Category Archives: Glute Training

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.

Should Women Squat if They Don’t Want Big Legs?

Question: Should women squat if they don’t want big legs?

Short Answer: Yes, as long as there are no orthopedic conditions that would preclude doing them. The squat is THE primary foundational movement in strength training and it will assist the vast majority of women in achieving their health, strength, and physique goals. The long answer is going to take me some time to fully explain, especially considering my tendency to go off on tangents, so bear with me.

Pictures Don’t Lie, or Do They?

If you’re on social media, then chances are you’re already a huge believer in squats. After all, pictures don’t lie. We have the Yeah, She Squats Facebook page with almost 1.3 million followers and a zillion pictures of amazing booties, the Squatspo Instagram page with 1.6 million followers and another zillion pictures of incredible glutes, and another hundred other pages dedicated toward teaching women through pictures why they should squat (or better yet, entertaining men for hours on end with endless butt pictures). And you thought my website was risqué..

Yeah, she squats!

Yeah, she squats! But what else does she do? I can promise you that this lady does a variety of glute exercises to attain this booty, plus she has great gluteal genetics!

The problem with these types of pages is that the administrator simply scours the Internet for pictures of amazing butts and then posts them to their page. And since the page has the word squat in the title, the assumption is that the only thing the women are doing to build their amazing derrières is endless sets of squats. I venture to guess that 100% of the ladies featured in these pictures do more than just squat. Ironically, I wrote an article last year titled, Do More than Just Squat. The reality is that these booties are the product of good genetics and lots of exercising in general, including squats and a variety of other glute exercises.

Growing the Glutes Without Growing the Legs

One of my most popular articles on the site is Growing the Glutes Without Growing the Legs. In fact, my friend Nathalia Melo (former Ms. Bikini Olympia) recently shared it on her Facebook page and the article experienced a resurgence. In the article, I emphasized the fact that when most women finally attain the level of leanness that they desire, they end up being very happy with the shape of their legs even if they squat frequently. Nevertheless, far too many women feel that they shouldn’t squat because their legs are already too big for their liking and they do not want them growing any larger. In the article, I detailed a plan for targeting the glutes without hitting much quad and hammies. There are indeed some women who should stick to the strategy outlined in the article. However, unfortunately, many women are missing out by failing to perform their squats due to their incomplete understanding of the adaptational physiology involved in squatting when combined with proper dieting.

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too. More accurately, you can’t have your cake and have lean legs. Well, actually you can if you adhere to flexible dieting and consistently fit your macros while sticking to mostly whole, unprocessed foods while sprinkling in some treats in small amounts, but that’s besides the point. What I’m trying to convey is that many women covet either the super model look or the fitness model look. Neither of these looks can be achieved by eating several thousand calories per day with ample servings of junk food. If your legs are too bulky for your liking, I suggest looking to your diet first before ditching any exercise that highly elevates the metabolism and activates a large portion of the body’s musculature.

Yeah right!

Yeah right!

If you’re a regular reader of mine, then you know I’m big on hypotheticals. Let’s say an untrained woman is currently 5’5″ tall, weighs 140 lbs, and has a 30% bodyfat level. Let’s say that over the next two years, she adheres to a progressive resistance training protocol that involved squatting, combined with a sound nutritional plan. Let’s say that she ends up losing 10 lbs overall while gaining 100 lbs on her 10RM squat (the most weight she can squat for ten reps). Say she started at 65 lbs x 10 reps and can now squat 165 lbs x 10 reps.

