A Multiplanar Approach is Best for Developing the Glutes

Just over a year ago, I wrote one of my most popular articles titled, “Do More than Just Squat.” In the article, I outlined my belief that gluteus maximus hypertrophy cannot be maximized by any one exercise. For some strange reason, an alarming amount of coaches (might I add that these coaches never have any testimonials showing dramatic glute transformation pictures) will advise women seeking maximum glute development to “just squat.” I believe that this is the worst advice imaginable, which I already wrote about in the linked article. For the record, if you want maximum pec growth, you shouldn’t “just bench,” – you should also perform incline presses and single joint horizontal adduction movements, and if you want maximum back growth, you shouldn’t “just deadlift” – you should also perform chins, pulldowns, and rows. This is common sense just as is the case with glutes and squats – you should also perform hip thrusts and various glute isolation exercises.


The squat is a great glute exercise for many people. As is the deadlift. As is the lunge. As is the good morning. However, these are all vertically-based hip extension exercises. As a personal trainer, when I started implementing more horizontally-based hip extension exercises such as hip thrusts and back extensions in concert with vertically-based hip extension exercises, my clients started seeing markedly faster and greater results in the glute department. But the glutes aren’t just made for hip extension; the glutes do four distinct things:

  • Hip extension (in varying angles of hip abduction and hip external rotation)
  • Hip abduction (in varying angles of hip flexion)
  • Hip external rotation (in varying angles of hip flexion)
  • Pelvic posterior tilt (PPT is actually similar to hip extension as far as the head of the femur and the acetabulum are concerned)

For this reason, my training programs always include a variety of glute exercises. We make sure to progressively load up our hip thrusts (horizontally-based hip extension) and squats and deadlifts (vertically-based hip extension) for increasing mechanical tension. We employ single leg exercises (vertically-based hip extension) for muscle damage. We employ back extensions (horizontally-based hip extension) and various lateral band exercises (hip abduction and hip external rotation) for metabolic stress. We add some posterior pelvic tilting at the top of our horizontally-based hip extension exercises to increase mechanical tension at the range of motion that maximizes glute activation. We make sure to heavily work the upper glutes and the lower glutes alike. And we use the “same but different” concept by always focusing on the same movement patterns but employing just enough variety to prevent stagnation and keep the gains coming.

Is there any evidence that this approach is superior to the traditional approach of just squatting and possibly deadlifting? Well, I like to think that my extensive Testimonials page provides good evidence, along with my Twin Experiment. However, a brand new paper also sheds some light on this topic.


Just this past week, in HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, an article was published ahead of print titled, “The cross-sectional area of the gluteus maximus muscle varies according to habitual exercise loading: Implications for activity-related and evolutionary studies.”

The study examined the gluteus maximus size in 6 groups of people. Here’s how the authors described the subjects:

“Several different sports competitors were represented in the sample: 9 volleyball players, 10 high-jumpers, 9 soccer players, 10 squash players, 17 power-lifters, 18 endurance runners, and 18 swimmers. These sports were classified into five categories based on training history: high impact (volleyball players and high-jumpers), odd impact (soccer and squash players), high magnitude (power-lifters), repetitive impact (endurance runners), and repetitive non-impact (swimmers) loading. Definitions of these exercise loading types take into consideration both typical sport performance as well as the typical training regimen, which together establish the exercise loading type of the given sport. Playing volleyball and high-jumping include either maximal jumps and leaps or high impacts from a specific direction during typical sport performance and training, and these sports were considered to represent high-impact loading. Soccer and squash are sports that include rapidly accelerating and decelerating movements and quick turns of the body and the hip region to which they are not normally accustomed; these sports were considered to represent odd-impact loading. The difference between high impact and odd impact loadings was based on the idea of unusual loading direction. Powerlifting involves precise co-ordination of movement coupled with intense muscle force production, and this sport was considered to represent high-magnitude loading. Long-distance running, an endurance sport that includes a great number of repetitive weight-bearing impacts with the ground was considered to represent repetitive impact loading. Swimming is also an endurance sport with a great number of repetitive movements but lacking ground impact; this group was thus considered to represent repetitive non-impact loading”

Here is what the authors found:

Chart II

Chart III

As you can see, powerlifters indeed have markedly larger gluteus maximi than controls (controls still exercised 3 hours per week so they weren’t sedentary), and they had the highest isometric strength. But so did soccer/squash players, as did volleyball players/high jumpers (this group had the highest dynamic strength). Moreover, the gluteus maximi were pretty similar between these three groups, indicating that heavy loading via vertically-based hip extension exercises (powerlifting) isn’t the only way to build the glutes. Various sports have you accelerating and decelerating the body in the vertical, horizontal, lateral, and rotational vectors. These features likely account for the similar gluteus maximi sizes despite the markedly lower loading magnitudes.

