Category Archives: Glute Training

Glute Burnouts

Here at the Glute Lab, I’ve been giving my clients glute burnouts at the end of their training sessions (follow me on Instagram HERE). We always start off with our heavy work (ex: squats, deadlifts, barbell hip thrusts, bench press, chins, front squats, block pulls, Bulgarian split squats), then we make sure to finish off with something that burns the heck out of the glutes. An example session might look like this:

Back squat 3 x 3-5 (or Bulgarian split squat 3 x 8)
Block pull 3 x 3-5 (or barbell hip thrust 3 x 8)
Close grip bench press 3 x 5-8 (or incline press 3 x 8)
Feet elevated inverted row 3 x 5-8 (or band assisted chin-ups 3 x 8)
Glute burnout 3 rounds

These glute burnouts can be done in a variety of ways, but basically you want to pair up some frontal/transverse plane glute work with some sagittal plane glute work. For example, you could superset high rep band seated hip abductions with high rep barbell hip thrusts, or high rep lateral band walks with high rep bodyweight back extensions.

Five months ago, I came up with Bret’s Booty Blasting Protocol. That was my favorite burnout at the time (it was pure hip extension based with no frontal/transverse plane activity in the mix), but now I have a new favorite glute burnout. Here’s the protocol:

20 reps band hip abductions
20 reps double band hip thrusts (bands around knees and hips)
20 reps narrow stance band hip thrusts

Band reps are done rather quickly, so each rep is around 1 second in duration. The entire burnout usually lasts around 60 seconds long, so 3 rounds is 3 minutes of time under tension for the gluteals, with some serious build up of metabolic stress. Here’s a video so you can see how it’s done:

Obviously the best way to do this is with a Hip Thruster. By the way, just to let y’all know, we just stepped up our hip thruster customer service big time. If you purchase a hip thruster in the United States, you’ll receive it within 2 weeks. This is exciting because previously it took 8 weeks to receive a unit.

* U.S. Hip Thruster Orders Arrive Within 2 Weeks! *

If you don’t have a hip thruster, you can set up in a power rack or use dumbbells to pin the bands down.

This picture of Katie Coles is from 2009 in my old garage!

This picture of Katie Coles is from 2009 in my old garage!

Give this glute burnout protocol a try and start doing different glute burnouts at the end of your training sessions and let me know what you think.

 

Glute Training for Men

Guys, I know it’s not yet cool to say to your buddy, “hey bro, I’m gonna go train glutes, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” In the bodybuilding community, glute training is just implied. You have your chest day, back day, shoulder day, arm day, and leg day, but no glute day. On leg day, it’s okay to train quads and hams, but you don’t dare mention the glutes. No need to worry though, since you can effectively train the glutes under the guise of hammering the quads with squats, lunges, and leg presses and the hammies/erectors with deadlifts, back extensions, and good mornings anyway.

male glutes

Stephen Marino, men’s physique competitor and powerlifter, proudly incorporates hip thrusts, back extensions, and more into his glute training

Time For a Change in Mindset

But why do we have to shy away from glute training? What if we could see even better results by changing it up slightly? I believe that it’s time for a change, and I declare that men should proudly make a stand for glute training. Whether it’s training their glutes directly with unfamiliar exercises, dedicating a separate day for glutes, and/or openly discussing glute training with fellow lifters, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about and train glutes – the most powerful muscle in the human body. Furthermore, men should stop labeling glute isolation movements as “wimpy” or “girly” exercises. They’re no wimpier than any other targeted movement for any other part of the body. We don’t consider flies, curls, skull crushers, lateral raises, shrugs, or glute ham raises to be wimpy, nor should we consider hip thrusts, back extensions, cable kickbacks, and various hip abduction movements to be wimpy. Bodybuilders have long performed all of these movements to round out their muscles and maximize their hypertrophy. Click HERE to see how bodybuilders train their glutes.

Women Appreciate Glutes Too

Let me let you in on a little secret. It’s not just men who love nice glutes on a woman. Women too love a nice set of glutes on a man, and believe me, they’re tired of the typical bro who is all pecs and no glutes.

