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.
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:
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.
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.
What about when you have an stronger glute on one side (mine is right) and stronger quad on other side (mine is left) ? Hip Thrusts for left side and bulgrarian split squats for right ?
Hmmm, that’s a great question Matti. Maybe single leg glute bridge (or foot elevated) for right side and Bulgarian for right side. Good instincts!
Excellent stuff, BC! Had a few thoughts and ideas, esp. for Matti:
A side to side glute imbalance has ramifications down the chain, esp. when taken into bilateral lifts.
The weak glute (glute max, but importantly medius, and deep rotators as well) may be the culprit in the opposite leg’s weak quad. If the hip is not doing it’s job on one side, the pelvic shifts to accommodate that weak link, and thus that side quad gets more heavily worked as the load “collapses” down the chain. The opposite happens across the pelvis as the strong hip side is abducting and externally rotating the load off that leg’s quad.
Shift the pelvis back to neutral, and the weaker quad will start getting its fair share of load, and adaptation. But this can’t happen until the opposite hip does it’s part first. So a bilateral motor pattern may form which then continue to feed the imbalances on each side, keep them both alive.
It is definitely a good idea to iso the weak hip and quad respectively, this can be done daily.
I also think it’s helpful to superset these iso sets around the bilateral lifts, alternate a unilateral glute move, weak hip only, after every bilateral set. This will speed up the motor learning, and also provide a different kind of 2-to1 stimuli.
So for example, bilateral SQ, then unilateral single leg HT. Bilateral SQ, unilateral RDL with external rotation. Bilateral SQ, then single leg donkey kicks.
This way you are providing extra work for the target muscle, and also immediately taking that activation into a more symmetrical movement pattern on two legs. Win/win!
Thanks for the idea Derrick, will try that out. Currently no unilateral work on the routine and on cutting phase so that extra low load work would fit in perfectly.
Derrick, I love your idea of supersetting the unilateral and bilateral training. I can’t wait to try it!
What is unilateral Rdl with external rotation? I’m assuming single leg RDL but what are you rotating? Thanks
Is there a way to work out for yourself which glute is stronger and also which quad?
My training involves a lot of cycling, climbing and roller derby (roller skating sport on quad skates).
In the roller derby we predominantly skate in a counterclockwise direction putting most of the weight on the left side, providing speed. As a result. It is pretty clear that the right side is weaker as the skill skating clockwise weakens.
What are your thoughts!
Briony, I included some ideas in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E24Zs2r6W5g
Would you recommend myofascial release of the stronger glute, so that it “slows down” some to give the other a better chance of catching up?
“Glute imbalances *rear* their ugly heads” <— I see what you did there.
Anyway, really liked the article. I work with a ton of just generally imbalanced people but never really thought to consider whether one of their glutes may be pulling more of the weight than the other. Something I'm definitely going to start keeping an eye on. Thanks as always for the great insight!
Lol I i think you and I are the only ones who noticed :*)
Thanks for this article. I have a severe asymmetry between my glutes and have never seen an article addressing the issue. I’ve been told it might be due to my scoliosis but never told how to fix it. My problem is I don’t know which glute is the weaker one. Certain exercises feel better on one side where others feel stronger on the other. Have you noticed a pattern on whether it’s the smaller or larger glute that is weaker? I am so self conscious with this and would love to correct it. Thanks
I’ve just recently figured out I have a glute imbalance, and the reason why I thought I might have one is because during certain exercises (particularly donkey kicks) I could really feel my left glute burn when I was kicking with my left leg, but when I kicked with my right leg I could never feel the glute work/burn. Also, a day or so after tough leg workouts (squats, deadlifts, etc) I would only feel soreness in my left glute (the strong one) which meant it had been working harder than the right one.
A close look in the mirror will show that my weak glute is smaller than the stronger one and doesn’t stick out quite as much.
Here’s a link to an article that addresses several ways to fix glute imbalances. http://bretcontreras.com/how-to-fix-glute-imbalances/
I’ve been working on mine for a couple months and I still have a long way to go! Best of luck!
I’ve heard Gray Cook advocate for one extra set on the weaker side (seemingly regardless of the total number of sets). Here and in the ‘How to Fix Glute Imbalances,’ you recommend twice the volume for the weaker side.
Does the correct ratio depends on the severity of the individual’s imbalance? Perhaps a good approach might be to start off with a 2:1 ratio, and once the issue is resolved, maintain a 4:3 ratio to prevent recurrence?
I have a glute imbalance that I have not been able to correct after one year off single leg glute bridges on the weaker/smaller glute side.
