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Glute Training: Pay Attention to the Eccentric Phase for Better Results

After 22 years of lifting weights, I tend to think I know it all. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even the most seasoned and intelligent lifters still have much to learn, as long as they open their minds to receiving knowledge. I’ve paid close attention to the bodybuilders, the powerlifters, the strength coaches, and the sports scientists, I conduct my own experiments utilizing EMG, force plates, motion capture, and more, and I’m known as the freakin’ Glute Guy, so I tend to think that I’m the expert on all things glute-related. Due to my ego, it is very natural for me to assume that other experts don’t know what I know and can’t teach me anything new. I’m glad that my ego didn’t get the best of me when my friend Joy Victoria visited me two weeks ago, as her advice turned out to be very important and fruitful.

glutes

Focus on the Eccentric Component

I watched Joy perform her band hip thrusts, and I noticed a very subtle difference in the way that Joy performed her movements compared to the way I perform them. See VID00091 and VID00092 for clips of Joy training at The Glute Lab with me. I started grilling her with questions, and I listened to her feedback. She said that once she began focusing on the eccentric component during hip thrusts, she began feeling her glutes working to a greater degree, and it helped her to better control her pelvic posture. I informed her that I was going to tinker with this over the next few workouts and experiment on myself. Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise.

Eccentrics

I’ve written and spoken a lot about eccentric training over the years. In my own training, I always make sure to control the eccentric phase when performing certain lifts such as American deadlifts, barbell curls, flies, good mornings, glute ham raises, chins, dips, bench press, incline press, military press, lunges, and back squats. However, I realized that with other exercises, such as hip thrusts, back extensions, seated rows, bent over rows, and chest supported rows, I was just letting gravity do its thing in allowing for the eccentric phase to take place. Though I was good about getting a big isometric squeeze at end-range with these movements, I’d then “release the brakes” and shut my muscles off during the eccentric component and then turn them back on late in the lowering phase to reverse the movement and initiate the concentric phase. In fact, with hip thrusts and back extensions, I tended to think of them as just rapid concentric glute squeezes.

Glute Eccentrics

Chances are, you already do a good job of paying attention to the eccentric gluteal contraction during certain movements. However, I’d like for you to extend this list to movements that you might not control quite as much during the lower phase with the glutes. When you perform hip thrusts, keep the glutes turned on during the eccentric phase, and feel the muscle absorb and reverse the movement. Do the same for back extensions, goblet squats, and American deadlifts. You will not be able to achieve quite as many repetitions as you’re normally able to get, but it will make a big difference. How so? Let’s revisit Brad Schoenfeld’s 3 Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy, which are:

  1. Mechanical Tension
  2. Metabolic Stress
  3. Muscle Damage

By controlling the eccentric portion, you’ll notice the following:

1. Increased tension during the lowering phase – the lowering phase is likely more critical for muscle hypertrophic gains than the lifting phase, so this is important. See an article by Chris Beardsley HERE for more on this topic.

2. More metabolic stress – since you won’t be shutting the muscle down completely during the eccentric phase, you’ll produce more constant tension on the glutes, and blood won’t get a chance to escape. This equates to a bigger burn and a better pump. This will be the most apparent mechanism that you’ll notice by focusing on the eccentric portion – the burn is crazy. See an article HERE by Brad Schoenfeld for more on this topic (or HERE for another).

3. Greater muscle damage – the eccentric phase is damaging to muscles, so you might notice some additional soreness that you didn’t experience in the past. See an article HERE by Brad Schoenfeld for more on this topic. However, know that soreness tends to be overrated, so don’t use this as your primary gauge for your workouts (see HERE for more on this).

In essence, by paying attention to what your glutes are doing during the lowering phase and not just the lifting phase, your glutes will receive a greater hypertrophic stimulus via 3 different mechanisms. Give this a try just like I did, and I suspect that you’ll notice better results from your training. Thanks Joy for the glute tips!

Joy & Bret at last year’s Fitness Summit

16 Comments

  • I’ve been cueing my clients to “hinge from the back” during the eccentric phase of hip thrusts – keeping the same distance between ribs and hips – instead of simply going into excessive anterior tilt on the way down. I say that the hips “travel the furthest distance” and to keep the shoulders and head relatively still. I’ll even cue “eyes on pelvis at the top” or “like an ab curl at the top” to keep abs engaged throughout and the spine a little more still before that “hinge from the back” cue, which prevents folks from letting their tail drop radically from the top of the thrust. I think these cues really help keep the glutes engaged during the eccentric action, and increases the power of the upward thrust. They are especially helpful for hip thrust beginners, who haven’t found their own perfect rhythm yet. My few cents built on the foundation of everything I have learned from you and this page!

  • Those cues I mentioned earlier – ribs to hips and hinging with a stiffer, neutral spine – in addition to keeping glutes more engaged in the eccentric phase, also make the hip thrust more supportive of the deadlift or kettlebell swing lockout position. I’ve noticed some people lean way back at the top of their hip thrust, almost extending their entire spine. Which – although the most important thing is always for the individual to find the best position for their physiology + max glute engagement – doesn’t appear to support these other exercise patterns as directly. That’s why I like that “almost an ab curl at the top” cue, to contradict the urge most people have to arch/extend away from their hips until they are cued to do the opposite.