Women love nice glutes too!

Women love nice glutes too!

Hit the Glutes from Multiple Angles

If you’re looking to maximize your glute hypertrophy, strength, and/or power, then you’ll want employ more than just sagittal plane hip extension movements such as squats and deadlifts. Don’t get me wrong, sagittal plane exercises will always trump transverse and frontal plane for overall development, including glute hypertrophy. However, by blending in different movement patterns, you will strengthen each joint action, effectively target each subdivision of the muscle, and increase strength and power in multiple vectors.

Tim Tebow isn't afraid to directly train his glutes

Tim Tebow isn’t afraid to directly train his glutes

There are many ways to go about this in terms of programming. HERE are some options I detailed last month. However, one such option is to simply perform some heavy movements that hammer the glutes 1-2 days per week, and then perform some lighter movements that burn the glutes 1-2 days per week. The heavier days would create more mechanical tension, whereas the lighter days would produce more metabolic stress, giving the glutes a potent growth stimulus. If you don’t fully understand the different mechanisms that contribute to muscle growth, please click HERE.

Let me give you an example in my own training. Below is what I did earlier this week.

Monday

heavy front squats 275 x 3, 275 x 3, 275 x 3
heavy barbell back extension 195 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3

 

Don’t get me wrong, these exercises kicked my butt. But it’s a different type of feeling. The heavy 3 sets of 3 requires a ton of muscle force development in the glutes in addition to mental energy. But it doesn’t produce a burn or a pump in the glutes. So tension is very high, but metabolic stress is low. There’s really only one exercise that I can go heavy on and still feel a burn and attain a pump in my glutes, and that’s with the hip thrust. A few weeks ago I performed 4 sets of 6 reps with 545 lbs and my glutes achieved an incredible combination of mechanical tension and metabolic stress. However, in the case of the heavy front squats and back extensions, I just felt tension with no burn. To ameliorate this situation, the very next day I did the following:

Tuesday

light back extensions bodyweight x 30, bodyweight x 30, bodyweight x 30
seated hip abduction machine stack x 30, stack x 30, stack x 30
cable kickbacks 25 x 20, 30 x 15
standing cable hip abduction 20 x 10, 15 x 20

 

 

 

The burn and pump in my upper and lower glutes was phenomenal following this session. I’m sure that some lifters would think that these machine exercises are wimpy and “unmanly,” but this is not true. High reps kick my butt, and the combination of heavy work and lighter work from multiple angles has made my glutes rock solid over the years. Furthermore, I believe that my glutes have grown stronger, denser, and more muscular in the past six months after employing more targeted glute work.

I’m definitely not saying that you have to perform these machine exercises to be manly, nor am I saying that you have to lift weights at all to be manly. But if you shy away from various glute exercises because you’re worried about your image, then I’m calling you out for being unmanly. If you train at a commercial gym and seek glute hypertrophy, these machines are great when combined with squats, deadlifts, and other heavy compound movements. If you train at home or at more of an athletic training studio, then you can perform reverse hypers, cable pull-throughs, kettlebell swings, and various lateral band walking exercises.

The take home point is to not be afraid to perform glute exercises that are traditionally thought of as exercises primarily suited for women. These are great movements for both sexes. Real men aren’t afraid to train glutes!

GSP

GSP sported some impressive glute development, which probably enhances his overall athleticism as a fighter

How to Design an Optimal Glute Training Program

In efforts to help the readers of my blog more effectively train their glutes, I thought I’d shed some light on program design tactics for glute building. This isn’t as easy as it seems, since the design of each training session depends on many factors, including the goal of the lifter, the training split, training frequency, equipment availability, and more. Some of my readers inevitably adhere to bodypart split routines, while others stick to lower/upper splits, push-pull splits, or total body training protocols. Some lifters train for purely aesthetics/physique purposes, while others have strength (powerlifting) or athletic goals in mind. I happen to like total body training for myself and most of my clients, but there are ways to make each training template highly effective for glute building. Below I will provide some tips and examples to satisfy a wide variety of lifters.

All right, all right!

