The Rise of the Powerful Female Body
There's an uprising happening right now. Women are rebelling against the fashion magazines. "Skinny" is no longer the goal. Especially when it appears weak, sick, and fragile. Thigh gaps and barely-there asses? No thanks.
What modern female lifters are after is stronger, better glutes and the legs that come with them. Suck it, fashion magazines.
Heavy leg training doesn't automatically lead to better glutes. For many women, everyone's beloved compound movements (squats, deadlifts, lunges) only increase the size of their legs by training their quads, lower back, and hams without doing much for their butts.
Their glute-leg ratio is disproportionate because their quads take over and hypertrophy during their lower body work.
Muscular legs aren't the problem. Undertrained glutes are.
We learned this lesson from Bret Contreras. People can use excellent form and lots of weight when squatting, lunging, and deadlifting. But even so, their glutes aren't maximally involved in these the way they are with other exercises that get less attention.
The most disciplined female lifter can kick ass in the squat rack and still fail to activate her glutes maximally. As a consequence, she'll continue to hypertrophy her legs while her glutes stay soft and sad.
How does this happen?
All the catchy motivational quotes and memes about a squat-butt are somewhat misleading. Why? Because our bodies – anatomy and biomechanics– are different. And these differences cause us to rely more heavily on different muscle groups, even when we're using excellent form.
Some women can't build an impressive squat-booty. They build squat-quads. You could be one of them if you:
- Have a propensity to build big quads.
- Aren't feeling much activation in your glutes during lower body workouts.
- Find yourself wondering why your glutes look flat in spite of all the squats and deads.
This combination of undertrained glutes and heavily-trained legs is common among females.
I'm a quadzilla. In the past this bothered me. "Big" legs, I thought at the time, just weren't attractive. I was about to learn a powerful lesson.
To reduce my big legs, I replaced lower body lifting with long distance running. After a year, the running took its toll. Muscle loss and a few debilitating injuries drove me back to the iron. I learned to embrace the muscular quads that came with it, but the glutes still lagged behind.
Then when I signed up for a figure competition, my coaches had me stop training lower body altogether because my legs were too big.
So my legs have gone from big to small to big and everywhere in between. And although my butt didn't change much, the experience taught me that smaller legs don't necessarily mean firmer legs. Smaller legs can be squishy and injury-prone. "Thin" can still be flabby.
By going back and forth I finally found my sweet spot, and it wasn't about shrinking my legs. It was about balancing them out with a better butt. The solution wasn't to atrophy my big, metabolically-expensive quads and hams. The solution was to hypertrophy my glutes.
So if you're prone to building thicker legs, the answer is not to stop training lower body, or to go at it timidly with little pink dumbbells. The answer is to aggressively train your glutes.
A butt-day is in order: a glute-specific workout in which your hams and quads are not taxed nearly as much as your glutes.
Give glutes priority. They'll grow as a result, and by growing them you'll improve the look of your entire body – not just what's below the belt.
People who work out for aesthetic purposes commonly focus on one or two body parts during a workout, but why aren't glutes one of those body parts? Developed glutes are critical for female competitors, and they look phenomenal on the bodies of non-competitors.
Is it because they're often difficult to isolate? Well, think about it: the anterior delts get hit on chest day, and the posterior delts get hit on back day, and yet many bodybuilders still have a dedicated delt-day.
Last I checked, glutes were bigger than delts. All the more reason to train glutes on their own, even if you inadvertently hit other muscle groups in the process.
You might be thinking, "Why isolate glutes if you can get a bigger bang for your metabolic buck by training your entire lower body?"
- If you weight train 5-6 days a week, then a glute day is worth the investment because it'll help activate your glutes when you're training your entire lower body with compound movements.
- The bigger the muscle group you're training, the more taxing the workout is. The assorted musculature of the butt is large, and if yours happens to be dormant then you're wasting a lot of time doing exercises that could be more effective if they included your glutes.
- The glutes are central to your overall appearance, literally. Butt-day will help eliminate the gluteal fold by lifting the glutes.
If you're a physique athlete, remember that bikini and figure competitions are often won and lost by glute development or the lack thereof. Judges will notice a gluteal-fold that looks like a double chin. Diet is part of that, but you'll also need dedicated glute training to bring it all home.
Butt-day isn't for everyone.
If you're a beginner or your weight training is limited to three days a week, then no, taking up gym time with a butt-specific day would not be ideal. You'd get more out of whole-body workouts that tax multiple muscle groups.
If you're a competitive strength and power athlete then it might not be a good investment of your time. Though remember, even male powerlifters use glute-specific exercises if glutes are a weak link the chain.