Check out the endurance runners and swimmers – their gluteus maximi were not much higher than the controls. The swimming group was training 17 hours per week and still this was not enough to significantly enlarge the glutes. In other words, running and swimming do not build the glutes.

In my opinion, these results do not imply that you have to play sports to maximize glute size; they imply that you should work the glutes in multiple vectors and include a variety of hip extension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation exercises in your training. Sports, sprints, and plyometrics can be risky, but resistance exercises are controlled and predictable and contain a concentric and eccentric component. This study shows that simply activating the glutes to low degrees and performing mundane, repetitive hip extension tasks (running swimming) does not yield glute growth; progressive overload via heavy resistance training and explosive training are needed to significantly enlarge the glutes.

It should be pointed out that this study didn’t examine longitudinal changes in glute size through training…it is possible that individuals with naturally larger glutes gravitate toward sports.

Here are the authors’ conclusions:

“To conclude, muscle activation alone does not result in or require greater muscle size because large muscles are not a prerequisite for endurance type exercise. On the contrary, it seems that rapid and powerful movements favour larger gluteus maximus muscles. Therefore, according to our results, the greater size of M. gluteus maximus is likely to have evolved as a requirement for sprinting and/or jumping movements (for powerful hip extension and stabilizing the trunk against flexion) instead of endurance running or walking. The results of this study demonstrate that active female athletes possess better-developed cranial portions of M. gluteus maximus for high impact, odd impact or high magnitude loading than do a group of less active controls. Moreover, those athletes involved in sports requiring rapid lower limb movements and stabilization of an erect torso possess greater development than do those performing repetitive impact (endurance runners) and repetitive non-impact (swimmers) loadings. It seems likely that sprinting and climbing behaviours would facilitate food acquisition– hunting in addition to aboveground gathering of resources – and both would be implicated in fleeing from danger. Those sports requiring stabilization of an erect torso to provide a stable platform for useof the upper limbs, in this case squash in odd impact group, suggests an equally important evolutionary adaptation favouring development of the cranial portion of M. gluteus maximus. Conversely, endurance running and walking, which are often associated with hunting, do not seem to be sufficient in themselves to account for the development of the cranial portion of M. gluteus maximus.”

In summary, do more than just squat and deadlift for maximum gluteal development; make sure to incorporate glute exercises that have you extending the hips, abducting the hips, and externally rotating the hips. This is what we do in Strong Curves and Get Glutes, and it’s what my Glute Squad does out of my Glute Lab. It’s what my client Erin did to win her first overall in bikini. It works for me/them and it’ll work for you.



October Strength & Conditioning Research Questions

Hi fitness folks! Do you know the answer to the October S&C research review questions? If not, you ought to subscribe to our research review service. To subscribe, just click on the button below and follow the instructions…


Strength & Conditioning, Power and Hypertrophy

  1. Are high volumes and low loads better than low volumes and high loads for increasing muscle strength and size in resistance‐trained males?
  2. Are heavy loads better than light loads for increasing muscular strength and size in the elderly?
  3. Do training frequency and the level of supervision affect gains in strength?
  4. Is variable resistance better than constant loads for increasing muscular strength and size?
  5. Does order within daily undulating periodization programs affect strength gains in powerlifters?
  6. How does rest period affect repetition performance in single and multi-joint exercises?
  7. How does occlusion pressure affect strength and size gains in blood flow restriction training?
  8. Does rate of recovery differ between strength and power workouts in track and field athletes?
  9. How do strength and power change in rugby union players over the course of a season?
  10. How far and how fast do elite soccer players sprint in a game?
  11. By how much do 1RM pull up and dip need to improve for the change to be real?
  12. Does a low-load gluteal warm-up improve jump height and RFD?
  13. How much endurance running interferes with gains in back squat 1RM and jump height?
  14. Do strength gains occur differently in dominant and non-dominant legs?
  15. Does unilateral strength training improve strength differently from bilateral strength training?

