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The Glute Guy’s Secrets: The Art of Glute Building Part I – The First Session

By October 5, 2013January 8th, 2019Glute Training, Glutes

When I started up my blog, my goal was not to make the most money as possible. It was to positively impact the world of strength & conditioning to the greatest degree possible. This requires that I divulge all of my “secrets” and inform people exactly how I go about my business. In this article, I’m going to teach my fellow colleagues how I conduct my first session. This will be of great benefit to personal trainers, strength coaches, and clinicians. In part II, I’m going to tell you how the first training session informs the ongoing programming. In part III, I’ll teach you some practical tips to improve your performance.

As most of my readers know, I’ve worked with a lot of bikini and figure competitors. These are either local ladies or ladies who are in town on vacation and purchased a one-on-one session with me (I’ve been trying to limit these lately as I’ve been so swamped with the PhD and blog). These ladies’ wishes for their single sessions are to have me perfect their form and give them programming tips for optimal glute building purposes. Now, I also train a handful of clients regularly, and the first session with regular clients is similar to what I describe below except that it is more comprehensive to cover the upper body and the core.  I cannot tell you how incredibly important this first session is for the purposes of allowing individuals to realize their full glute building potential.

male glutes (2)

Before you read this article, however, you need to make sure you’ve first read THIS article which discusses the science of maximizing muscle growth. In particular, you need to understand the 3 primary mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy, know which two mechanisms are most important, and get an idea of how they interact with each other. Once you’ve read that article, please continue along and see how I conduct my first session with clients. Here’s how it goes:

Dynamic Warm-Up

This lasts around 5 minutes. I have clients perform something like the following:

  1. Rectus femoris stretch 1 x :30 sec
  2. Walking knee hugs 1 x 20
  3. Walking lunges 1 x 20
  4. Monster walks 1 x 20
  5. Single leg glute bridges 1 x 20

I tell them that if they have a particular drill they like to perform, such as leg swings, then they can surely throw it into the mix. Once the client is warm, I move on to the exercise-performance portion of the session.

monster walk

Barbell Glute Bridge Form

The first thing I do after the warm-up is figure out ideal bb glute bridge form. I try to figure this out in around 5 minutes. Keep in mind that my clients tend to be much more advanced than those of typical personal trainers or physical therapists. I typically don’t need to start off with bodyweight glute bridges as my clients are almost always well beyond that stage. Depending on the client, I may just use a barbell, or maybe 95 lbs, or perhaps 135 lbs if the client is very advanced, however the goal is not to max out or go to failure. I go light enough to where they’re using something they could do for 20 reps (but I don’t make them do 20 reps). I might have them do 5 reps with a variety of positions while asking them questions and poking glutes to feel the tension.

I tinker with the following variables:

  • Stance distance (feet normal distance away from butt versus feet closer versus feet further away)
  • Stance width and foot flare (narrow stance with feet straight versus wide stance with around 30 degree foot flare)
  • Lumbopelvic position (neutral lumbar spine & pelvis versus flexed lumbar spine and posterior pelvic tilt)

I wish I could tell you which position elicits maximal glute activity, but unfortunately this is impossible. It all depends on the individual. Some do better with a close and narrow stance with their feet straight and their lumbopelvic position in neutral, while others do best with their feet further out, a wider stance, more foot flare, and a flattened spine and posteriorly tilted pelvis (and everything in between). There are many ways to “properly” do an exercise, and the best technique for a particular individual typically has a lot to do with their unique anatomy and physiology. Once we’ve determined which variables allow the client to feel their glutes working best during glute bridges, we move on to hip thrusts.

Barbell Hip Thrust Form

After the bb glute bridges, I now move on to figuring out ideal bb hip thrust form. This takes around 5-10 minutes and is done in a similar fashion to how I tested bb glute bridges. I take a medium load and have them perform around 5 reps of a variety of styles of hip thrusts. I employ a bench with a 16” bench height and utilize either a Hampton thick bar pad or Airex Balance pad for bar padding. I will tinker with:

  • Stance distance (feet normal distance away from butt versus feet closer versus feet further away)
  • Stance width and foot flare (narrow stance with feet straight versus wide stance with around 30 degree foot flare)
  • Back hinge distance (hinging from upper back versus hinging from mid-back with elbows on bench)
  • Lumbopelvic position (neutral lumbar spine & pelvis versus flexed lumbar spine and posterior pelvic tilt)
  • Descent depth (touching plates to the floor versus stopping short)

Hip Thruster barbell band

The Hip Thruster is the best way to do the hip thrust – stable and versatile!