1 Make Butt-Day Somewhat Instinctive
The goal is to tax the heck out of your glutes, not your entire lower body. So if you do a glute-intensive exercise, pump a ton of blood into the area, and then can't get a mind-muscle connection with your glutes anymore, call it a day there, or move on to a finisher, HIIT, or abs.
Otherwise, if you keep working lower body, you'll just go through the motions of your leg exercises and continue training yourself to rely on quads and hams.
2 Feeling the Muscle Work is Key
On butt-day, start with several sets of hip thrusts (back on bench) or glute bridges (performed without a bench). Pause at the top until you feel a very strong contraction in your glutes.
Play with speed. A slow eccentric (negative) can help you feel the muscles working. Foot placement matters, so adjust your feet until you feel it.
Make sure that no rep is wasted. Your goal is to pump blood into your booty so that it feels numb, tight, and pumped afterward. If you feel the tightness primarily in your hams, readjust your form.
3 Pretend Numbers Don't Matter
The purpose of butt-day exercises is not to PR. Think of butt-day as bodybuilding, not powerlifting. Remember, hypertrophy training is about feeling the muscle work, not moving a certain weight from point A to point B.
Control the weight. Try to make yourself feel every second that you spend with your hips under the bar. The weight on the bar is only there to make the work harder. It's not there for bragging rights. Bragging rights will come in the form of yoga pants, "belfies" and your own self-assuredness.
4 Pretend Workout Volume Doesn't Matter
Women tend to believe that if they don't have fifteen exercises lined up on their agenda, they won't accomplish anything. Kill that belief. Effective workouts don't have to mean rotating back and forth from one exercise to another in a state of breathlessness.
When it comes to the glutes, simple workouts can work wonders. One or two extremely effective glute exercises may be all you need.
Note: If your glutes aren't tight and numb from the first exercise, and you can still get a good mind-muscle connection with them, then throw in a couple more glute-specific exercises.
But if you trained them so hard during the first exercise that they're going to be useless on all other exercises, stop there. An effective butt-focused workout may only last 15 to 20 minutes and consist of one killer exercise.
5 Recruit Glutes First on Leg-Day
On your other lower-body day (leg-focused day), start with something glute-intensive. Bodybuilders often use this technique when trying to build up a body part. They train first what they're wanting to build most.
Don't try to demolish the glutes here, just pump some blood into them. Remind your body what it feels like to activate them before you get started on your other compound lifts.
6 Check Your Gluteal Fold
You'll be surprised how quickly the shape of your butt and the area right under it will change. By building your glutes you'll bring more circulation to that part of the body, making fat mobilization possible.
Your trainer probably told you spot reduction was a myth, right? Well, it won't appear that way when you learn to activate your glutes and nail them on butt-day.
7 Ditch Your Scale
If you're trying to reshape your lower body by adding muscle to key places, then mirrors, pictures, and coaches are far better than scales for measuring your progress. You're trying to build an ass, not lose it.
Hip Thrusts and/or Glute Bridges
Do 4 to 8 sets, and anywhere from 6 to 20 reps. Start with lighter, more manageable weight, then add to it and decrease reps as needed. Put your brain in your butt.
Really spend some time with these. Don't think about what other exercises you're going to do afterwards. Getting the most out of your first glute exercise may result in being totally unable to do more afterward.
Play with your set and rep scheme to find what works best for activating your glutes.
You could start with a lighter weight for 10-15 reps, then as you add weight, decrease your reps. Or you could do a standard 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. This is your opportunity to become mindful of glute-activation i.e. feel the searing burn.
Light sets and bodyweight sets are not a waste of time. You can use those as a warm-up and then progress to heavier stuff from there.
Skip these if your glutes feel sufficiently tight and pumped after you've done an essential exercise.
- Butt Blaster machine – Or any glute-centric movement like it.
- Deadlift – Whatever version increases your glutes' time under tension.
- Cable Pull-Through
Butt-Day HIIT Options
- Kettlebell Swing
- Prowler or sled work
Toss these in depending on what your overall goal is. A brief HIIT session can be easily tacked on to butt-day.
Take two or three non-lower body days in between your butt-day and your leg day.
As a point of reference, my butt-day is on Tuesday and my leg-day is on Friday. Here's a loose example of what my training looks like now.
- Monday: HIIT
- Tuesday: Butt-Day
- Wednesday: Chest, Delts (light)
- Thursday: Back, HIIT
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday: Delts (heavy)
- Sunday: Back
When I need a day off, I hike instead of following the plan. I don't plan for off-days but just let them happen when they need to happen.
The benefits of butt-day last all week. And nothing says "she works out" like a great set of glutes.