The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Dispelling the Glute Myth


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.


Glute Gauges

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."


Exercise Progressions

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:

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:

Pick one exercise and perform two sets of ten to twenty reps:


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:


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


Bodybuilders

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.


Figure Models

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.


Athletes

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.


FAQ

Q: Your research sounds pretty crazy. Is there any existing research to substantiate your claims?

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?

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?

Q: Activation exercises were meant to just activate muscles with bodyweight resistance. I don't think you're supposed to load them up.

Q: Those exercises look funny. I don't want to do them at my gym.

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.



Dispelling the Glute Myth

Hip Flexor Stretch


Glute Bridge


Single-leg Glute Bridge


Bird Dog


Hip Thrust


Lying Abduction


Clam


Fire Hydrant


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

Dispelling the Glute Myth

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 [email protected].


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