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?


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!


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


  • Michelle says:

    Bret, I definitely feel Maria’s pain-literally! What really resonates with me about this article is the last paragraph. After six months of agonizing sacrum pain, I broke down and went to physical therapy to figure out what was going on. Turns out, like Maria (and probably most women), I am quad dominant with an anterior pelvic tilt, tight hip flexors, etc. I never realized that when doing various types of lunges and squats my quads were doing the majority of the work. My trainer watched my form like a hawk, but the pain persisted. He even tried to incorporate glute bridge variations into my legs routine, but my lower back would always hurt which had both of us scratching our heads. Currently my physical therapist has me doing almost everything you mentioned in your last paragraph as sets of isometric holds using my body weight or very light weights. I was skeptical at first, but my booty has never been this sore and my back pain is almost gone! Excellent article!

  • BCC says:

    This is really good advice, and I suspect this is a problem that plagues many of us. I’ve never had an issue with my legs getting too big, but my glutes have proven to be stubborn and lazy. I have to train them AT THE START (first thing) of my workout otherwise they will NOT stay engaged. Makes me crazy! It’s like every other muscle in my body takes over and my glutes are useless. I’ve also had success with training my glutes between 5-7 times/weekly. I shoot for a little bit every day.

  • David says:

    Hi. How would you go about building strenght for lifting the knee or leg? When i lift my leg i feel that the glutes don’t work much. My left glute is doing much more than the right however. Might have some imbalance in there but still the left glute is still very weak i think.
    What are the exercises that buil the most strenght for this movement?

  • Jeff says:

    The link titles work really well in the post.

  • torrentfreak says:

    I’m a guy and I always prioritize my glute training. I have short legs which makes them look bigger than they really are so leg training is always after glutes. I have trained them 5 days a week before with good results. Don’t give up, I used to have small glutes and my super narrow hips leaves me at a genetic disadvantage but I’ve had plenty of women comment on my glutes the last couple of years.

  • Heather says:

    Hi Bret,

    I just have to say I stumbled upon your website by googling ” how to firm up my butt without growing legs” and enjoyed the post about that topic. I have been “binge reading” your site whenever and wherever i can. i love all the articles! So informative and I appreciate your enthusiasm for a good booty. 🙂 since hearing about the “hip thrust” and weighted bridges I have done them 2 times in the gym thus far and definitely feel the burn! I have never been unsatisfied with my own bum but i do know that it can be bigger, firmer and rounder toward the “shelf” portion. I also carry all my weight in my thighs and stomach… so its easy for me to gain and lose weight in those places when i work out but muscle is different isnt it? I weigh 120 lbs and can only bench about 50 lbs although never tried to increase because i dont have a spotter:) But what is a good weight to begin with for hip thrusting to get max results. I was using a smaller barbell of 40lbs. Does using more weight equate to faster gains….? i want results now! anyway… I am going to stick with it and buy one of your programs. Myself and my boyfriend thank you in advance!

  • Great response Bret! I would add that if you look at these same trainers programs that they write and sell to their clients they will be of the “cookie cutter” version where they apply the same training program to everyone. This is pure ignorance (meaning not knowing any better) and robbery of clients money! Can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a gym to see someone with a paper in their hands that they copied off of bodybuilding.com and they commence to performing the same workout that was designed or written for someone else that may or may not have different goals, different weaknesses, different strengths, different anatomy, unknown injury history, and on and on! Makes me cringe every time! Keep up the great work Bret!!! Thanks for all you do and share!!!

  • Randy says:

    Bret- I am looking to not make mistakes. I am looking for an enhanced size glute with a concave loin-very male looking-NOT the very female looking Brazialian lifted female glutes that I see in the photos of your femal;e clients. ( I find them great to look at -just not on me.) There are males who are following that training plan who are ending up with that very female look. What training regimen do you recommend for males ?

  • Amy says:

    When I have clients that say what this woman is saying–that glute work is mainly felt in the hamstrings–I usually take a moment to have them sit on a softball and roll out the glutes/hams and try again. All the mental work in the world won’t add up if something is tight and stealing the work from the intended muscles, right? We can cheat our way through almost any exercise.

  • dina says:

    Hi bret, could u please reply to this message. I have been doing squats for almost a year with weights and i see a difference when im doing them but after an hour or less my bum shrinks down flat, i thought over time my bum would get bigger and stay bigger after i exercise as the muscle rips but it keeps shrinking quick. I want my bum much bigger then it is now and im getting really frustrated. Im thinking about doing hip thrusts but do they make your hips smaller? Or legs smaller? And do you have any suggestions on how to get a much bigger bum? Thanks 🙂

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