My guess would be that she will have packed on around 10 lbs of muscle during this time, but since she lost 10 lbs overall, this means that she will have lost 20 lbs of fat. She would have started out with 42 lbs of fat and ended up with 22 lbs of fat, which would reduce her bodyfat levels from 30% down to 17%, and she will have lost a lot of overall volume. She’d be denser and would have retained muscular shape in the glutes, thighs, and back, while losing fat around the hips, thighs, abs, back, and arms (over the entire body). She would look much better in terms of aesthetics. So let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that squatting isn’t good for the physique. Of course, in order to pack on 10 lbs of muscle while simultaneously losing 20 lbs of fat, she would have needed to have been performing a variety of exercises that combined to hit the entire body’s musculature, so she’d definitely need to do more than just squat. But the point is that this hypothetical individual would not have liked her legs in the beginning and would have felt that they were too big, but in the end she would undoubtedly love her legs and appreciate her newfound squatting strength.

Can the Thighs Ever be Too Muscular When Lean?

When attaining an ultra lean physique, is there ever a situation where a woman’s quads can indeed be too big? Very, very rarely. See my article showcasing how to train for a bikini competition for pictures of Ms. Bikini Olympia competitors – all of whom regularly squat. I don’t see any that have giant legs.

Each of these ladies squat - are their thighs too big? Methinks not!

Each of these ladies squat – are their thighs too big? Methinks not!

Sometimes I like to use various physique athletes as teaching tools to my readers. I’m not into body shaming, and we all have different preferences with regards to our ideal physiques, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With that said, one popular fitness model is Andreia Brazier. Her face is mesmerizingly beautiful, and her body kicks ass. Check out the vastus lateralis (outer quad) development on her – it’s impressive!

Andreia2 Andreia Thighs

She currently has 269K followers on Instagram, so clearly thousands of people admire her physique. I am of the opinion that she needs to chill out on squats (and lunges) and focus on more targeted glute training. You’re free to think that I’m a glute snob and am overly critical.

Please don’t get me wrong, I think she is absolutely beautiful. But if I was Andreia’s trainer, I would put squat and lunge variations on the back-burner and prioritize barbell hip thrusts, back extensions (done with a glute emphasis), band hip thrusts, and pendulum quadruped hip extensions. My guess is that if we did this for an entire year, we would eventually bring the glutes up to match the thighs. By the way, see the pics below and you might agree that she could stand to bring up her glutes in order to better balance out her physique.

Andreia Brazier andreia3 andreia4

Now, Andreia does in fact train her glutes hard. She seems to prioritize squats (she can squat around 225 lbs for 2 reps bodybuilding style – with a narrow stance and going almost to parallel), front squats, smith machine curtsy lunges, side lunges, walking lunges, static lunges, semi-sumo deadlifts, kb swings, trapbar deadlifts, and cable kickbacks (in addition to the individual Instagram video links, see HERE and HERE for YouTube videos of her training). So her training is not bad at all. But she clearly has a genetic propensity to gain mass in the thighs and not in the hips. Therefore, in my opinion, she would do well with my style of training (a permanent glute specialization routine, if you will).

If I got her hip thrusting 225 lbs for 3 sets of 15-20 reps over time with a smooth tempo and a brief pause at the top of each rep, I’m sure this would make a big difference in glute shape, and if we did band hip thrusts very frequently I’m confident that all the metabolic stress accumulated would eventually translate into greater glute growth. But this is just my preference – I like more junk in the trunk in this situation since her thighs are very muscular. She has a cute little booty, and if her thighs were smaller, then it would be a perfect match in my opinion. It’s all about achieving balance, and growing the thighs without growing the glutes actually makes them look smaller. 

Now, Andreia might very well be perfectly content with her glute development, and some of my readers might feel that her glutes are perfect. Again, it’s all about personal preference. In addition, her glutes appear to be growing based on her latest Instagram pics, so I’m eager to see what she looks like when she diets down in the future. 

The point of using Andreia as an example is to note that while many of my female followers would absolutely kill to possess a physique like Andreia’s, some ladies wouldn’t be content if they possessed her level of quad development. Ladies in this situation would therefore want to ditch the squats (and lunges for that matter). But rare is the woman who is lean with incredibly muscular quads.