  • Viviane says:

    Excellent! I’ve always tried to keep the whole movement, including the eccentric phase, under tension and to do the eccentric phase as a slow controlled movement (unless I’m right at max lol).
    Maybe I’m doing something right 🙂
    Great article, Bret and Joy.
    Thank you for posting it!

  • Tatiana says:

    I’ve seen some articles lately on “hyperarch mechanism of the foot” and it’s impact on glute activation. I was wondering if you touch on this topic in any of your articles?

    • Chas says:

      Hey Tatiana

      I too was hoping someone like Bret could shed some light on the “hyperarch mechanism”, but have you found out anything since you wrote this reply? I am about to look into this myself, so hopefully something “real” is out there

  • richard says:

    the glute thing is ..in my mind ..just like the six pack thing , ripped arms thing,4-5 chest exercises thing….wow!!..here’s the thing…i watch endless folks in the gym( for the last 40 ish years) use the mind muscle connection? concentrate on the eccentric, perform outer space movements,struggle with baby weights ,toss moderate to heavy weights up and down in terrible form,do slow burn cardio etc. some built and had outstanding body parts,but not from what they were butchering in the gym. genetics,attachments, limb length etc ..etc.. all dictate how you ‘get beastly!’ just like the bodybuilding guy at work who scoffs at my training partners and i 1hr workouts and boasts 3-4 hours in the gym sculpting,sequencing,endless supplements,but makes a terrible mess of trying to clean and press a 50 lb kettlebell for reps and gassed out at 25-30 swings with the same weight..he simply has better genetics,x frame etc and tosses in routine 5- mile jogs for cardio and still maintains and even builds muscle on all this ‘serious training!! all can improve,but serious body part improvement over others who are doing the right things while you are not is simply genetics….some got it some don’t!!

  • larry says:

    Hey Brett, I live in a village in East Java, Indonesia and there are no fancy gyms here so I have to make do with whatever is around. That has led to me making the best cheap (not even $20) glute-ham machine in the world. And it works great.

    How? I use common 40mm diameter PVC pipe, 2 pieces x 72 inches and 2 x 24 inches. I join the pipe using 4 PVC elbow bends to make a rectangle. I drill holes through corner elbows and pipe (I got no drill so I actually just heat a phillips screwdriver over the gas oven and then burn the holes through) and secure all with bolts. I then lay the frame on the floor and put a 50 kg bag of rice across about the middle of the rectangle. YMMV. You could use a sandbag but this is Java, so 50kg sacks of rice are everywhere.

    I kneel in front of the bag of rice and my toes reach to the end of rectangle of pipe. I can push against this and position my thighs as I like on the rice to do the raises. That can be a bit hard on the thighs, so I also put a chunk of foam bedding between thighs and rice.

    Works like a charm. It’s so simple and effective, it makes me laugh.

  • rimi says:

    Couldn’t play Joy’s videos: (

  • Alisa says:

    I began doing body weight hip thrusts a couple months ago (I’m 8 months pregnant…can’t handle loading my lap) and noticed when I would just drop down for quick concentric reps my back would be sore by the end – same with glute bridges. So I started maintaining tension to prevent that pain since I could feel spinal hyperextension. It burns so good and I can definitely feel a more powerful thrust. Glad to see I’m not crazy. My sister was asking about body weight lifts and I showed her these…she was painfully surprised at how effective just a few sets could be =)

  • taylor says:

    Hey Bret, I need advise….I’m quad dominant so hip thrusting mostly burns in my thighs…and raised hip thrusts and glute bridges target my hamstrings…nothing really targets my glutes. Some days I can feel it in my right butt cheek..but never in my left. Am I doomed to an ugly butt for the rest of my life? Or is there hope for a girl like me?

    • lisa says:

      Taylor, I am with you. Nothing seems to target my glutes. Been lifting for 5 years. Up until very recently I could never even get my hamstrings to burn. fire hydrants and quadruped hip circles help as a warmup. glute bridges from the floor always feel like the range of motion is not enough to work anything, and hip thrusts definitely don’t make my butt burn. I even do glute ham raises, and nothing. I dedicated a whole workout day to glutes about 13 weeks ago, and it’s getting a little rounder/higher back there. I came across this site, howdoigetgreatlegs.com and after reading EVERY SINGLE ARTICAL, I decided to dedicate the majority of my training to legs/back/posterior chain. It’s helping…going to try to focus on the eccentric part of hip thrust & back extensions. We’ll see

  • Emily says:

    Please change your picture. I do not consider myself a feminazi, but still how demeaning. I would like to see a pic of a male in those shorts in that position.

  • Great article Brett, Most muscles work eccentrically before concentrically anyways in real life! Eccentric is king!

  • Danny says:

    Bret,

    Once again thanks for your humility. Today was a medium day for hip thrusts and I really focused on the eccentric portion of the lift. You were absolutely correct in saying that would be more difficult to complete a set. I remedied this by using pause-reps. Here are a few things I noticed that I found to be helpful:
    1) Rest if needed.. really slowing down the eccentric portion is going to tire you out faster
    2) Don’t worry about a specific “count” while lowering the weight, focus on “absorbing” the weight as slow as possible
    3) Focusing on the eccentric portion seems to establish a better “mind-butt” connection and may have some carry over when you are doing a heavy day
    4) I think a good supplementary exercise would be some sort of hip abduction movement focusing on the eccentric portion as well.

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