All right, all right!

Bret’s Preference: Full Body Training

As I mentioned earlier, I love my total body training routines. I’m going to give you a sample four day glute training program that I’d give someone who trained with me at my gym – The Glute Lab. I have posted most of the exercises listed below on my Instagram channel at some point in time, and I have many detailed explanations on my YouTube channel too. I realize that most of my readers don’t have access to all of the equipment I have in my garage gym, but I didn’t want to compromise my ideal program. Later in the article I’ll stick to more common exercises. Keep in mind that I train mostly women whose primary goal is to build their glutes. I train female powerlifters differently, which I’ll outline below. By the way, this is the type of system Kellie and I use with Strong Curves and also with Get Glutes.

Monday

barbell hip thrust pyramid 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 15
goblet squat 3 x 12
heavy kettlebell deadlift 2 x 15
45 degree hyper 2 x 20
band seated hip abduction 2 x 20
incline press 2 x 10
lat pulldown 2 x 10

Tuesday

band hip thrust 3 x 10
walking lunge 2 x 50 (total steps, so 25 per leg)
reverse hyper 3 x 10
lateral band walk 2 x 20
push up 2 x AMRAP
Hammer Strength row 2 x 10

Thursday

barbell hip thrust 3 x 6
Bulgarian split squat 2 x 10
45 degree hyper 2 x 30
pendulum quadruped hip extension 2 x 10
band side lying clam 2 x 20
dumbbell shoulder press 2 x 10
one arm row 2 x 10

Friday

double band hip thrust 3 x 20 (band around knees and band over the hips)
Cybex leg press 3 x 10
American deadlift 2 x 8
band standing hip abduction 2 x 20
dumbbell bench press 2 x 10
inverted row 2 x 10

Some people would rightfully point out that this is a lot of volume for the glutes, but trust me, they can handle it. When combined with sound nutrition, I would argue that this program is equally effective at burning fat since these routines are brutal in terms of revving up the metabolic rate. This is how I go about building glutes, and it’s why I see such great results with my clients.

But make no mistake about it, my clients also tend to develop great upper body strength and development simply because they’re performing compound pressing and pulling movements four days per week. The program is centered around hip thrusts, which is what I think builds glutes the best, but it contains a ton of variety to hit the upper and lower fibers with high reps, medium reps, and low reps. This routine will deliver what I believe to be the optimal amount of mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage to the glutes (see HERE for an explanation of these terms). But not everyone wants to train in this manner, especially men who desire more isolation movements for their upper bodies, so let’s move on to other popular forms of training.

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Justine Munro (FacebookInstagram)

Tips for Bodybuilders that Stick to Bodypart Splits

Every bodybuilder has his or her own unique routine, but the vast majority of them adhere to bodypart splits. Let’s consider the lifter that prefers bodypart split training but is severely lacking in glute development. This lifter might benefit from straying from the norm and training lower body three times per week and upper body twice or three times. For example, the lifter could train glutes on Monday, chest/shoulders/triceps on Tuesday, quads on Wednesday, back/rear delts/biceps on Thursday, and hammies on Friday. This way, the glutes are hit effectively on all 3 lower body days. Let’s assume that this lifter trains out of a common commercial gym. Maybe the various  sessions look like this:

Monday (glutes)

barbell hip thrust or barbell glute bridge: 3 x 8-12
butt blaster machine or cable glute kickback: 3 x 10-15
bodyweight back extension or bodyweight reverse hyper: 3 x 20-30
cable standing hip abduction or lateral band walk: 3 x 10-20
seated hip abduction machine or band seated hip abduction: 3 x 20-30

Tuesday (chest/shoulders/tri’s)

barbell incline press or dumbbell incline press: 3 x 6-8
barbell military press or seated shoulder press: 3 x 8-12
push ups: 3 x AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
dumbbell lateral raises or cable lateral raises: 3 x 10-12
rope tricep extensions or v-bar tricep extension: 3 x 10-12