Side note: Just so my readers know, I don’t just love muscular glutes. I like booties of all sizes as long as they’re perky and shapely. Jessica Alba happens to be my dream girl (she’s my fiancée Diana’s dream girl too so it’s all good), and she’s very thin with a small but perky backside. I do feel that I could get her looking even better if I was her trainer by prescribing her hip thrusts and back extensions, but I wouldn’t be obsessed with progressive overload with her. I’d probably get her up to 95 lb hip thrusts for 10-20 reps for a couple of sets or just stick with band hip thrusts done frequently. For those who are interested, check out Jessica’s strength training HERE and HERE, and HERE she is doing some MMA conditioning. I previously wrote about attaining the lean and slender look that Jessica has HERE. And oh yeah, Jessica squats, HERE she is doing them with a medicine ball.

All of My Clients Squat

Let me let you in on a little secret. Check out my Instagram page. None of my female clients desire ultra muscular thighs. They want to lean out and lose the fat surrounding their problem areas, grow some booty, and improve their body composition. Guess what? They all squat because squatting helps them achieve their goals. Many of my female clients’ thigh and hip measurements tend to stay the same over time, as does their weight, while their waist measurements always decrease. As I mentioned in my Don’t be a Slave to the Scale article, measurements (and the scale for that matter) don’t tell the entire story. Progress pictures always look much better after a solid year of smart nutrition and progressive overload resistance training including squats.

The stronger my client Ciji gets at squats, the better she looks.

The stronger my client Ciji gets at squats, the better she looks.

Wanna Know Who Else Squats?

Chances are, most of the ladies that my female followers admire in terms of their physiques do in fact squat.

Check out Nathalia Melo doing Squats and Front Squats. But if you think that all Nathalia does for glute development is squats, you’re sorely mistaken. She also does American deadlifts, hip thrusts, single leg hip thrusts, band hip thrusts, kneeling cable kickbacks, cable kickbacks, back extensions, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, lateral band leg raises, reverse hypers, leg press, walking lunges, and many more glute exercises that you can see her doing on her Instagram page. Isn’t it apropos that Nathalia and I would become instant friends based on our mutual affinity for the same glute exercises? See my interview with Nathalia HERE to see what she has to say about “just squatting” and how Brazilians train their booties.

Nathalia

Here is Nathalia high bar squatting with great form

Jamie Eason squats. She just doesn’t go too heavy on them due to a prior back injury and pre-existing spinal condition. But she’ll do light squats, smith machine squats, and reverse hack squats, in addition to many other glute exercises such as lunges, hip thrusts, single leg RDLs, step ups, and more (see HERE and HERE for more info).

Eason

Ashley Kaltwasser squats. She does barbell back squats, goblet squats, smith machine squats, and lever machine squats. She also likes her lunges, kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and straight leg deadlifts (see video HERE and HERE and HERE).

Ashley

As you can see, each of these ladies squat. Perhaps not surprisingly, they all squat with lighter loads than Andreia, but they still squat. These are just a few of my favorite booties – I’m sure that if you investigated the training of women with your favorite physiques, you’d find that they too squat.

Each of these ladies squat with varying loads and variations

Each of these ladies (Nathalia, Jamie, and Ashley) squat with varying loads and variations

There are Many Reasons Why You Should Squat

There’s more to strength training than just the positive adaptations they confer to one’s physique. Here are some other benefits of squatting:

1. They’re the most important foundational lift

Some people might feel that the deadlift is the foundational lift, but I believe it’s the squat. The squat will build the deadlift much more so than the deadlift will build the squat. The squat is very difficult to master, and good squatters are usually able to learn and perform other lifts with great form very quickly. Of course, the same could be said for the deadlift, but the squat still tends to be labeled the king of all exercises.

2. They have incredible functional transfer

Squats will help athletic people jump higher, sprint faster, and pick heavier stuff of the ground, and they’ll help the elderly stand from a seated position more efficiently while also improving balance.

