Category Archives: Glute Training

Kick-Ass Kim

In the beginning of May, I posted a video of my Mom (age 62) performing her weekly workout HERE. The video was very well-received, and it seems that older women get inspired from watching training videos such as these. Therefore, I decided to film some footage of my stepmom Kim (age 60) performing a recent workout. Kim used to train with me at my gym Lifts back in the day, but she hasn’t trained hard since them. She’s now been training with me twice per week for three months and her strength has already far surpassed what she could do several years ago. She’s setting PR’s every week, which is very fun to witness as a trainer.

Currently, Kim can do:

10 hip thrusts with 155 lbs

30 deadlifts with the 106 lb kettlebell

5 goblet squats with a 50 lb dumbbell

10 back extensions with a 40 lb dumbbell

12 military presses with a 45 lb barbell

10 bodyweight push ups

Hopefully this video provides some evidence that women can gain plenty of strength and improve their fitness even in their 60’s. Thanks for watching!

Kim

Lower Body Training for the Amputee and Able-bodied Athlete Alike

Lower Body Training for the Amputee and Able-bodied Athlete Alike
by Travis Pollen

Finding the motivation to be physically active is hard enough for folks who have all four limbs. For those with limb loss, it can be even more of a challenge.

When it comes to rehabilitation and getting back on one’s feet – or foot, as the case may be – there are plenty of resources available for amputees. However, for amputees like me who aspire to peak athletic performance, rehab does not equal training. And frustratingly, the training information simply doesn’t exist.

As such, over the last few years I’ve had to tread my own path in the weight room. With the help of mentors like Bret and Barry Fritz (my instructor at the National Personal Training Institute of Philadelphia), I’ve been able to come up with a catalog of lower body exercises for which I’m well suited.

Since we above-knee amputees rely on our prosthetic side glutes (and hamstrings, if present) for torque production, all the exercises on the list target the posterior chain. May this post serve to shorten the learning curve for other aspiring amputee athletes, as well as anyone in search of posterior chain development. After all, who doesn’t want a better backside?

One-Legged Particulars

Programming for the above-knee amputee athlete is a unique challenge. What are generally considered foundational lower body exercises like bilateral squats and deadlifts often prove contraindicated due to the amputee’s altered anatomy and proprioception.

Bad Squat and Deadlift

Notice the compensatory lumbar flexion

On the affected side, the amputee is missing all ankle and knee musculature, of course. He also usually lacks dorsiflexion range of motion on that side, so when he squats, his prosthetic heel lifts way up off the ground. As a consequence further up the chain, he likely goes into lumbar flexion well before reaching parallel. Depending on how high up his socket goes, he may also experience discomfort and lumbar flexion with deep hip hinging, thus ruling out deadlifting, as well.

The simple solution is to ditch the prosthesis and train unilaterally. At first pass, this method seems like a winning one. The amputee performs exercises like single leg squats and single leg stiff leg deadlifts with ease. Heck, his intact leg is oftentimes stronger than many people’s two put together!

The unilateral approach turns out to be shortsighted, however, as the amputee naturally over-relies on his intact limb in his day-to-day life. Training one side and not the other in the gym only exacerbates the pre-existing left-to-right trunk and hip asymmetries. This will almost inevitably lead to injury and pain – especially if training heavy.

The Solution to the Amputee Athlete Conundrum

An exhaustive search must be conducted for movements that can be trained without dysfunction on both the prosthetic and intact sides. Since the above-knee amputee relies solely on the hip for torque production, all the exercises will target the posterior chain through hip abduction, extension, and external rotation.

What follows is a catalog of lower body exercises presented in developmental sequence (i.e. “from the ground up”). Although able-bodied folks typically have more options than amputees when it comes to exercise selection, they too can reap the many benefits of improved posterior chain development by emphasizing the exercises on this list.

1. Glute Bridging. The key for this and every exercise is the mind-muscle connection with the prosthetic side glute. Bridging is easy if the intact limb is allowed to dominate, but rather taxing when equal contributions are demanded from each limb.

2. Side-lying Abduction or Clamshell. Minimal external resistance need be applied, as the prosthesis itself will likely provide a substantial load. As with any unilateral exercise, resist the urge to do more reps with the intact side than the prosthetic side. Instead, go to the other extreme and perform an extra set on the weaker prosthetic side.