Wednesday (quads/glutes)

front squat or back squat: 3 x 6-8
leg press or hack squat: 3 x 10-12
dumbbell walking lunge or smith machine reverse lunge: 3 x 8-12
leg extensions: 3 x 10-20
crunch 2 x 20
side crunch 2 x 20
hanging leg raise 2 x 10

Thursday (back, rear delts, bi’s)

weighted or band assisted chin up or lat pulldown: 3 x 6-8
chest supported row or seated row: 3 x 8-12
one arm row or inverted row: 3 x 10-12
prone rear delt raise or reverse pec deck: 3 x 10-12
easy bar curl or alternating dumbbell curl: 3 x 10-12

Friday (hams, glutes)

conventional deadlift or Romanian deadlift: 3 x 6-8
weighted back extension or single leg back extension: 3 x 10-12
stability ball or Valslide leg curl: 3 x 8-12
lying leg curl or seated leg curl: 3 x 10-20
calf raise machine 2 x 10
seated calf raise machine 2 x 20

As you can see, this program would hammer the glutes three times per week. Monday’s session would involve very high amounts of tension and metabolic stress for the glutes, Wednesday’s session would involve moderate amounts of tension and high amounts of muscle damage for the glutes, and Friday’s session would involve moderate amounts of tension and metabolic stress for the glutes. Moreover, the upper and lower glutes would be hit very hard, especially on Monday’s session.

The lifter could attain even greater volume load with the glutes by performing glute activation exercises (HERE are some examples of low load glute activation exercises) during the dynamic warm-up on each lower body day, and additional hip thrusts and lateral band work could be tacked onto the end of the Wednesday and Friday leg sessions. Of course, shoulders or arms could be taken out of the Tuesday/Thursday sessions and added onto a separate Saturday session.

Tips for Powerlifters 

There are many effective ways to train for powerlifting strength, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s consider the powerlifter that has a squat day on Monday, a bench day on Wednesday, a deadlift day on Thursday, and a hypertrophy day on Saturday. Sticking to just squats and deadlifts alone can build some great glutes, especially with males. But let’s say that this lifter isn’t satisfied with his or her level of gluteal development. Something like this could work quite well in this situation:

Monday (squat day) 

back squat 5 x 5
barbell hip thrust or barbell glute bridge 3 x 10
back extension or reverse hyper 3 x 10

Wednesday (bench day)

bench press 5 x 5
military press or close grip bench press 3 x 10
chest supported row or seated row 3 x 10

Thursday (deadlift day)

conventional deadlift or sumo deadlift 5 x 5
front squat or Bulgarian split squat 3 x 10
single leg hip thrust or kettlebell swing 3 x 10

Saturday (hypertrophy day)

lat pulldown 2 x 10
dumbbell bench press 2 x 10
inverted row 2 x 10
lateral raise 2 x 10
hammer curl 2 x 10
cable tricep extension 2 x 10
prone rear delt raise 2 x 10
lateral band walk 2 x 20
bodyweight back extension 2 x 20

As in the case with the bodybuilding program above, the glutes are hit three times per week in this sample powerlifting plan. Saturday’s session will pump some extra blood into the upper and lower glutes while not interfering with recovery for Monday’s squat session. Extra volume load for the glutes can be attained by performing glute activation exercises during the dynamic warm-up on Monday and Thursday.

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Tips for Athletes

Athletes train in a variety of manners, but most of them stick to full body training protocols. Here’s a sample program that combines explosive training with heavy lifting. We’ll assume that the athlete trains three times per week and does his/her lifting after already completing any sprint, plyo, agility, and medball work.