3. They shape the thighs very nicely

Check out Olympic weightlifters – they tend to have excellent thigh development due to all of their squatting. Squats build nice legs.

4. They builds the glutes well

I’ve never thought that squats alone will build the best set of glutes possible, but they’re definitely a great glute exercise for most people and they should definitely be included in a comprehensive glute training program.

5. They rev the metabolism

Try doing 4 sets of 10 rep back squats with 70% of 1RM with 2 min of rest in between sets. This is essentially a form of HIIT and it will keep the metabolism elevated for hours after the training session. The afterburn is often over-exaggerated in terms of importance in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps.

Olympic lifters squat (and pull) multiple times per week and many of them can jump through the roof

Olympic lifters squat (and pull) multiple times per week and many of them can jump through the roof

Should Everyone Squat?

No exercise is worth doing if it consistently causes pain or injury. This goes for squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, bench press, military press, dips, chins, and bent over rows. In some circumstances, squats have been known to lead to hip pain, back pain, and knee pain. However, often resisted squatting can be altered so that the individual can better tolerate the exercise. For example, individuals who are prone to experiencing hip pain when squatting can often perform half squats (or maybe even squats to parallel) and just avoid deep squatting. Individuals who are prone to experiencing back pain when squatting can often perform goblet squats or other squat variations by adjusting the torso angle and depth of the movement. Individuals who are prone to experiencing knee pain when squatting can often perform box squats to parallel where they sit back and keep their shins vertical and knees out. So I wouldn’t be quick to ditch the squat altogether before experimenting with different variations (click HERE to learn a bunch of different squat variations, and click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE to learn more about squat mechanics).

However, not every body is built to squat (click HERE to see why people must squat differently), and one can attain a very functional body and pleasing physique by avoiding the squat and instead sticking to single leg squatting movements and posterior chain movements.

Conclusion

The squat is the king of exercises for good reason. They’ll help you be a better lifter, a better athlete, and more versatile in everyday tasks. They’ll also help build firm and shapely thighs and glutes.

How your legs look as a result of squatting has very much to do with the way you are eating. If you’re eating at a caloric surplus, then they’ll likely increase in size, but if you’re eating at a caloric deficit, they’ll likely decrease in size but retain their muscular shape.

If you train primarily for aesthetics and you reach a point where you are very happy with the size and shape of your legs, then don’t feel compelled to perpetually increase your strength in squats year after year after year. Jessica Alba does her squats but she only uses a medicine ball. Jamie Eason sticks to bodyweight or light squats due to a pre-existing spinal condition but she still trains the movement. The goblet squat happens to be an excellent squat variation that can be performed very frequently and will help engrain proper squatting mechanics. Nathalia Melo and Ashley Kaltwasser squat to attain their world class legs and glutes. But each of the ladies mentioned in this article also perform a large variety of exercises, so make sure you do more than just squat.

Pauline Nordin squats and her booty rocks!

Pauline Nordin squats and her booty rocks!

 

The 2-1 Method for Fixing Glute Imbalances

Glute Imbalances are much more common than most people assume. For example, I’m currently training twelve different clients; ten women and two men. Out of these twelve lifters, four possess glute imbalances in varying degrees (all of them are women). Two of them seem to have gotten worse through my training, indicating that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to symmetrical movement as the months progressed. Glute imbalances rear their ugly heads most often during the squat exercise. When maxing out or repping out to failure, the hips will start shifting toward the stronger side (away from the weaker side). This is undesirable from both functional and aesthetics standpoints, so you want to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.

butt

I’ve written about glute imbalances in the past. One of my most popular articles on the site is this one:

How to Fix Glute Imbalances

This article discusses possible reasons as to why glute imbalances emerge and provides several potential solutions. Please read the article if you or your clients possess a glute imbalance. I also wrote this article, which contains a useful video to watch:

How Do I Know if I Have a Glute Imbalance?

