Here's what you need to know...

  1. The glutes have three roles when you squat and deadlift: hip joint extension, abduction, and external rotation.
  2. To fully activate the glutes, memorize and focus on three different cues while you squat and deadlift.
  3. There are internal (body focused) and external (environmentally focused) cues to help you improve your form. Go with the ones that work best for you.

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The glutes are responsible for three main actions: hip joint extension, abduction, and external rotation.

To maximize glute activation and force production, do all three actions in your workouts.

Glute Cues: The Problem

Whether lifters know it or not, many of the common verbal cues you'll hear for squatting and deadlifting were originated to maximize the role of the glutes.

Only problem is, cues often don't cover all three main actions of the glutes.

Focus on one or two and you won't achieve full activation or force production of the glutes.

If you think about driving through your heels (hip extension) or spreading the floor (hip abduction), you may neglect hip external rotation as well. Two out of three ain't bad, but not optimal.

First become aware of all three main actions of the glutes, then combine them in order to achieve a bigger and more efficient squat and deadlift.

Glute Cues: The Solution

Coaches use tons of different cues to help lifters activate the glutes and improve their performance. But you don't necessarily have to be told these things to improve your form while lifting. You can think of them on your own.

They include both internally focused (body focused) and externally focused (environmentally focused) cues. Cueing is highly individual and it's best to try both internal and external cues to figure out which ones resonate.

While studies have found external cues to be superior to internal cues when it comes to performance, use what you know will improve your form.

What matters most is that you focus on all three actions throughout the lift. Let's look at some of the individual cues for each hip function.

1 – Hip Extension

This is the most common action lifters focus on. Hip extension is the "driving" action of the hip. It's the action that allows you to come out from the bottom of the squat/deadlift and finish the lift.

A few internally focused cues to help maximize hip extension include:

  1. Drive through the heels
  2. Squeeze the glutes
  3. Get the hips all the way through
  4. Externally focused cues to help maximize hip extension include:

    1. Break through the floor, or push the floor away
    2. Pinch a quarter between your butt cheeks
    3. Hold the ceiling up with the top of your head to finish
    4. 2 – Hip Abduction

      Hip abduction is the second most common action lifters think of during the squat and deadlift. This action helps to keep the knees from caving in towards each other, which is a surefire way to lose strength, invite injury, and look like a dork.

      Internally focused cues to help maximize hip abduction include:

      1. Keep the knees out over the toes
      2. Push your knees away from each other
      3. Spread your feet away from one another
      4. Externally focused cues:

        1. Imagine a band around the knees: push against that band
        2. Spread or rip the floor apart
        3. Imagine a piece of paper under your feet: rip the piece of paper in two halves
        4. 3 – Hip External Rotation

          The last action that lifters usually focus on is external rotation. This is different than the knee collapsing in (hip joint/femoral adduction), but the two are often found together.

          And if you're performing squats or deadlifts with your knees rotating inward toward your big toes, you're still doing it wrong.

          A few internally focused cues to help maximize hip external rotation:

          1. Rotate your knees out
          2. Rotate your knees towards your pinky toe
          3. Spin your upper legs out away from each other
          4. Externally focused cues include:

            1. Spin the ground out
            2. Screw your feet into the ground (a hybrid of both internal and external)
            3. Back Squat

              Combine All Three

              Pick a favorite cue from all three sections and memorize them to help you focus on the three main actions of the glutes.

              If you have good body awareness, internal cues may work well for you. If it's easier for you to focus on bigger tasks, external cues will likely be a better fit. In many cases you'll be able to maximize activation with a combination of cues.

              Memorizing three is easy. For instance, you could "spin the ground" and "spread the floor" as you "get the hips all the way through."

              You could "rotate your knees out" and "rip the piece of paper between your feet apart" as you "push the floor away."

              Or, you could "screw your feet into the ground" and "spread your feet away from each other" as you "break your heels through the floor."

              Choose the combo that will help you maximally activate your glutes, then watch your performance on the squat and deadlift skyrocket.

              Related:  More on building great glutes

              Related:  More on using cues for squatting