Once again, I can’t tell you the exact way that everyone should hip thrust. People are unique and you can tease more glute activity out of their bodies by tinkering with the variables and figuring out what works best for the individual. Some lifters prefer the American hip thrust, some the standard hip thrust, some with feet closer to their butt and some with feet further away, some with a wider stance and greater foot flare and some with a narrower stance and no foot flare, and some while stopping short and not touching the ground on each rep. I make sure to ask questions and poke the glutes while they’re exercising so I can help the clients figure out their ideal hip thrust form. Once we’ve done this, it’s time to optimize their loading.

True Hip Thrust Strength

Next up, I’ll hone in on their true hip thrust strength; which is typically not the same as what they’ve been doing in the gym. This factor is absolutely vital for maximal results! People need to push themselves and figure out their true strength levels on hip thrusts. I often look for around an 8RM (8-rep max). I should mention that 8 isn’t the “magical” number – it could be a 3RM, a 5RM, or a 10RM. I’m just trying to figure out what loads the client should be using with their sets. With programming, the main focuses are to ensure that clients are thoroughly activating their glutes and also engaging in progressive overload.

I’ve trained around ten different women in the past year who were using around 135 lbs for their 10-rep hip thrusts. After learning how to really wedge their bodies into the bench, screw their feet into the ground, breathe efficiently to pressurize their abdomens, and accelerate the properly, all of a sudden they’re able to go a lot heavier. In fact, I’ve trained a few ladies who were able to hip thrust 225 lbs for 10 reps on their first session even though they were only using 135 lbs in their own workouts. They just needed to build their confidence and perfect their technique.

I’ve had two clients who were able to put on 2” on their glutes in exactly one week simply because they weren’t going as heavy as they could on hip thrusts. One went from using 105 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps to 175 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps in a single week, while the other went from using 135 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps to 225 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps in a single week.

There is often some serious untapped potential in women’s glutes as many aren’t using the right loads and are inadvertently sandbagging their workouts. Since I’ve already determined their ideal hip thrust form and observed them using load, I can typically figure out in 2 sets (sometimes 3) their true hip thrust strength, which takes around 5 minutes.

Best Lateral Band Exercise

At this point, I determine their best lateral band exercise, which is usually either a band seated hip abduction or banded side lying clam. In some cases, a fire hydrant with ankle weights is optimal. This factor plays a much bigger role in glute development than most people imagine. For most individuals, lateral band exercises heavily activate the entire gluteal region; both upper and lower. If you don’t believe me, simply palpate the glutes while individuals perform these movements and feel how hard their glutes contract – the level of tension they develop can sometimes exceed that of what they produce during heavy compound exercises.

I will usually tinker around with three different exercises and determine via client feedback and palpation which activates their glutes the best: band seated hip abduction with a wide stance, band seated hip abduction with a narrow stance, and band side lying clams. Again, I wish I could tell you the exact formula as to which activated the glutes the best, but there isn’t one. Some individuals feel their glutes working best during the band clam, some during the band seated hip abduction with a narrower stance while moving their knees outside of their feet, and some with a wider stance while moving the knees from a valgus to a neutral position. Some like to sit upright, some lean forward, some rise up onto their toes, some remain flat-footed, and some place their hands on their glutes to reinforce the “mind-muscle connection.”  In working with people for 5 minutes I’m able to help them figure out their best lateral band exercise and the optimal way for them to perform the movement which allows them to express maximal gluteal activation.

Back Extension Form

Now we’re ready to determine their ideal back extension form. Back extensions are a tricky animal. Take 10 good lifters and 5 of them will tell you that back extensions fry their glutes while the other 5 will tell you that they feel them all in their hammies and low back. Sometimes with cueing I’m able to quickly convert the hamstring-dominant lifters to glute-dominant lifters, but this is not always the case.