Monday

hex bar jump squat 4 x 3
heavy kettlebell swing 3 x 8
back squat 3 x 6
barbell hip thrust 3 x 6
close grip bench press 3 x 6
chest supported row 3 x 8
cable hip flexion 2 x 10
ab wheel rollout 2 x 10
side plank 2 x :30 sec

Wednesday

heavy sled push 3 x 20m
explosive 45 degree hyper 3 x 8
Bulgarian split squat 3 x 8
block pull 3 x 6
incline press 3 x 8
weighted chin up 3 x 3
Nordic ham curl 3 x 3
Pallof press 2 x 10
hollow body hold 2 x :20 sec

Friday

jumping lunge 3 x 6 (3 jumps per leg)
one arm power snatch 3 x 5
back squat 3 x 6
barbell hip thrust pyramid 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 20
close grip bench press 3 x 6
chest supported row 3 x 8
ankle weight standing hip flexion
RKC plank 2 x :20 sec
farmer’s walk 2 x 20m

As you can see, this routine will build and strengthen the glutes so they can produce incredible amounts of force and power in sports. This routine has two explosive lifts per day (see HERE for videos of the explosive lifts), along with a knee dominant exercise, a hip dominant exercise, an upper body push, an upper body pull, and some accessories sprinkled in such as multidirectional core stability, hip flexion, and/or eccentric hamstring work. If the athlete prefers Olympic lifts, these can be performed in substitution for the explosive lifts listed above.

Jessica Arevalo (Facebook, Instagram)

Jessica Arevalo (Facebook, Instagram)

Tips for CrossFitters

CrossFitters are already performing a high amount of work, so we don’t want to add much more onto their plates. They can just do their normal CrossFit training but add in two glute WODs per week. See HERE for some example glute WODs.

Tips for the Newbie that Trains at Home

The beginner who trains at home can train very frequently since he or she won’t be getting “beat up” by heavy loading. They can begin with plenty of low load glute activation work (see HERE), and they should master the box squat, hip hinge, and glute bridge (see HERE). They can initially use furniture to perform various glute exercises (for some ideas, see HERE and HERE), then eventually graduate to a commercial gym or purchase equipment for their home. First, some short bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells can be purchased, and eventually a barbell with plates (preferably bumper plates), a rubber mat, a bench, a power rack or squat stands, and a thick bar pad for hip thrusts (or better yet, a hip thruster for band and barbell hip thrusts). An excellent recipe for training at home, assuming the individual possessed all the necessary equipment, could involve daily band hip thrusts, goblet squats, kettlebell swings, and lateral band walks.

Conclusion

I hope that this article has given you some ideas regarding how you can best build your glutes no matter what type of program you prefer. Happy gluting!

 

The Evolution of the Gluteus Maximus

By Eirik Garnas
OrganicFitness.com

Big, powerful glutes are great, not just because they make you look good in a tight pair of jeans, but also, as all glute enthusiasts know, because a strong butt sets the stage for safe, heavy lifting in the gym, faster sprints, and a solid and injury-free lower back. The importance of the glutes – and the gluteus maximus (GM) in particular – becomes especially apparent when you work as a personal trainer or coach and see on a day-to-day basis how clients with various levels of glute development perform in the gym. More often than not, those with a strong set of glutes tend to display better movement patterns in the deadlift, squat, and a whole range of other exercises than those with a weak and flabby butt, and they also have lower incidence of back and knee pain. Since the GM is the largest muscle in the human body – and also at the center of the posterior chain – these observations don’t really come as a surprise. But why did the gluteals become such an important muscle group for humans, and why do so many modern people have weak and atrophied glutes? To answer these questions, we’re going to turn back the clock millions of years, to our days as foragers in Africa.

glutes

The unique human gluteus maximus

When our ancient ape-like ancestors climbed down from the trees in Africa and began their bipedal journey on the ground, they unknowingly steered the human lineage in on a very different evolutionary path than that of our chimp relatives. The ability to habitually walk on two legs set the stage for further transformations of the hominin body, transformations that made us into who we are today.

If you ask someone what differentiates the human body from that of a chimp, they’ll likely mention our bigger brains, our ability to walk upright, and our bare skin. Some, especially those with an interest in strength training or sports performance, will also highlight the differences in our muscular system, and perhaps most importantly, differences related to the glutes.

Humans are different from the apes in the sense that we lack gluteus maximus ischiofemoralis, the more caudal portion of the muscle, and only have one enlarged gluteus maximus proprius, which is referred to as the gluteus maximus. Since this muscle is the largest of the gluteals by far and has a special role in human evolution, it will be the main emphasis of this article.