Here is the strange thing, I will do single leg glute bridges on the weaker side and the other glute will get sore.
It could be due to muscle inhibition due to multiple sprained ankles or hip labral pathology. When their is a past injury the body will turn off muscles in order to protect the joint.
Perhaps the opposite glute isn’t fully flexed, when you’re working out your weaker side. You might want to make sure you’re bending it at the hip, not torso, so that glute can shut off.
Bret, I have the problem as well, and it stems from a torn labrum in the left hip (dx with mri with contrast) and FAI impingement, non-operable….and the left glute has suffered and instead the left quad does alot of the work…..so my right glute is stronger and my left quad stronger, like Matti above…i stopped squatting to failure for a long time and incorporated single leg elevated glute bridges and bulgarians….and high step ups….it really did the trick…..i also do step mill for cardio and REALLY focus on mind muscle connection while doing this to fire the left glute on every step….REALLY evened up nicely….GREAT POST….as an IFBB Figure pro symmetry is key. Most people struggle i think from lack of mind muscle connection and just going thru the motions during training. We need to wake up the sleepy glutes of the world 🙂 lol
I know cross section area is directly related to muscle strength but you ever thought the weaker side could be more developed? Reason being it’s working over time to catch the hip into int rotation/adduction (all be it quite poorly) as opposed to a functionally sound hip that controls load more efficiently.
In gait retraining research it appears that faulty arthokinematics of the hip are driven more by motor control and timing rather than strength deficits meaning the muscle may still produce appreciable force in isolation, but simply have issues with contracting at appropriate times?
A great content. That is a good way to improve a weaker side of the glutes or muscles. Adding an extra set works wonders : )
My glute imbalance comes from motherhood. I’m right handed. I carry my kids on my left hip so I can do stuff with my dominant arm. They are 27 and 30 lbs so it’s not inconsequential. The entire left side of my body is stronger tho, not just my glute. Something to consider (maybe?) when thinking about etiology.
Hi Bret! Congrats for your research i am a fan of your articles and science based advices! I have a question though. Since i started training with heavy weights and progressions i am noticing i have become bulkier and more square in my waist. Also i am starting having a tummy fat i did no have before :/ The difference from my prior training i dropped the 15 min cardio with sprints i did after each training session. I just swiched to heavy hip thrusts, deadlifts, squats and lateral abduction excersices 3 times a week and upper body and some few abs 1-2 times a week. I am on this program for more then 4 months allready. The thing is my glutes and the back curve got really amazing even with this extra fat, but am worried about my tummy and arms if i keep on going this way. i do have to change smth but i do not have time nor energy anymore after the heavy session. So should i regulate my calorie intake ( :((( ) or just replace the upper body sessions for cardio…. Please anyone some advice!!
You also need to correct the motor control, motor pattern problem. Go lighter on the weights, make sure equal weightbearing and square, centralized pelvis. If you just do extra sets on weaker side it doesn’t address the motor control problem. Also hips need to be centered and healthy. If you have a labral or joint issue the hip joint is compromised which will effect muscular balance. Just my thoughts.
Denise, did you see the second half of the article…perform bilateral movements symmetrically and stop shy of failure. This corrects the motor pattern problem. But you also have to restore hypertrophy on the atrophied side. So it’s a two-pronged approach. Agree about labral/joint issue but it’s not always the case, especially with women. Thanks for chiming in.
Bret, I have read about your exercises and my friend have too, but the problem is I have very little to no access to a gym, is there any way I can do these exercises in my own home, I noticed my right glute is bigger than my left glute and it’s noticeable.
Thanks for these great articles – a quick – and probably obvious question – if my left glute is firing harder than my right, IT is the stronger glute, correct? Thank you!
Brett, This is one of the most helpful articles you’ve written! I scoured the web to find information on asymmetrical imbalances and this is the first good information I’ve come across.
I have always felt my left glute firing off better than my right when I perform unilateral exercises. Sometimes I feel my right quad compensating slightly for the glute on exercises such as Bulgarian split squats, but I do still feel decent glute activation so I never worried about it too much. To complicate things more, several months ago I switched my focus from bodybuilding to powerlifting, and since this switch, essentially stopped doing unilateral exercises. However, recently during squats I experience pain in my left hip flexor and notice that my left hip flexor and glute is significantly tighter than my right side. After closely studying my squat videos, I found that my right knee typically wobbles or caves more significantly than my left knee, causing my weight to shift slightly to the left side. Consequently, I began performing some of these unilateral exercises again, and definitely notice even more of an imbalance than I previously had. My right glute feels just plain weak now compared to the left. So, quite apparently unilateral movements are an essential part of my training program.