3. Front Plank with Posterior Pelvic Tilt. This is a great exercise for symmetry through the core, as the position lends itself to forceful and uniform contractions of the left and right abdominals and glutes. Fifteen to twenty seconds of maximal contractions will do the trick.

4. Bird Dog. To ensure the movement comes from the hip and not the low back, push back through the raised leg (as opposed to up).

5. Turkish Get-up. At first, perform the get-ups “naked” (without weight). Sets should be comprised of just a couple of slow, controlled reps on each side. Since the amputee won’t be able to stand from the half-kneeling position on the prosthetic side, simply reverse directions at half-kneeling on both sides in order to maintain symmetry. For the side where the prosthetic leg is straight out in the start position, a bit of extra finessing will be required in order to sweep the prosthesis through to half-kneeling. Pay careful attention in the accompanying video.

6. Dowel Rod Hip Hinge. With a dowel rod held behind the neck and in the small of the low back, push the hips straight backwards. The knees should be bent slightly, with weight distributed equally on each leg and through the heels. Take note of the depth reached comfortably and without lumbar compensation.

7. Back Extension. For a glute-dominant back extension, keep the anterior core engaged throughout the movement, push the hips into the pad violently on the concentric phase, and squeeze the glutes hard at lockout. Avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine at the top. Since the hip tends to work on a diagonal with the opposite shoulder, target the left hip preferentially by raising the right arm above the head to make half of a letter ‘Y’ (and vice versa for the right hip and left arm).

8. “B-stance” Reaching Stiff Leg Deadlift. Line up in a staggered stance a couple of feet from the wall. Shift most of the weight onto the front leg by going up on the ball of the back foot and flaring it out slightly. Push the hips straight back while simultaneously reaching for the wall. A slow tempo (2/0/2) is crucial for avoiding the use of momentum and maintaining tension on the hip extensors of the front leg.

9. Rack Pull. Set up inside the power rack with the supports adjusted to about knee height. (The exact setting will depend on hip hinge mobility.) Once again, utilize a 2/0/2 tempo. Experiment with both conventional and wider (sumo) stances. If the prosthetic knee locks when straightened, stop the pulls just short of lockout. Avoid the temptation to load the bar too heavily at first. It’s essential that the prosthetic and intact limbs split the load equally.

10. Stiff Leg Deadlift or Good Morning. As with the dowel rod hip hinge, maintain a subtle knee bend with equal weight through each heel. Begin light with just the bar, or even a 15-pound bar for good mornings. The added external load should not result in a deeper hip hinge than that attained during the dowel rod drill. If the prosthetic knee tends to get stuck straight, reverse directions just short of lockout.

11. Band/Cable Hip Rotation. Raise the cable pulley or band attachment to chest height, and take a couple of steps away from the anchor. With the feet angled away from the anchor, twist through the inside hip (via external rotation). Do not rotate through the trunk.

Moving Forward

Naturally, some individuals will be better suited for certain exercises than others. Only trial and error will reveal which exercises are best. After working through the entire list, return to the top, and focus on progressing those best-fit exercises with higher reps and increased loads.

After a bit of training, exercises like bird dogs and reaching stiff leg deadlifts can be relegated to warm-up. Athletes should then narrow their focus to getting strong in just three or four lifts at a time (one per training session). My personal preferences for a “Big 4” are barbell glute bridges, back extensions, rack pulls, and good mornings.

Amputee Power Training

With proper training age, some amputee athletes may be inclined to delve deeper into explosive exercises like kettlebell swings and Olympic lifts (from the hang position). Prerequisites for these movements include great balance and a top-notch hip hinge. The primary concern, as always, should be on eliciting equal contributions from both limbs – an even greater challenge at increased contraction speeds, though certainly not impossible.

Of course, for the amputee athlete, nothing is impossible.

About the Author

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He has been featured on T-Nation.com, Schwarzenegger.com, MensHealth.com, and MOVE-Everywhere.com. He also blogs and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.FitnessPollenator.com. Be sure to like him on Facebook.