Even when told to use the glutes to raise the torso, to drive the hips into the bench, to externally rotate the hips and rotate the feet outward against the foot pad, and to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine, some lifters still don’t use much glute during back extensions. In my experience, approximately 50% of lifters are great at activating their glutes at end-range hip extension (lockout) during straight legged hip extension such as back extensions, while the other 50% are lacking in this ability. It can be improved upon, but it takes time and doesn’t tend to happen overnight. Some of my other tricks involve supporting their torsos for them and telling them to get into a sort of “RKC plank” position with a big glute squeeze, then releasing their torsos and informing them that that is the position I want them to reach upon locking out each rep, along with poking the glutes to let them know where they should feel the contractions.

Back extension

I will take approximately 5 minutes to work with people to maximize their gluteal activation during back extensions by tinkering with form. No weight is used with back extensions during this time as I’m just trying to get them to use optimal form.

Squat Screening & Optimizing Mechanics

At this point, I’m ready to work on their squat mechanics. I test their box squat to see if they can keep vertical tibias and sit back in the squat. I also test their deep goblet squat and see if they have proper ankle dorsiflexion and see if they can keep the torso upright while sitting between the hips. I check to see if they push through their entire feet or if they tend to push through their toes, I look at when lumbopelvic position breaks down to determine their ideal depth, I watch the knees and see if they tend to cave, and I look at their facial expression to determine their level of comfort. I might break away and do quadruped rocking with varying stance widths to determine ideal squatting ROM, along with ankle and hip mobility testing. This usually takes around 10 minutes, and I’ll typically move onto a barbell and examine their back squat and front squat form.

Quadruped rocking

Deadlift Screening & Optimizing Mechanics

Finally, I test hip-hinging mechanics. I’ll give the client an empty barbell and ask them to show me how they deadlift from the top down. If they look good, I’ll load up some plates (bumper plates are ideal as they’re all of proper height) and ask them to deadlift from the bottom up. I usually have to teach them how to set up properly and how to skim the body with the bar, and to utilize proper eccentric form as well. I’ll test their active straight leg raise as well and see what sort of active hamstring flexibility they possess. Assuming they have proper hip flexion mobility, I can usually get clients deadlifting very well within 5 minutes. I’ll typically examine conventional and sumo deadlift form and also teach proper American deadlift form (giant glute squeeze).

active straight leg raise

Best Exercise for Tension

Throughout the training session, I’ll have been poking, prodding, and inquiring. This enables me to determine their best exercise for maximizing tension on the glutes. I would venture to guess that with 80% of lifters, it’s the hip thrust. However, there are indeed rare lifters who appear to get more tension and activation in their glutes with other exercises. For example, I know of one lifter that I tested whose glute EMG was maximized with the Bulgarian split squat. Out of approximately 15 people that have been extensively examined in terms of glute EMG and lower body exercises, she was the only lifter who had an axial exercise as the supreme glute activator (all other cases were anteroposterior exercises or lateral/rotary exercises). I haven’t tested a client that I’ve been training for the past couple of months in EMG, but I have a suspicion that the band seated abduction might rival her hip thrust glute activation and tension. Her glutes get so hard when performing them that it’s insane. Another client I train does not achieve high levels of tension on the glutes when performing the band seated hip abduction. As previously mentioned, some clients get tons of tension when performing back extensions, while others barely get any. Some elicit crazy levels of glute activation with band rotational exercises such as band hip rotations, whereas others feel virtually no tension in the glutes when they perform them.

Sure, lifters will learn to better incorporate their glutes over time into all exercises, but there are anatomical and physiological reasons why some lifters might activate the glutes better with one particular type of exercise than another, and it’s not the same for all lifters. When you talk to different lifters, you’ll hear them list different favorite exercises for various body parts, which indicates that everyone is unique. In fact, for the glutes, click HERE and HERE to see various female and male fitness experts’ favorite glute exercises.