Glute Activation

Biomechanics & motor control

  1. How does adding bands affect muscle activity during free weight back squats?
  2. How does footwear affect joint angle movements during barbell back squats?
  3. How do indicators of fatigue differ after different resistance training protocols?
  4. How does load affect rate of force development (RFD) during sled towing sprints?
  5. How does harness attachment point affect horizontal force production during sled towing?
  6. Do different running speeds require different contributions from each of the lower body joints?
  7. Why are trained sprinters faster in competition than in training?
  8. What is the key factor that differentiates between elite and sub-elite sprint running ability?
  9. Can eccentric leg press exercise potentiate subsequent counter-movement jump performance?
  10. Can unweighted lunges potentiate subsequent counter-movement jump performance?
  11. How does the set number affect power output at different loads?
  12. Does training with the optimal load for power lead to the greatest long-term gains in power?
  13. How does hip rotation ROM affect shoulder external rotation torque during pitching?
  14. What predicts jumping, sprinting and throwing performance in power-trained athletes?


Anatomy, physiology & nutrition

  1. How are body fat and fat oxidation affected by short-term low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets?
  2. Is more lean mass lost during ketogenic diets than during higher carbohydrate diets?
  3. Does myostatin function differently in males and females?
  4. Does myostatin dysfunction reduce gains in specific tension following mechanical loading?
  5. How much does muscle swelling explain early training-induced increases in hypertrophy?
  6. How do we measure muscle protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy?
  7. Does a healthy diet aid gains in muscle mass during resistance training in elderly women?
  8. How do protein dosage, timing, quality and co-ingestion with carbohydrate affect muscle protein synthesis?
  9. Does caffeine cause dehydration both at rest and during exercise?


Physical therapy & rehabilitation

  1. What causes endurance running injuries?
  2. How do the scapular movements of wide- and shoulder -width pull-up variations differ?
  3. How do different exercises affect gains in peak torque at different knee flexion angles?
  4. Is the angle of peak knee flexion torque a marker of hamstring injury risk?
  5. Can MRI improve prediction of return to sport after acute hamstring injuries?
  6. Can a neurodynamic sliding technique alter erector spinae muscle activity during hip extension?
  7. How can blood flow restriction be used in a progressive injury rehabilitation model?
  8. Is cold or heat application post-exercise better for reducing muscle soreness?
  9. Can hip-focused exercise programs help reduce knee valgus?
  10. Do movement patterns differ between single- and two-leg landings and squats?
  11. Can chronic recurrent osteitis pubis be managed conservatively in soccer players?
  12. How good is the evidence that non-operative rehabilitation works for osteitis pubis in athletes?




Strength & Conditioning Research Preview: Sprinting Edition

The S&C Research review service comes out on the first day of every month. Here is a preview of the October 2015 edition, which comes out on Thursday. Each edition covers a wide range of exciting new research but this edition has a special theme of sprinting!


Do different running speeds require different contributions from each of the lower body joints?

The study: Modulation of work and power by the human lower-limb joints with increasing steady-state locomotion speed, by Schache, Brown, and Pandy, in The Journal of Experimental Biology (2015)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers investigated changes in joint work and joint contribution to overall power generated or absorbed by the lower limb across various different steady-state speeds (from walking at 1.59 ± 0.09m/s to sprint running at 8.95 ± 0.70m/s). They used inverse dynamics calculations based on analysis of joint angle movements (as measured with motion analysis) and ground reaction forces (as measured using a force plate). Importantly, they took these measurements in experienced sprinting athletes (5 males and 2 females).

What happened?

As speed increased from 2.08 ± 0.13m/s to 8.95 ± 0.70m/s, the relative contribution of the hip to average power generated and absorbed in the stance phase increased from 5.5 ± 4.6% to 22.1 ± 5.3% and from 20.1 ± 5.3% to 46.9 ± 6.7%, respectively. In contrast, the relative contribution of the knee to average power absorbed in the stance phase decreased from 50.5 ± 12.6% to 16.8 ± 9.0%.