Let’s get back to my clients. One of them took a month lay-off over the holidays and upon returning she now feels a big difference in activation between glutes. She perceives that her right side is firing much harder than her left side during movement and also isometrically from different positions. I palpated her glutes and confirmed that there was indeed a discrepancy; the right side would achieve greater density compared to the left.

Another started shifting to the right considerably when she squatted. This client is also sporadic in training, which tells me that glute imbalances tend to crop up when clients take time off from lifting. I also noticed when the client was performing reverse hypers that one side was visually larger than the other side when contracted. At the top of the movement, I could clearly see that the right glute was more muscular and rose to a greater degree during contraction compared to the left side. Here is what I’ve come up with lately to help fix this issue.

The 2-1 Technique

The client does 2 sets of single leg exercises with the weaker leg and only one set with the stronger leg. I’ve been doing this with high step ups and single leg hip thrusts, but the single leg exercises need to be tailored to the abilities of the client. You could use this with reverse lunges, Bulgarian split squats, skater squats, single leg RDLs, single leg back extensions, foot elevated single leg glute bridges, or even plate loaded side lying clams too. Here’s a picture of a Kim at the bottom position of a high step up:

I like to set the step up height so that the thigh is at least parallel when the toe of the bottom leg comes off the ground.

I like to set the step up height so that the thigh of the top leg is parallel to the ground when the toe of the bottom leg comes off the ground.

Here’s a video of Mary performing a set of single leg hip thrusts with her right leg.

 

To reiterate, to use the 2-1 method, you perform one set with the weaker leg, followed by one set with the stronger leg, followed by one set with the weaker leg. Take 30-60 seconds of rest between legs. I have my clients do their normal workouts (except squats aren’t taken to failure for reasons discussed below), and then at the end of the session they will do two additional exercises with the 2-1 technique (usually high step ups and single leg hip thrusts).

Stop Squat Sets Shy of Failure

When trying to fix a glute imbalance, stop your squat sets shy of failure. You’ll find that you’ll likely be able to perform the first several repetitions of a set with great symmetry, but as you get closer to momentary muscular failure, your form will erode and you’ll start shifting your hips laterally. Every rep you perform this way reinforces bad technique, so don’t go there. Stop the set prior to this occurrence so you groove sound mechanics.

Conclusion

In just three sessions of using the 2-1 technique, I’ve already seen improvements in my clients’ symmetry during squats. Beginning with the weaker leg ensures that it receives the stronger training stimulus, and the extra volume for the weaker leg adds up over time. Make sure you read the other articles on glute imbalances though, as there are other things you can be doing to fix glute imbalances.

12 Tips for Better Hip Thrusts

Today’s article comes from Los Angeles based personal trainer Ben Bruno. Many of you will recall Ben’s plentiful hip thrust variation contributions to the Evolution of the Hip Thrust article, but Ben has contributed numerous unique, effective methods to the strength training industry. I consider Ben to be one of the top five best trainers in the world for developing glutes with both men and women. At the end of this article you will find links to Ben’s blog and social media. 

12 Tips for Better Hip Thrusts
By Ben Bruno

I really like hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts and use them with most of my clients regardless of whether their goals are more physique or performance oriented because I think they have value in both cases. One thing I like about them is that there’s a relatively fast learning curve so clients tend to pick them up quickly, but they can still be a little awkward at first. After using hip thrusts with all sorts of different clients of all ages, abilities, and body types, I’ve found some ways to improve the thrusting experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

1. Pause for a Second

I like to tell my clients to pause each rep for a second at the top to help ensure that they’re coming all the way up and achieving full extension and also to ensure that they’re using their glutes to do the work instead of the lower back. This brief pause also helps ensure that you select a weight you can control and eliminates ego lifting because if the weight is too heavy you won’t be able to pause at the top.