Best Exercise for the Burn and/or Pump

Usually, lifters are also aware of what makes their glutes burn the most and gives their glutes the biggest pump. This is indicative of metabolic stress and is in my opinion the most underutilized mechanism in typical glute training programs around the world. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve trained who remarked to me, “I’ve never felt a burn in my glutes like that before.” In fact, many have never felt a deep glute burn or achieved a glute pump in all their years of training. In contrast, my clients achieve a crazy glute burn and glute pump EVERY SINGLE TIME they train. It’s not that hard; you just find the exercises and drills that best achieve these sensations and incorporate them into the training. Usually it’s a barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, single leg foot elevated hip thrust, back extension, band side lying clam, or band seated hip abduction. Lateral band walks typically fry the upper glutes but not the lower glutes. And band hip thrusts are probably the best possible thing for metabolic stress in the glutes for those who have purchased a hip thruster. Below showcases one of my most potent techniques for inducing a glute burn and pump: it’s a superset/dropset involving band seated abductions, double band hip thrusts, and band hip thrusts. A high rep set of constant tension hip thrusts works quite well too.

Best Exercise for Soreness

Usually, lifters are aware of what makes their glutes the sorest. For some it’s the reverse or walking lunge, for others it’s the Bulgarian split squat, for some it’s the full squat, and yet for others it’s the hip thrust. This is dependent on the individual, and is a fairly good representation of muscle damage. I make sure to include this exercise in the client’s programming, however, I often limit the volume in order to prevent excessive soreness and allow for continuous strength gains through frequent training. Muscle damage is the least important of the 3 mechanisms of hypertrophy (tension, metabolic stress, damage).



That wraps it up for part I of this article series. In part II, I will tell you how I build my programs based on the information I learned during the first session. I will also delve into special methods that I’ve gravitated towards and various tricks of the trade. In part III, I will discuss methods for making glute training more comfortable over the long haul. I hope you’ve gleaned some valuable information from this article. Happy Gluting my friends!


  • Brady says:

    Thanks a lot Bret! I’ve been watching and rewatching so many of your vids trying to figure out the proper setup parameters for many of the glute exercises and this article sums it all up nicely. Good work.

  • Iris says:

    Is the lady in the picture a figure competitor? I am asking to figure out the amount of dedication you need for looking that awesome!

  • August says:

    Hey Bret, just read pretty much all your articles and they’re all bad-ASS. (I’m pretty sure you get that alot.) But man, write an article about speed training already! I’m a sprinter and I know glutes are one of the most powerful things you need for speed. Keep up the great work!

  • Kla says:

    I am curious as to why she left the band around knees on first set of hip thrusters? Great post as always!

    • Bret says:

      Just to add a bit more upper glute activation. Might be redundant but the girls sure report incredible burning when they do this.

      • Nick M says:

        Another trainer suggested to me once to put a band around the knees during hip thrusts, only about two weeks ago lol. What a coincidence you put that up.

        Isn’t it adding greater demand to the glutes due to resisting the knees collapsing inward through the movement?

      • Brady says:

        Bret, I’m actually really happy someone mentioned this. I follow a few people who are RTS (Resistance Training Specialists) and they talk about how you can place emphasis in your muscles by constantly trying to employ force in multiple directions in a lift. It’s a little weird and hard to understand at first when they explain it, but for example, when bench pressing, when gripping the bar and actually in the motion of pressing, if you try to pull your hands together (not actually move them, but try to literally pull them together) you feel your chest contract in a way i’ve never felt before. The opposite can be applied to back exercises. If you grip the bar when doing a row or pull, if you try to pull the bar apart your lats contract in a way you’ve probably never felt before. One of the pro bodybuilders does this and he mentioned how he went from 4 plates on a side for rows and had to drop down to 1 plate a side (405 > 135lb) because his lats had never activated like that before. I had always wondered how this could be used for glutes and it seems like with the bands its accomplishing the same effect. Does it cause more EMG activity, or is it enhancing the mind muscle connection for people, or is there even any actual benefit to this or a chance you could be setting yourself up for a glute injury if overdone?

  • giovanna says:

    Great information! Look forward to next installments. You mentioned that some of your clients gained two inches in their glutes….I cannot afford to add size to mine. They are already considered round and I tend to develop in that area. I want to firm and lift. What is reccomended? More reps/lighter load? Thanks!

  • Chris B. says:

    I get an insane glute pump when I combine my lighter glute exercises with occlusion around the upper thighs.