In comparison with our chimp relatives, the human GM is approximately 1.6 times larger relative to body mass (1). The patterns of origins and insertions of the human GM are also different from that of the apes, with the human GM attaching higher up to the ilium, the broad, flat upper bone of the hip.

Why did we evolve a big and strong butt?

Why did we evolve differently from other primates? Conclusive data about what happened millions of years ago are clearly hard to come by, but we do have a pretty good idea of why humans evolved a GM that is unique among primates.

It was previously speculated that the growth of the human GM was a necessary prerequisite to the evolution of upright walking, but this theory has later been called into question (2). It only takes very low levels of GM activity to keep the human body stable during walking and standing, meaning that although differences in GM size and patterns of origins and insertions between humans and apes help explain why we are able to stand upright and walk without problems, it’s very unlikely that the evolution of the large GM can be explained simply as a necessary prerequisite to bipedalism.

Rather, studies have shown that the GM is primarily active during climbing, digging, throwing, running, and other activities that require stabilization of the trunk against flexion (1, 3). All of these activities have been proposed as possible explanations for why humans evolved such a large GM, with the endurance running hypothesis – which says that the evolution of certain human characteristics can be explained as adaptations to long distance running– being the most widely held theory.

Humans are poor sprinters compared to quadrupeds, an obvious disadvantage on the African savanna where there was a constant competition between species – or as Charles Darwin would say, “a battle for existence”. Humans aren’t especially strong either, so how did we manage to survive in the wild? Perhaps the most obvious answer that comes to mind is that members of our genus, Homo, evolved larger brains than other primates, and therefore compensated for the lack of brawn by having a superior ability to think and communicate. However, although clearly very useful, a large brain won’t be enough to put dinner on the table, at least in an ancestral natural environment where private transportation, modern weapons, and fast food joints were nowhere to be found. Also, early Homo, which lived approximately 2 million years ago, hadn’t yet fully evolved the massive brains that characterize later members of our genus, and there’s little evidence to suggest that they had “sophisticated” weapons such as spear, bow, and arrow.

Several lines of evidence suggest that a boost in human GM size coincides with our ancient ancestors’ increased reliance on endurance running as a means to get dinner (2, 3, 4). The fossil of Lucy, the girl of the species Australopithecus afarensis who is thought to have lived approximately 3.2 MYA, indicates that she was a walker, but not a runner. She was short-legged and lacked a nuchal ligament, the ligament of the back of the neck that helps keep the head stable during running. With the evolution of Homo approximately 1 million years later, this had started to change, and the data shows that Homo erectus had a nuchal ligament and a big butt, and he was probably a good endurance runner (2, 5).

Several lines of evidence suggest that more animals source food rich in protein and fat was introduced in the hominin diet about 2-3 million years ago (6), something that was largely made possible by the evolution of several traits – including a bigger GM – that improved our ancient ancestors’ ability to hunt and scavenge.

Although there’s some controversy surrounding the endurance running hypothesis, it’s generally accepted that running – perhaps with intermittent periods of fast walking and high intensity – is at least partially what made it possible for our Paleolithic ancestors to put food on the table. This is supported by the following facts:

  • It would have been very difficult for hominins to kill large game without being able to hunt and scavenge effectively.
  • We are much better long distance runners than other primates and most other animals (5).
  • The human body has several traits that are primarily essential for running, not walking (2, 3, 4). These include, but are not limited to, a large GM, springs in the legs that allow energy to be alternatively stored and released when running, the ability to maintain the center of mass stable by rotating the upper body while stabilizing the head and neck when both feet are off the ground, enlarged sensory organs in the ear (the semi-circular canals) to improve the sensitivity of the reflexes that control rapid pitching that occur in running but not walking, a superior ability to thermoregulate when exercising at high-intensity in dry heat, large extensor spine muscles, narrow elongated waist combined with a low, wide, decoupled shoulder griddle that has an essential stabilizing function during running, and short toes. It has been argued that some of these traits could have been adaptations to other activities as well, but in general it’s safe to say that endurance running has played an important role in the evolution of Homo.