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How to Get the Bar Into Proper Position During Hip Thrusts

On my Instagram page, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from women asking how to get the bar into proper position during the hip thrust. I therefore decided to film a quick video on the topic, detailing the various methods. The video shows:

  • How to get the bar into proper position when using > 135 lbs (easy)
  • How to get the bar into proper position with bumper plates (easy)
  • How to get the bar into proper position with smaller plates (complicated, but doable)
  • How to get into proper position with a tall bench (complicated, but doable)

And what if you have giant thighs and struggle to roll the bar over your legs and onto your hips? Click HERE to see a solution for that problem.

Ladies, within a couple of months you should be hip thrusting at least 135 lbs for reps. When you reach this milestone, hip thrusting becomes much more comfortable.

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What Are the Best Glute Exercises?

Hi Bret, what are the best glute exercises that I should be doing? Thanks, Cindy

This is a question that I receive very often – everybody wants to know what the best glute exercises are. This question is difficult to answer. First of all, in order to be confident, I’d need for there to exist approximately twenty high-quality training studies for me to examine – longitudinal studies that compared the gluteal hypertrophic gains between various exercises, using different combinations of glute exercises, and using different types of subjects (genders, training age, etc.).

This research does not exist. In fact, there is only one training study to my knowledge that measured gluteus maximus hypertrophy – it was a Russian study that examined the lying machine squat exercise. At this point in time, we don’t have any RCT’s to reference in order to help us answer the question. Therefore, we must go down the line in terms of the hierarchy of knowledge and examine acute studies (mechanistic research), pilot data, anecdotal data, and bro-science.

manly glutes

Second, the best exercise for one person might not be the best exercise for another person. For example, if a particular exercise consistently causes pain or injury, it’s not worth doing, no matter how popular or trendy the exercise is. Anatomy plays a large role in determining exercise tolerance, and not every hip is designed to full squat heavy, not every spine is designed to deadlift heavy, and some lifters don’t tolerate the hip thrust very well. Moreover, some lifters don’t feel popular exercises working their glutes very well no matter how hard the concentrate and focus on using the glutes – this applies to squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and back extensions.

Training age must be factored in too – a beginner needs to master the box squat, hip hinge, and glute bridge (and also the goblet squat) before adding more load. Moreover, logistics must be taken into consideration. Three of my favorite glute exercises are the band hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, and horizontal back extension, but most lifters don’t have access to a Hip Thruster, a reverse hyper, and a glute ham developer.

Ask the vast majority of lifters what the best glute exercise is and they’ll likely reply with the squat. Some might say the deadlift, others the lunge, and most of my fans would say the hip thrust. In fact, around 60% of my readers feel that the hip thrust (40%) or barbell glute bridge (19%) is the best glute exercise (see HERE for the results to a poll), with the remaining 40% coming from the squat (8%), deadlift (7%), Bulgarian split squat (6%), kettlebell swing (5%), single leg RDL (4%), lunge (4%), single leg hip thrust (3%), and back extension (3%). I’m sure if you polled primarily Olympic lifters or powerlifters, they’d reply with the squat, but I’d argue that most of these lifters don’t have ample experience with the hip thrust and they’re goals are centered around strength performance and not the hypertrophy of the glutes.

So how do we know what’s best? The answer is, we don’t. The research just isn’t there yet. We can speculate, but we can’t be certain. During my lifetime, I hope to compile a lot of this research and help us hone in on optimal glute training practices over time. In the meantime, we can utilize various tools to help us answer these questions. For example, we can look at electromyography (EMG) data. EMG looks at muscle activation. But there’s more to the hypertrophic picture than activation. While activation broadly mirrors active muscle force, especially during isometric contractions, it gets skewed when dealing with dynamic movements and under fatigue. While EMG is a good tool for estimating mechanical tension, there are three primary mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy – mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage (see HERE for a comprehensive article on this topic).

An exercise can have fairly low activation but move through a considerable stretch and produce a good amount of muscle damage. Muscle damage is more related to strain than activation. Similarly, an exercise can have moderate activation, but if it’s constant and doesn’t let up, then it can produce high levels of metabolic stress.