  • Jake S says:

    Love all your articles Bret. I also can’t wait to read your ideas on sprint training. I work with bmx racers and lately we have incorporated hip thrusts as one of our main lifts as a way to build strength and power for the start of the race.

  • maureen says:

    Great article..Looking forward to Part Two…I am sure that we are all wishing for the same thing… a session with BC…..If only life was fair….but you do the next best thing…You educate us in all things Glute

  • Myles says:

    Hi Bret.
    Nathalia Melo trains her glutes 7 days a week, and you’ve previously stated that recovery is over-rated and recommend trading glutes more than the standard twice weekly. What is the optimal interval between workouts for hypertrophy? Is it different for different muscles? Thanks!
    P.s. What was the bottom line on the paper using DOMS as an assessment of workout quality?

    • Myles says:

      Er, that should read “training glutes”, not “trading glutes”, although I’m sure a lot of people would trade glutes with Nathalia!

  • Tom says:

    Hi Bret,
    I’ve seen on another post that for those who, like me, get a very slight “tight” feeling in the lumbar erectors when hip thrusting with hip hyperextension and neutral spine/pelvis, you recommend the PPTHT. Have you seen this disappear via the PPTHT or anterior core strengthening or other methods – I want to be able to do the HT with hyperextension as it’s more specific to sprinting (my sport).
    Thanks so much! Great post as always!

  • Mary Kate says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I take notes when I read your articles and learn so much! I got SC last week and will be trying it out on a client (and myself) later this week. We are excited to grow some glutes!

  • Anthony says:

    Hi Bret, great stuff here. One question about the hip thrust. You mention the need for the person to keep a neutral lumbar spine, but you also mention individual differences between people. Would you advise a slight posterior tilt for the person who can’t keep their spine neutral and ends up arching all the time? It seems that posterior tilt would increase glute activation as well, but it does put the spine in an unfavourable position… Tough call, I just wanted your opinion on that.

    • Bret says:

      I think you spelled it out nicely Anthony. Some of my lifters hyperextend and have no trouble with it year in and year out, and they feel hip thrusts all in their glutes even though they’re in a bit of extension. Others do this and feel it all in their back. Those lifters need to learn how to be more neutral and benefit from learning the PPT style. However, you don’t want their lumbar spine to flex much, so you cue the PPT via a giant glute squeeze and you start out with bodyweight and light loads, taking time to work up to heavier weights. Over time these folks can learn how to hip thrust in neutral by bracing the core, but you’re right it’s all a judgment call.

  • Sam says:

    I am compeletly confused, Tons of data. Even the ebook is worse.

  • Antinatter says:

    What’s this about “upper” and “lower” glutes? Aren’t they one muscle or are the upper and lower parts innervated differently? Which part of the glutes do single-leg DLs activate?

  • Sir Dean says:

    Great! Thanks!

  • Laurie Schaeffer says:

    This will sound crazy…but, those old fire hydrant exercises on all fours…they work for me. I have a dvd beach body slim in 6 where the lady does almost 4 mins per one leg…kills my glutes. So does doing backward speed skater move up hill. Simple but crazy. One legged body weight hip thrust are intense. Back ext bother my low back. My farvorite glute exercise in weighted glute bridges, just feel right for me. Thanks for all your ideas and thoughts. Love your work!

  • Carisa says:

    I am going to need to get one of these training sessions!!

  • Monica Perry says:

    Your program seems effective for people who want to improve their backside. However, if you were genetically born with a flat backside and square hips … can this program work?

  • sarah says:

    Loved the article! I was wondering though, Ive been doing the strong curves program and i feel like when i do hip thrusts/bridges/etc and put my all into them i feel like Im very lacking in my squats/quad dominant exercises when i do them after. Is it a good idea to do thrusts/bridges some days and do squat/quad exercises on a seperate days? (of course still doing hamstrings as well) Or maybe just rest more between sets? Any help would be very appreciated (:

  • Alexandra says:

    Hi Bret. I have a stupid question about the hip thrust. I use a short barbell with only 30 kg for the moment, how can I carry the barbell and the weights without hurting my back? (I mean when I’m seated) I sometimes use a bigger one with more weight, it’s easier of course, it’s going above my thighs but the smaller doesn’t, the weights are too small. I can’t use the bigger one because I don’t always have the space at the gym. And by the way I’m the only one to make this exercise and everybody is looking at me admiringly.. they are surprised that a woman is able to do glutes are getting stronger .. thats one of my goals.. thanks