Regardless of whether the enlargement and reorganization of the GM primarily were related to running, walking in uneven terrain, climbing, or any of the other aforementioned activities that demand glute activity, it’s clear that a strong gluteus maximus was a trait that provided a survival advantage, and it was therefore selected for through natural selection, the gradual process by which heritable biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of the effect of inherited traits on the differential reproductive success of organisms.

Over hundreds of generations, our ancient ancestors evolved bigger and stronger butts, butts that improved the Paleolithic man’s survival in environments where physical activities –such as hunting, digging for tubers, and scavenging for meat – were a natural part of daily life. Besides scaveging, one of the strategies our Paleolithic ancestors probably employed in the search for food was persistence hunting, a hunting strategy in which hunters use a combination of running, walking, and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. This strategy favoured members of our genus who have a superior ability to thermoregulate compared to other animals. Persistence hunting is still used by some hunter-gatherer tribes today, such as the !Kung and the Bushmen of Kalahari.

glutes

Modern times: Excessive sitting, bad posture, and glute atrophy

Through millions of years of life as hunter-gatherers in the Paleolithic, low fitness variations (i.e., a weak and small GM) were slowly taken out of the population. When the Agricultural Revolution spread across the globe, new physical activity patterns characterized by more farm-related work replaced Paleolithic “exercise routines”. Studies suggest that the physical activity levels of early farmers could have been as high – or perhaps even higher – than that of hunter-gatherers (5), but hunting and scavenging were clearly not as important anymore, a transition that might have led to a decline in the amount of stress placed on the GM.

However, this transition is nothing compared to what has happened over the last centuries, as the industrial revolution has spread the globe, desk jobs have become the new norm, and more and more people spend the majority of their day sitting in a chair. Excessive sitting and sedentary living are bad for a number of reasons, one of which being that the glutes aren’t stressed adequately.

Through millions of years of evolution, the large human GM evolved because it improved our ancestors’ ability to survive in environments where running, walking in uneven terrain, and digging were a demanded part of daily life. When we completely abandon this way of life and adopt a lifestyle which the human body – including the glutes – isn’t adequately adapted for, problems occur.

The portion of our genome that determines basic physiology and anatomy has remained relatively unchanged since the Paleolithic era (5, 6), meaning that although we today wear suits and dresses and drive fancy cars, our Stone Age legacy is still with us. There has been too little time for natural selection to adapt the human body to our new living conditions, and as a result, a discordance between genes and environment has occurred, a discordance that sets the stage for a whole host of health problems.

If you take a look at the people around you at the gym or the street you’ll quickly see that glute atrophy, excessive anterior pelvic tilt, and other abnormalities associated with inadequate glute training and excessive sitting are widespread. As every personal trainer, physical therapist, and coach has experienced, these problems aren’t only aesthetically unappealing, but they also set the stage for poor movement patterns in the gym, injuries, and lower back pain.

A person with weak glutes and/or excessive anterior pelvic tilt will often display quad dominant lifting in exercises that are supposed to be hip-dominant, poor recruitment of the posterior chain, and overextension of the back in the squat, deadlift, and many other movements. If he/she simply continues with this exercise technique, faulty movement patterns are ingrained and sometimes exacerbated, good glute development never shows, and an annoying lower back pain might start appearing. In other words, glute atrophy, lower crossed syndrome, and excessive anterior pelvic tilt are serious issues that affect physical performance and health.

evolution

The image above showing the evolution of man, from tree-dwelling primates to modern humans hunched over a computer, shows how much our lifestyle has changed. We’re closing the circle in the sense that our new, bent-over position in front of a computer is starting to resemble the posture of our ape ancestors. The important thing to keep in mind is that the transformation from an ape-like creature to a bipedal, big-brained man took millions of years, while the transition from a daily life that involved plenty of walking, standing, and running to a daily life characterized by plenty of sitting, only happened very recently. In other words, we’ve had scant evolutionary time to adapt to our modern lifestyle.

