Category Archives: Glute Training

The Effect of Daily Glute Activation Workouts on Maximal Strength Retention

Solely training the glutes has an interesting effect on maximal strength retention. Nine years ago, strength coach Charles Poliquin relayed an anecdote where an Olympic lifter with knee problems increased his snatch strength by only performing lumberjacks (a glute exercise that is similar to a kettlebell swing, shown below) in THIS T-Nation article.

Last year, I mentioned HERE how my client Sammie hadn’t touched a weight in six months except for regularly performing 185-lb hip thrusts (fairly light for her), and upon her first workout back she managed to set PRs in her squat and deadlift (175 lb squat and 225 lb deadlift). Last year, I also mentioned HERE how hip thrusts led to the maintenance of glute size with my girlfriend Diana despite dropping out squats, deadlifts, and other movements. Recently, I wrote about daily glute activation workouts HERE. Over the past few months, my girlfriend Diana has relied on high rep, high density glute training multiple times per week since she hasn’t had access to a gym.

Yesterday, Diana returned home for a three week vacation so I decided to gauge her strength. Since I’ve been her trainer for the past seven years, I have a pretty good grip on how her strength levels fluctuate. Her max squat is 225 lbs, but when she doesn’t train for around six months, her squat will usually drop down to around 135 lbs. Her max deadlift is 245 lbs, but after several months of detraining, it usually drops down to around 155 lbs. Her max hip thrust is 275 lbs x 10 reps, but in the past it’s dropped down to 185 lbs x 10 reps when she didn’t train it regularly.

Having not squatted or deadlifted in six months, yesterday Diana managed a 175 lb squat and a 175 lb deadlift, along with a 225 lb x 10 rep hip thrust. You can see in the vids below that she had some more room in the tank, but I didn’t want to push it and risk injury. The only thing she’s been doing for physical activity is frequent glute workouts consisting of single leg glute bridges, quadruped hip extensions, side lying clams, side lying hip abduction, side lying clam raises, quadruped leg swings, and fire hydrants. Here are the vids of her squat, deadlift, and hip thrust:

 

What’s very interesting is that despite the impressive retention of maximal squat and deadlift strength, her form has deteriorated. Notice in the videos that her hips shoot up in the squat and deadlift, which indicates that she’s lost quad strength and is relying mostly on glutes for hoisting the barbell. Had she been performing bodyweight squats, Bulgarian split squats, reverse lunges, and skater squats, I’m sure that her form would be much better and she would be even stronger with her maximal squats and deadlifts. It’s not possible to know which glute activation lifts best help with the retention of squat and deadlift strength, but I would surmise that the single leg glute bridge was the best contributor, followed by the quadruped hip extensions and leg swings, with the hip abduction/external rotation work playing minor roles. The single leg glute bridge was likely the best contributor to the retention of her hip thrust strength, obviously due to the similarity in movement.

This anecdote suggests that high frequency/high rep/high density glute training does a pretty good job of allowing for the retention of barbell lower body strength. Since it’s very hard to isolate the glutes, the hamstrings and quads end up receiving activation when performing simple glute exercises, which probably contributes to the strength maintenance as well. As I mentioned in my book Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, all lifters should be well-versed in bodyweight exercises so you can train effectively no matter where you are and what your situation is in life.

Woman

Squats and Deadlifts Aren’t Panning Out the Way I Hoped

Hey, Bret, I have been your blog fan for a while and incorporated a lot from your advice in my training routine. However, I encountered a very severe problem in my training that is now making me lose the will to continue regular trainings since everything seems wrong.

I had lean legs and small, weak glutes. I was working out almost a year to achieve better physique, using mostly squats, different styles of lunges, deadlifts etc., body pump classes and total body workouts following my trainer’s advice, I wasn’t aiming for the huge booty, just a firmer, slightly more developed one. But it seems that only my legs were firing up. Upper glute is completely underdeveloped no matter what I do. Now I ended up with a really big hamstring muscle, quads developed as well, but glute is now even more ‘eaten’ in this muscle domination. I developed more severe case of anterior pelvic tilt now since i stopped training. I start again, then I get upset after feeling the pain only in my hamstrings after glute exercises even if I concentrate as much as I can on activation. So, bulked legs and no glute improvement. You maybe understand my disappointment and frustration after all the hard work. It’s impossible to find even jeans that fit me now. I am 56 kg, 172 cm, and I am all firm in my upper body, bulked in legs and weak in glute and lower back. Not the look I was aiming for.