This implies that faster running speeds do not simply increases in power at each joint proportionally. Rather, the relative contribution of the hip increases with increasing running speed in both the stance and swing phases.


Why are trained sprinters faster in competition than in training?

The study: Acute response of well-trained sprinters to a 100-m race – higher sprinting velocity achieved with increased step rate compared to speed training, by Otsuka, Kawahara, and Isaka, in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2015)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers compared the differences in sprint running performance (as measured by split times to 50m recorded using a high-speed camera), stride frequency, stride length, ground contact time and flight time (all also measured using a high-speed camera) between training sprints and competition sprints in well-trained male and female sprinters, with ≥6 years of sprint training experience.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that sprint velocity achieved in competition was significantly greater than the sprint velocity achieved in training (8.26 ± 0.22 vs. 8.00 ± 0.70m/s) and this was accompanied by significantly greater stride frequency (4.56 ± 0.17 vs. 4.46 ± 0.13Hz), shorter ground contact time (0.113 ± 0.008 vs. 0.116 ± 0.008s) but stride length and flight time did not differ.

This implies that sprint athletes run faster in competition than in training and that the increase in speed is related to a faster stride frequency but not a longer stride length. Why these higher stride frequencies are possible in competition is unclear but may relate to elevated arousal levels experienced in competition.


Get the full review!

The full edition contains far more than these brief summaries. It is packed full of 50 detailed reviews covering a range of topics relevant to strength and conditioning and physical therapy professionals alike. It only costs $10 per month so sign up by clicking below!



Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part IV: Transfer to Performance

Quick Summary:

  • Hip thrusts are markedly more effective than front squats at improving sprinting acceleration, max isometric midthigh pull force, and max hip thrust strength in male teenage athletes. They also outperform the squat in horizontal jumping in male teenage athletes
  • Front squats are markedly more effective than hip thrusts at improving vertical jump and max front squat strength in male teenage athletes
  • Functional transfer from resistance training to performance is not based on what an exercise looks like but rather a variety of factors including the direction of the force vector, the torque angle curves and accentuated ranges of motion, levels of muscle activation elicited, and more
  • In teenage male athletes, hip thrusts build half as much strength as front squats at front squatting and front squats build half as much strength as hip thrusts at hip thrusting, indicating that various hip extension exercises transfer over to each other quite well
  • Future research is needed to compare the effects of squats versus hip thrusts (and versus deadlifts) in other populations. Different periodization protocols and training durations should be examined and a comprehensive battery of performance outcomes should be tested. Finally, hypertrophic adaptations should be examined in future research as well

Hi Fitness Friends! This is part IV of a 5-part series on squats versus hip thrusts. The data from this series comes from my doctoral thesis, which should hopefully be posted online for anyone to read next year (assuming I pass my defense in December…wouldn’t it be hilarious if I hyped this up and then failed my defense and PhD?). Parts I and III look at mechanistic data, namely what happens when you perform the two exercises while wearing electrodes or while on top of a force plate. Parts II and IV look at what actually happens following a 6-week training protocol. Part V will summarize the findings and point out limitations and directions for future research. I’ll post part V over the next week or so.

And now for part IV – the findings that should make a very large impact in strength & conditioning practices around the world. Speed is king in sports. Don’t believe me? Watch this rugby video:

There’s certainly much more to sports than just speed; Usain Bolt couldn’t simply dominate every ground sport imaginable without mastering other aspects of each individual sport. However, if you can run like the wind, you have a huge advantage in sports like football, soccer, rugby, baseball, lacrosse, and obviously track & field. Until now, the vast majority of coaches believed that the best exercise for improving sprinting speed is the squat. But the squat does not maximally activate the glutes, and it poorly activates the hamstrings, which are known to be the most important muscles in sprinting. Moreover, the squat works the muscles effectively way down deep in a flexed position, but not so much in an upright position which is characteristic of applying force into the ground while running.

I have been saying this for years (that hip thrusts seem better than squats for the purpose of improving acceleration and speed), as have other coaches. However, our speculation has been met with considerable hostility in the fields of S&C and T&F. In the past, all we had was theory, but now there is some evicence. Three months ago I alluded to this study HERE, and it’s the first to lend some support to the claim that the squat isn’t the best exercise for maximizing sprinting acceleration.