  • rob abeyta says:

    Bret, came across you site and it is amazing…would love to see something on gluteal tendinopathy (acute phase/ post pain) in terms of your thoughts on rehab. There are so many schools of thought, little real research, and so many clinging to the old fashioned bursitis diagnosis. Any thoughts on rehab from your point of view ??
    Rob Abeyta MD

  • Jon Contos says:

    Great post you give such wonderful information,would you recommend
    at 60 doing this stuff!

  • La Tasha A says:

    Bret when I first found you I was desperate, I emailed you asking for advice because I had all the sudden started walking 4-5 miles daily and dropped weight fast. My husband who used to complain I was to big, now started saying you completely lost your butt, and to much weight, now I do have to say though it wasn’t muscle it was just big. So I went on a search found ” the glute guy, saw the picture of the girls and thought thats what I want, round teardrop bottom.I wanted one that sits up and is firm and round, so I emailed you asked you for advice and you encouraged me, that walking didn’t make me lose my butt, but I lost the fat, I simply needed to start building the muscle. So I followed you like a groupy that was obsessed, I hit it hard, I started with nothing simple no weights, just add butt exercises to my walking, and am now proud to say I am in a gym using heavy weight, however am limited to some exercises because of a bad car accident I shattering all of the cartilage in my right knee, and shifted disk in my lower back, this is very frustrating because deadlifts, single leg lunges on smith machine are out of the question -.-. None the less I don’t let it slow down my progress, I persevere and do what my body allows me to even pushing through the pain in some exercises, my husband LOOOOOVVVEEEESSS my butt, he couldn’t be happier, my workout partner is now hooked on your site as well. She wants my butt, I want her waist. Anyway I simply hadn’t had the time butt 😉 I wanted to thank you so much, you have been a hugh inspiration in my workouts, and I am always watching for new videos. I can’t send you my undies pictures, but I will be buying a bikini soon and sending you pictures. I hope you like what I have accomplished, you gave me the instructions and now I have a butt I have only dreamt of having. I can’t wait for summer. I will be sending you pictures soon. Once again thank you so much for being so kind, for guidance when I needed it most and for being such a caring person. Your the best and yes you should proudly post pictures and label them “butts by Bret” this is your baby and nobody, and I mean nobody as long as the other part is ok with it should tell you how to run it. Thankfully yours La Tasha

  • Ryan Wagner says:

    Great cues for the back extension form. I have a very difficult time activating my glutes and so I have thought that back extensions just plain don’t work for me! I’ll keep at it, thanks!

  • Loreen says:

    Hi bret,

    great article!

    My problem is my upper butt. I feel a little bit of muscle there but not much. When I perform exercises like glute cable kickbacks, donkey kickback in the lying leg curl and also the quadruped hip extension I feel my hams and lower back work really hard but my glutes not so much. I do have an anterior pelvic tilt, so maybe that explains a lot.

    De bodyweight excersises (fire hydrants, kickbacks) work well for a nice burn in the upper glutes, but I can do many reps (over 40 reps), so I was looking for some more resistence .

    Hip thrust work great (I perform them at 15 reps 154 lbs with a good squeeze at the top), but I feel more lower glutes.

    Walking lunges and the incline legpress cause the most muscle soreness. When I don’t incoporate these excersises in my training I don’t feel anything in my glutes the next days.

    Do you have got some tips for me to grow some more upper glute without killing my lower back?

    Thanks a lot!


  • AnonymusDude says:

    Hey so I’m wondering, if I’ve been doing low squats, with semi-wide feet, and also, a leg press variation which blasts it a lot harder than the squats (shown here at 0:15 in the video… I’m liking my development in the glutes, and the shape etc, but I’m wondering what will the difference in glute shape development if I replace that leg press variation with hip thrusts? Here’s a few pics of me just for reference, and perhaps better explanation of how hip thrusts will affect my glute development.

  • Prakriti says:

    Great Article Bret!! I learnt so much from this artcile!! I love reading it!!

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