Now I intend to run to somehow at least slim down my legs and give up on glutes. Do you have any suggestion on how I can solve this problem? When I consult trainers in my gym they just tell me more squats and deadlifts, so I am completely lost. And, well, i don’t trust them anymore. If you have time or will or any piece of advice I would very much appreciate. If not.. thanks for reading at least. Cheers! Maria

Hi Maria, I didn’t get any pictures from you or any video clips showing your form, so I’m going to assume that 1) you do in fact have large thighs with poor gluteal development, and 2) your form on squats, deadlifts, and lunges is sound. I’m assuming that you’ve heard of this definition of insanity before, right?

Insanity

I don’t know why these trainers would be telling you to just keep doing squats and deadlifts if they’re not working for you. This is one thing that really irks me about certain trainers. Many of them seem like robots who have been programmed to provide only one default answer and are unable to think outside the box or come up with creative solutions. Doing just squats and deadlifts for building the glutes works well for many lifters, especially men. One female powerlifter I tested in EMG a few months ago had some of the best glute development I’ve ever seen, but she also does plenty of glute assistance work. But relying solely on squats and deadlifts for glute development also fails many lifters, and it won’t maximize glute size, especially in the upper region. I have had to come up with unique strategies for many of THESE ladies, so you’re not alone. I recommend trying a completely different approach. But first, let me link to some previously written articles that you might like:

Growing Glutes Without Growing the Legs
Do More than “Just Squat”
What Builds the Glutes Best?
What Are the Best Glute Exercises?
The Jane Fonda Experiment
Quadruped Leg Swings
Don’t Be Donald Duck

As for what program you should try, Strong Curves would be a good idea, and Get Glutes would be even better. However, if I were you, I would leave out squats, deadilfts, and lunges, since you have already mentioned that these only build your legs and not your glutes. If I was in your shoes, I also wouldn’t do any leg presses, hack squats, leg extensions, leg curls, glute ham raises, or Nordic ham curls. Instead, I would focus mostly on 1) hip thrusts, 2) back extensions, 3) quadruped leg swings, 4) reverse hypers (preferably loaded, but bodyweight is okay too), 5) standing hip abduction (ankle weight, cable, or band), 6) RKC planks, and 7) hollow body holds.

Keep focusing on improving your mind-muscle connection, start off each workout with 5-10 minutes of low load glute activation exercises (lateral band walks, glute bridges, quadruped hip extensions, side lying clams, side lying hip abductions, bird dogs, quadruped hip circles, fire hydrants, side lying hip raises, side lying clam raises), do mostly medium and high reps with shorter rest periods for producing high levels of metabolic stress, go up in weight over time but make sure you’re always feeling the glutes doing the job, and make sure to incorporate loaded standing hip abductions to target the upper glutes. I would make sure you train glutes at least 3 times per week, but in your situation, 5 days per week would likely be ideal.

Sticking to this plan should help you start: 1) growing your glutes, 2) shrinking your legs, 3) improving your glute : thigh size ratio, and 4) improving anterior pelvic tilt. Best of luck to you, don’t give up!

Booty

Too bad this lady can’t donate some of her glutes to you…

All About Back Extensions

Here’s an extensive video on back extensions. In this video, I discuss:

  • Proper set up
  • How to target the erectors (if that’s the goal)
  • Ways to increase glute activation (and feel it less in the back)
  • How to modify if the back of the knees are hurting
  • Cues
  • Progressions (prisoner, single leg, dumbbell, band, chain, band plus chain)
  • A simple protocol for glute building

I would like my readers to experiment with a new protocol I’ve been using on myself and with my clients. Although I can do 30 reps with the 100-lb dumbbell, lately I’ve been sticking to just bodyweight. I focus on trying to target the glutes, and I make sure I use the glutes eccentrically while getting a full stretch at the bottom. I perform 3 sets of 20-30 reps (I’ve done 3 x 20, 3 x 25, and 1 x 30/1 x 25/1 x 20, but I haven’t yet done 3 x 30 – my clients can do this though) with only 45 seconds of rest in between sets. Holy glute burn! My clients love this as a finisher. It’s a very efficient way to increase metabolic stress and time under tension for the glutes at the end of the workout without imposing a penalty to the CNS and impairing recovery. So give this simple protocol a try and see what you think:

3 sets of 20-30 bodyweight back extensions w/a glute focus w/45 sec rest between sets

Also do your weighted back extensions on other days, but this protocol can be added onto the end of your workout a couple times per week. I hope you enjoy the video!