The one exception to this rule for very advanced lifters and experienced hip thrusters where I’m not as anal about the pause at the top if it’s clear they’re coming all the way up and using good form, but as with many exercises, you must first prove that you know the rules before you can break the rules.

Ben

2. Find Your Center

One of the biggest problems people have when they first start using the barbell for weighted hip thrusts is getting into a good starting position with the bar centered on the hips. And if the bar isn’t centered from the start, it’s going to tilt and make it impossible to get in a good groove for your set. It can be tough to know if the bar is centered though, especially if you’re using a pad between your body and the bar (as you should be) because the pad keeps you from seeing your hips.

A simple way to help make sure the bar is centered is to put a small piece of tape right on the center of the bar so you can make sure it’s centered. I just use scotch tape so you can’t even notice, but it really helps.

3. Find Your Ideal Foot Position

As a general rule of thumb, I like to tell people to position their feet in such a way that when they’re at the top of the hip thrust, their shins are perpendicular to the floor. If your feet are in too close to the butt it tends to put more stress on the quads (and I’ve also had numerous clients say it bugs their knees), but if you’re feet are too far away it tends to take stress off the glutes and puts it more on the hamstrings.

That being said, when you train a lot of people you learn that there are really no hard-fast rules and for every person that falls within “normal” guidelines, there will be two exceptions because everyone is different. As such, take some time to play around with different foot positions and see where you feel it best.

The same applies for stance width, as some people do better with a narrow stance while some prefer a wider stance.

Once you find your ideal foot position though, it can help tremendously to put plates where you want your toes positioned so that you can find the same foot position for each set.

4. Pick Up Your Toes

You’ll often see people pushing through their toes, even with repeated cueing to push through the heels. Rather than continue to cue them like a broken record to no avail, I like to have them physically lift their toes off the floor, or at least tell them to lift their toes inside their shoes.

Another way to achieve the same thing without having to lift up the toes (which can feel a little awkward at first) is to put your feet on the small mat with your toes dangling over the edge, as UFC fighter Brendan Schaub demonstrates here:

5. Use Collars!

This sounds too obvious to be worth mentioning, but I’ve seen enough near-accidents happen to where it warrants noting. A lot of people do their hip thrusts after they deadlift since they bar is already loaded on the floor, which makes sense and is something I often do as well. Trouble is, if you aren’t using collars on your deadlifts and go to hip thrusts, the plates will slide around, especially when you’re first trying to lift the weight up off the floor as it rarely goes up evenly. I won’t belabor this point, but pay heed!

6. Don’t Sleep On the Short Bar

I’ve found that a lot of women, especially women with slighter builds, tend to do better with a shorter barbell. If you or your client has trouble stabilizing the full-size bar on your hips and finds it wobbling and tilting, try using the curl bar or E-Z bar. The preset mini bars that they have in a lot of commercial gyms work really well, too. The shorter bars also make it easier to get the bar into position if your gym doesn’t have big diameter bumper plates and you aren’t thrusting a weight that allows you to load the bar with full-sized 45 pound plates.

7. Trouble Getting It Up? Try This

Most people report that the hardest part about hip thrusting is getting it up.

Cue the jokes…

If you have trouble sliding the bar over your legs to get into position, try doing rack hip thrusts like this if your rack allows you to set up in this fashion.

Another option is to use a curved buffalo bar if you’re lucky enough to have one in your gym. These bars are rare and are usually something you’ll only find in powerlifting gyms, but for bigger dudes that have one available, it works great for hip thrusts by giving you more room to slide under the bar, and the curve in the bar helps keep the weight steady on your hips to avoid tipping.

8. Progressive Overload Matters, But…

I think that fastest way to see physical changes in your butt is to focus on progressive overload on the hip thrust. Don’t just do the same weight every workout and go through the motions. Record your numbers and try to beat them every workout. I set the bar very high for my clients when it comes to hip thrusting performance and most of them look at me like I’m crazy when I first tell them the goals I have for them, but with a concerted effort to improve it’s amazing how quickly your numbers, and in turn your glutes, will improve.