A “large” and strong GM was an adaptive trait in the Paleolithic, but today, the selective pressure working on the human GM has been significantly reduced. Do people with great glute genetics have more kids than those with weak and flabby glutes? It’s possible, but that’s not due to the survival advantage of having a strong and big butt, but rather due to the aesthetics of it…

An important part of the human body

Just like natural selection drove women to store more fat around the hips and buttocks, selection over millions of years also made us develop bigger and stronger glutes. All in all it’s safe to say that the butt has a special place in human history, not just because a strong GM was important for human survival, but also because the buttocks have long been a symbol of fertility, youth, and beauty.

Some have speculated that the sexualization of the butt has become even more apparent lately, partly as a consequence of the increasing popularity of tight denim jeans.

Emphasis on the upper female torso has recently given way to the lower area of the body, specifically the buttocks. Such a change happened quite recently when denim jeans became fashionable. In order to emphasize fit, jeans manufacturers accentuated hips. And after brand name jeans became so popular with the designer’s name on the hip pocket, even more accentuation was given to the posterior. The more jeans sales increased, the more ads were used which emphasized the derrier, to such an extent, in fact, that this particular area may eventually surpass breasts as the number one sexual image of the female body (7).

glute

7 take-home messages

  • The large human GM didn’t evolve because our ancient ancestors’ lifestyle consisted of a lot of heavy lifting, but rather because a strong and big butt provided an advantage in running and perhaps other activities such as climbing and digging. However, that doesn’t mean that running is necessarily the best way to build a great butt. As we know, heavy strength training – with good technique – should be the primary focus for those who are interested in building a well-shaped backside.
  • The human glutes were shaped through millions of years of evolution in environments that demanded a great deal of physical activity. When we suddenly – from an evolutionary perspective – move from a physically active lifestyle to a sedentary, modern lifestyle, mismatch disorders manifest themselves. Some of these conditions – such as excessive anterior pelvic tilt, glute atrophy, and lower back pain – are related to excessive sitting and inadequate glute training. This discordance between our ancient physiology and our modern environment is something we have to keep in the back of our minds in the discussion of glute training, largely because it highlights the importance of taking the “damage” of the modern way of life into account. Many people have to work on mastering the hip hinge, treating excessive anterior pelvic tilt, improving posture, and engaging the glutes appropriately when lifting before they can move on to heavy squats, deadlifts, and other glute exercises.
  • A general notion among some (many?) lifters and strength coaches is that humans are poorly adapted for long-distance running. Several lines of evidence refute this notion, and there’s even good data to suggest that endurance running was one of the key ingredients that made us into the big-brained humans we are today. The fact that the human body has several adaptations that are primarily involved in running, not walking, suggests that the saying that we’re “born to run” does hold some truth. However, it’s important to note that there is some controversy regarding the endurance running hypothesis, and it is of course difficult to establish exactly how our ancient ancestors got a hold of their dinner. Personally, I’m not a big fan of prescribing a lot of endurance running for the average guy or girl looking to get “fit”, especially prolonged cardio at very high intensities. However, that doesn’t mean that I think we’re poorly adapted to run or that running doesn’t have a valuable place in a training program.
  • One of the reasons males have larger and stronger glutes than women is that there was a sexual division of labor in hunter-gatherer societies, with males doing most of the hunting.
  • A big and strong gluteus maximus is a natural characteristic of the human body. A modern weak and flabby butt is abnormal.
  • The GM has been an especially important muscle throughout human evolution, largely because it was active in many of the daily physical activities of our ancient ancestors. This helps explain why the GM can handle a higher frequency, volume, and intensity of training than many other muscles.
  • The buttocks is sometimes referred to as the primary sexual presentation site in primates, meaning that paying a little extra attention to that region of your body is a good idea if you want to look your best.

About the author

eirik-beachName: Eirik Garnas
Website: www.OrganicFitness.com
Besides studying for a degree in Public Nutrition, I’ve spent the last couple of years coaching people on their way to a healthier body and better physique. I’m a personal trainer from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, with additional courses in sales/coaching, kettlebells, body analysis, and functional rehabilitation. Subscribe to my website and follow my facebook page if you want to read more of my articles on fitness, nutrition, and health.