Back Ext

The band back extension is very challenging and is only suitable for more advanced lifters

The Jane Fonda Experiment

Being The Glute Guy‘s girlfriend has its drawbacks. My fiancee Diana constantly finds herself serving as a guinea pig when I want to test out a new hypothesis. In September of 2013, I shared with you The Hip Thrust Only Experiment, where I altered Diana’s training from a routine focused on squats and deadlifts to a routine focused on hip thrusts. The results? No weight change (which was to be expected since her diet didn’t change), no change in hip or thigh measurements (I predicted greater hip size and lesser thigh size, but it was only a 6-week experiment and she had been doing hip thrusts during her powerlifting training), and a reduction in waist circumference (presumably due to less erector spinae activation). This was a cool experiment, since it showed that it is indeed possible to maintain glute size if one drops out squats and deadlifts and keeps hammering hip thrusts.

Diana Hip Thrust

Diana Thrusting

Recently, I decided to conduct another informal n=1 experiment. For the past five months, Diana has been away – her clinical rotations for nurse anesthesia school are scattered across the United States. Due to her travels, she hasn’t been able to train with me. She also doesn’t have a gym membership, so she hadn’t been doing any weight training, just jogging, hiking, and some bodyweight squats and single leg hip thrusts twice per week when she jogged. Six weeks ago, we were reunited for our friends’ wedding, and to my dismay I saw that her butt had shrunken significantly. Diana was the one to point this out, and she asked me what she could do to maintain her glute size since she hates losing her booty. I wish I’d taken measurements at this time, but I didn’t have access to a tape measure.

High Frequency Glute Training Does Nathalia's Glutes Good

High Frequency Glute Training Does Nathalia’s Glutes Good

I advised her to just start doing Jane Fonda style exercise everyday. Some of you will recall that my friend Nathalia Melo trains her glutes almost daily, so I was eager to see how this strategy would pan out. Keep in mind that Diana doesn’t have any access to weights, so I told her to simply alternate between a bunch of floor glute exercises, spending around 20 minutes per day targeting the glutes. She decided to superset her training, performing one set of each of the following around exercises 5 days per week (it takes her around 20 total minutes to complete):

1A. side lying clam – 30 reps
1B. side lying hip abduction – 30 reps

2A. single leg glute bridge – 30 reps
2B. quadruped hip extension from elbows – 30 reps

3. side lying clam raise – 20 reps

4A. quadruped leg swing – 25 reps
4B. fire hydrant – 25 reps

Note that the “A” and “B” denote supersets. Say you’re supersetting single leg glute bridges with quadruped hip extensions. You’d perform 30 reps of single leg glute bridges with the right leg, then 30 reps of quadruped hip extensions with the right leg without resting, then repeat with the left leg. Around 2-3 minutes of rest is taken between each set or superset.

I’m currently visiting her in Montana, and I’m astonished at the rapid results. In just six weeks, her butt is markedly bigger and rounder. If I had to guess, I’d say that she’s easily put on 1-1.5 inches in this short time-frame (keep in mind that she has a muscle memory effect going on due to her prior training). In fact, her butt is almost back to full size just from doing high rep Jane Fonda exercise. The largest her hips have ever been is 37.5″, and this is when she was squatting 135 x 20 reps, deadlifting 135 x 20 reps, and glute bridging 135 x 20 reps (she could also squat 225 lbs for 1 rep, deadlift 265 lbs for 1 rep, and hip thrust 275 x 12 reps). As you can see, her glutes have reclaimed their size from high rep basic bodyweight exercises performed in the supine, side-lying, and quadruped positions. Not only that, her waist is down an inch (presumably due to the lack of erector and abdominal activation). Here is how her measurements have changed over the past year and a half.

Diana

HERE is a video of Diana’s first and only powerlifting meet, HERE is a video of Diana’s low volume squat/deadlift focus training, HERE is a video of Diana’s hip thrust focus training, and HERE is a video from 4 years ago where Diana showcased a bunch of bodyweight glute exercises.

After my PhD is completed, I would love to conduct a study comparing the effects of 1) powerlifting style training (primarily squats and deadlifts twice per week), 2) Jane Fonda style training (high rep floor work five times per week), and 3) Bret Contreras style glute training (heavy, medium, and light variations of hip thrusts, squats, deads, back extensions, lunges, and lateral band work four times per week) on glute hypertrophy in women. My prediction is that powerlifting style training and Jane Fonda style training would lead to similar results in glute growth, but my methods would lead to even greater results. But of course, I could be wrong. One thing that’s great about conducting research is that you always end up learning something in the process. It’s important to realize that there are multiple ways to effectively train the glutes. Don’t knock Jane Fonda, in situations where no weights are available, her methods are surprisingly effective.

Buns of Steel Works!