That being said, a lot of people reach a point in their progression where the weight on the bar starts to bother their hips—even with good padding—and it becomes very difficult to get the bar into position for the first rep. Some of my bigger guys can seemingly thrust as much weight as they want without issue, but a lot of my clients with slighter builds—both men and women— reach a point where continuing to add weight to the bar is not a viable solution, and I can totally relate because I find the same thing. I’d like to be a tough guy and tell you it doesn’t hurt with a ton of weight on me, but, it does.

As such, it can be useful to use different methods to allow you to get a training effect with lighter loads. Two of my favorites are:

“1.5” reps: Come all the way up and pause, then come halfway back down, then come back up again and pause. That’s one rep.

Countdowns: Start by performing five reps followed immediately by a 5-second iso hold at the top. Then go immediately into four reps followed by a 4-second hold: then three, then two, then finally one. After the last rep, hold the top position for as long as possible, shooting for 10-30 seconds. This makes for a great finisher that will leave you with an unrivaled glute pump.

With both of these methods you should still focus on progression, but the weight will be substantially less than if you were using regular reps so it won’t be as uncomfortable on the hips.

9. Don’t Neglect Single Leg Hip Thrusts

I see a lot of folks focus on weighted bilateral hip thrusts but I don’t see nearly as many people focusing on progressing single leg hip thrusts. To me, that’s a mistake.

I actually prefer the single leg hip thrust to the bilateral hip thrust for myself and a lot of my clients, and I think it has tremendous value.

Interestingly, I often talk about the value of single leg knee dominant training (Bulgarian split squats, lunges, skater squats, single leg squats, etc.) as a way to overload the legs more than you can in bilateral squatting variations through the bilateral deficit. With hip thrusts though, the bilateral deficit doesn’t seem to apply, and I think most people won’t single leg hip thrust even close to half the weight they can use for bilateral hip thrusts. Even with lighter loads, I still think it’s a great exercise and I actually feel it more in my glutes. I also think it’s a great option for people who tend to feel heavy bilateral hip thrusts in their lower back, as flexing the hip on the non-working leg seems to limit the ability to overarch the lower back.

And for my fellow lazy-asses out there who abhor loading and unloading plates, it takes a lot less setup due to the lighter loads. Just sayin…

10. Single Leg Hip Thrust Progression

Once you’ve mastered bodyweight single leg hip thrusts, it’s time to add load.

My first progression is to place a dumbbell on the thigh of the working leg, like this.

From there you can progress to a barbell, which can be a tricky transition at first because it can be tough to keep the bar steady on the hips.

For that reason, I like to start people off doing a version where they come up on two legs and lower down on one leg, like so.

Once you feel good with those, you can go to full single leg reps.

And again, the shorter bar can be very useful here.

11. Start Single Leg Hip Thrusts From the Top

With single leg hip thrusts I’ve noticed that people struggle a lot with steadying the bar on the first rep and getting centered. The best way I’ve found to help with this is to have people thrust up on two legs and then pick one foot up and start the set from the top as opposed to trying to break the bar off the floor with one leg. It’s a small tweak that makes a huge difference.

12. Try This Combo

Why choose between bilateral and single leg hip thrusts when you can do both?

One of my favorite hip thrust variations is to start with single leg hip thrusts, doing a predetermined number of reps per leg, and then going straight into bilateral hip thrusts for the same amount of reps.

A lot of my clients will do this with just bodyweight and it works as an awesome finisher, and you can also do it with weight if you’re the masochistic type (like me) who enjoys doing the awkward duck walk out of the gym.

Author Bio

Ben Bruno is a personal trainer in Los Angeles, California. He also publishes a blog and free newsletter at www.BenBruno.com. You can connect with him on social media through:ben

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