The study was 6 weeks in duration and consisted of two training sessions per week. If you think about it, 12 total training sessions is nothing. I was worried that it wouldn’t be long enough to elicit any significant improvements. Luckily, my fears were unfounded, at least for this population of male teenage athletes. One group performed just front squats for lower body for all 12 sessions whereas another group performed just hip thrusts for lower body for all 12 sessions in a periodized fashion that started out with sets of 12 reps and finished off with sets of 6 reps.

Pre and post testing measured 10m acceleration, 20m acceleration, vertical jump, horizontal jump, maximum isometric midthigh pull, 3RM front squat, and 3RM hip thrust. Here are the results of the study:


Click on the image to enlarge

As you can see, the “Force Vector Hypothesis” does seem to be legit in that front squats better improved vertical jump and hip thrusts better improved acceleration and horizontal jump. The twin experiment detailed in part III also lent support to the force vector theory.

One performance measure that didn’t adhere to the force vector hypothesis was the isometric mid-thigh pull (iMTP). The iMTP is a vertical task, but the front squat didn’t improve this task. In contrast, the hip thrust improved it very significantly. This is likely due to the ranges of motion stressed in the two lifts; front squats work the muscles down deep in hip and knee flexion, whereas hip thrusts work the hips more in greater hip extension.

This could infer that hip thrusts are better suited than front squats for improving deadlift lockout strength, and one thing I failed to mention in the twin study was that following the 6-week DUP protocol, Ashley (the hip thrust twin) was much stronger than Cassy (the squat twin) at deadlifting. I surmise that they were dead equal at deadlift strength prior to the training regimen and that it was the exercise performed that accounted for the improvements, but I didn’t measure deadlift strength pre and post training so this is pure speculation on my part. Future research should examine the transfer of squats versus hip thrusts to deadlift strength, and possibly even break it down into isometric deadlift strength at lift-off, just below or above the knees, and at lockout.

This image shows the differences in position between an iMTP and a deadlift lockout, courtesy of THIS study.

This image shows the differences in position between an iMTP and a deadlift lockout, courtesy of THIS study.

Many powerlifters lately seem to suggest that pure specificity is the only way to improve a lift, and they tend to ignore the potential transfer from one exercise to another. While it is obvious that performing the specific lift is the wisest and most efficient way to improve a lift, many coaches have indeed noted transfer from one lift to another and therefore employ assistance lifts to strengthen muscles and improve sticking regions.

This study showed that an athlete that performed the hip thrust gained half as much front squat strength as an athlete performing the front squat, and an athlete that performed the front squat gained half as much hip thrust strength as an athlete performing the hip thrust. This is very important as it could mean that maximizing powerlifting strength requires the utilization of assistance lifts, and it likely means that strength on one lift can be maintained to a greater during times of injury by performing other lifts. For example, an athlete with a low back or knee injury might be able to maintain much of his or her squat or deadlift strength by performing hip thrusts if well tolerated. This is why it’s so important to train around injuries and not through them.

I’ll expand on the limitations of this research in the final part of the series (part V), so please stay tuned for that in the next week.

Forward thinking strength & conditioning coaches should seriously consider 1) making the hip thrust a staple in their programming, if they haven’t already, 2) possibly centering their programming around hip thrusts and making it the first exercise performed during the day and week, 3) possibly periodizing training around maximizing vertical and horizontal force production performance, 4) consider having separate stations dedicated solely to hip thrusting so that benches and power racks aren’t being used up.

However, more cautious strength coaches could indeed make a mental note of these findings and wait for future research to duplicate the findings on athletes from other sports, or female athletes, or more highly trained individuals.

Please note that this research was carried out by New Zealand strength coaches; I was blinded from the training and the testing. Also please know that I wanted to test the back squat and not the front squat, but the head coach was more comfortable having his teenage athletes front squat, for which I was very understanding of. It’s important for researchers to be flexible when working with strength coaches during training studies; rigid individuals are unable to collaborate and get any research done. I intend on submitting this research to a sports science journal and getting it published, so hopefully you’ll have a more detailed report pertaining to this data at your disposal in the next 6 months or so.

Dani Shugart

Dani Shugart