I am going to try out the 2-1 method and shy away from squats near failure for a while. I’d love to see more content on the topic of asymmetrical imbalances, especially pertaining to heavy squatting and deadlifting (I notice it with sumo deadlifts as well), cues to fix it, etc. Additionally, would you recommend a similar program for fixing an upper body imbalance?
I don’t understand the 2-1 method does that mean at the end of a leg work out. I should perform for example one 2 reps of single leg glute bridges on my weaker leg and then one single leg glute bridge on my stronger leg and that’s it? Work out done, after all your other leg exercises.
Do you have any before & after pictures you could share?
My imbalance is huge as has been for approx 20 years due to having a hip socket constructed through surgery slightly higher than it should be. I am training to try and correct the muscle imbalance. It would be very motivational to see what kind of results can be achieved and how big a difference you are talking about correcting.
Right glute is more muscular and rounder and a great Rom with hip extension,feeling the intense burn in the glute .Whereas left one is smaller, lack of round appearance and during glute flexion,i feel my hams working rather than glute.I cant perform hip flexion very well .Left hams bigger than right but smaller glute development. During bilateral bridge even,i feel like my left hip is rotating towards weaker side.Would you say its tighter hip flexors or weaker glute med .Physios cant seem to adressnthe problem.Due to weaker left glute,more pressure on the femur hence patella pain.
Really love your articles and so much respect for you.
Thank you very much
My left glute sticks out much more and is bigger! But it is the weaker glute! So I really don’t know what to do as if I train the weaker one it mite get bigger again 😂
Hi Bret. I have one leg longer than the other(the left is longer than the right by just over an inch. obviously because of this i do get quite a bit of glute imbalance. how should i go about this?
What if when I do single leg bridges my right pelvic sinks. That could indicate a weak right glute however. When I do the bird dog the right hip stays inline and the left side is way more instable.
Could it just be that some of the glute imbalance could be core related. Since when I activate my transverse abs I do not sink down with the right hip when doing single leg bridges/hip thrusts.
This makes me wounder, can a person have a “side to side core/ab imbalance” why would the core on one side respond better than the other side.
I know I have a glute imbalance because it’s gotten so bad that you can see an abnormality in my left glute when I walk! Where the right glute is round, the left significantly divets in and my entire “cheek” takes on an abnormal look (I can send you a video of me from the side if that helps explain). Running/yoga tights are a no-go now. Will the 2-in-1 method help with something this dramatic? And how many times a week should this be done? I’m also in my second trimester, so load is limited. Prior to pregnancy I did many lunges, squats, thrusts, deadlifts, box jumps, etc. and nothing seems to “fix” it. Would greatly appreciate your take!
So I have had hip issues ever since I was young, 10-11 years old. I still was very active. I stopped being active when I moved as a teenager. Now 27 I have had 3 children and my left flute imbalance is pretty bad. It’s 2 inches higher than my right, and the booty and hip is thinner than the right. My hip also pops in and out. About 6 weeks ago I started working out, but only my right side gets sore or pretty much gains any muscle. This is getting to the point it’s affecting the rest of my body. I have seen a few doctors and they say the difference is significant but it’s very common and there’s not much you can do after 3 kids.. I found that very demotivating and I didn’t know what to do anymore. What would you say is my best option, last two weeks I’ve tried the 2-1 program, still nothing. Hips just kill me (bone wise). Should I up the reps for the left, should I try to bring a resistance band higher that my knees? I am just ruining out of hope on this situation.. I am only 128lbs, so it’s very easy to tell the imbalance and it’s very embarrassing. It’s spring coming up and with three kids, they love the water. I want to be able to actually where a swim suit not shorts this year.. Please help me..
“I palpated her glutes.”
Could u please show examples of exercises
When I used to only dance and didnt went to gym I had a great and a symmetrical butt. However after a couple years of going to the gym I noticed that my glutes were different sized. Other one was smaller and not as round as the other one. I went to see a physictherapist who told me that the smaller glute actually had the bigger muscle in it. Because I had quitted dancing I still continued going to the gym but as I trained the gluteus doing more sets on the other (bigger) side, they stayed the same. Still now, I like the bigger, smaller glute having side more. My question is, If I stop training my glutes will the other one which looks worse but has tjhe bigger muscle and less fat go back to what it was like before? Or is there any excercises I could do to bring back the roundness of the glute because the smaller one isn’t round on its side anymore. It would mean the world to me if you’d answer cause I’ve been havig this problem for a thousand years and it’s killing me to think that with training I have lost a really good butt and made it smaller and asymmetrical in all the ways.