Nevertheless, an exercise that exhibits very high levels of muscle activation will be well-suited for all three mechanisms of hypertrophy, you just have to tinker around with the manner of execution. For example, let’s consider the hip thrust. Perform 4 sets of 6 reps with a brief isometric pause at the top and you’ll get high levels of mechanical tension. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps with no rest in between reps (constant tension – not touching the bar down to the floor), only waiting 60 seconds in between sets, and you’ll get high levels of metabolic stress. Perform 4 sets of 8 reps with an emphasis on the eccentric component (4-sec lowering count), using a higher bench so the hips move through a greater ROM, and you’ll get decent levels of muscle damage.

Hip Thrust

Now, I’d argue that different exercises should be used to target the different mechanisms of hypertrophy. For example, moderate to heavy hip thrusts for mechanical tension, high rep band hip thrusts or back extensions for metabolic stress, and walking lunges or Bulgarian split squats for muscle damage. This is why the best glute building programs involve sufficient variety. Moreover, some folks might have a particular physiology that makes them respond better to certain types of stimuli (for example, the lifters whose butts blow up from high rep hip thrusts and back extensions might respond better to metabolic stress, whereas the lifters whose butts grow substantially from squats and lunges might respond better to muscle damage), but I digress…

For the past few months, I’ve been collecting extensive EMG data for my PhD thesis. I’ve tested some very strong and fit women. In fact, this year alone, I’ve examined 10 powerlifters, 2 Olympic lifters, and 8 bikini competitors. While my thesis primarily examines the squat and the hip thrust exercises, I’ve also compiled a ton of data on other glute exercises.

I’ve looked at different types of back extensions – arched back, neutral, roundback, bodyweight, dumbbell, and band. I’ve looked at kb swings, kb deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and pendulum quadruped hip extensions. I’ve examined several types of squats (full, parallel, front, goblet) and hip thrusts (barbell, American, band). I’ve looked at different lateral band movements, and I’ve even looked at various combined movements (for example, banded goblet squats).

Band Goblet

And, I’ve looked at upper and lower glute activity during these movements. While I’m not allowed to release the data just yet as I intend to publish it, I want my readers to know a few things:

  1. Hip thrusts kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  2. Back extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  3. Pendulum quadruped hip extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes

In future studies, I would actually like to pit the hip thrust, back extension, and pendulum quadruped hip extension against each other with equal relative loading with advanced subjects. It would be very close, but based on what I’m seeing, the hip thrust would probably be best for mean glute activation, but I suspect that the back extension might elicit the greatest peak upper glute activity and the pendulum quadruped hip extension might elicit the greatest peak lower glute activity.

At any rate, here is my advice in terms of best exercises for glute training:

  1. Variety is ideal, so don’t just rely on one exercise for glute building. Tinker around and figure out the variations of each movement pattern that suit your body best – everyone is unique.
  2. Make sure you’re regularly performing at least one type of hip thrust movement (barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, band hip thrust, American hip thrust, single leg hip thrust)
  3. Make sure you’re regularly performing a back extension movement (bodyweight for high reps, band or dumbbell for medium reps, single leg, 45 degree or horizontal)
  4. Make sure you’re performing a couple of squatting movements (bilateral or unilateral) that feel right for you. This can include goblet squats, front squats, back squats, box squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, or pistols.
  5. Make sure you’re regularly performing a deadlifting movement that feels right for you. This can include kettlebell deadlifts, American deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, block pulls, deficit deadlifts, or single leg RDLs.
  6. When possible, try to add in an open chain hip extension movement (pendulum quadruped hip extension is best, but many gyms have machines that allow for this – HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the leg curl machine, HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the smith machine, and HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE are various butt machines. If you find one that feels right, then go really hard on these and make them a staple movement and go for progressive overload over time. If you can’t find a variation that feels right (you don’t feel the glutes working hard), then don’t do them and don’t sweat it. The 4-way hip machine can work well, as seen HERE. They can also be done with a cable column (HERE), bands (HERE) and ankle weights (HERE) fairly effectively, but in this case, I would do them at the end of a workout for high reps. The pendulum underneath the reverse hyper is best, but again, very few people have access to this machine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and have gained some insight as to what glute exercises are best for building a solid booty. Train glutes a few times per week for best results, and make sure you’re getting stronger over time.

Gluteos