you can perform 15 reps, the resistance is too light.
Tip#3: Frequency. 2 times a week will do the work, giving your glutes enough time to recover and grow to their full potential.
This approach has worked for George, Jennifer, and some other clients over the years. I´m sure will work for you as well.
In any case, next week I will add 3 specific glute workouts to the app. Until then, have fun trying these exercises.