I don’t want to waste anyone’s time so I’m going to dive right into things. Women want a nice butt. There’s no debating that. The conundrum for a woman now becomes, “how do I get a nice butt?” The answer is, “it depends on your body.”

Women come in all shapes and sizes. Most need to lose fat. Many need to gain muscle all over. Some need to gain muscle in certain places and avoid muscle gain in other places. Every woman is unique in this regard.

One problem that turns many women off to strength training is that many of the “great” glute exercises are also the best quad exercises. A simple bodyweight squat typically activates 70% MVC for the quads and only 20% MVC for the glutes in women. This is why most women feel squats only in their quads.

I’ve trained a whole lot of “skinny types.” The stronger you get these types of women, the better they look. Get them strong at squats and lunges and their butt and thighs keep looking better.

I’ve also trained a whole lot of “heavier types.” No matter how hard these women worked, their thighs always appeared a bit bulky. This is where the disconnect lies between trainers and clients. A trainer may know deep down that over time getting a woman strong at the most basic movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench press, bent over rows, chin ups, dips, and military press will serve her body very well. However, the worst thing you can do to an already-insecure female client who is self-conscious about how large her thighs are is prescribe a bunch of exercises that the woman feels working her quads. The second her jeans start fitting more snug in the thighs and she will want to quit working out.

Many trainers don’t really experience this phenomenon, simply because they are “conditioning-type” trainers. They don’t worry about loading the exercises and they stick mostly to bodyweight, band, med ball, dumbbell, kettlebell, and trx exercises. They simply move you from one exercises to another and try to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout. While this is good for fat loss, it’s usually not the best solution to developing a better butt.

A typical client has experienced severe gluteal atrophy due to inactivity over the years. Their rear-ends may appear large because they are loaded up with excess adipose tissue, but underneath all that fat there isn’t a whole lot of muscle. We need to whittle away the fat, which decreases hip width, while building muscular shape, which increases hip depth. That’s the secret to developing a nice set of buns.

Getting back to what I alluded to earlier, women don’t want to develop shapely glutes at the expense of simultaneously developing huge thighs. Can a typical woman’s thighs get too big from regular strength training? Again, it depends on the trainer/training. I come from a strength and conditioning background and am well-versed in bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic lifting. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her full squat up to 115-225 pounds if I pushed her. She could be performing walking lunges with 30-50 pound dumbbells as well. This may or may not lead to overdeveloped thighs, depending on the shape of the woman. Furthermore, it may or may not lead to great glutes. Some woman don’t get a lot of glute activation from squatting and lunging. Even though they exhibit what appears to be great form, they’re using mostly quads. Clearly we need to search for exercises that are more “hip-dominant” and less “quad-dominant.”

Are deadlifts the solution? Deadlifts may lead to a similar problem, albeit in a different area. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her deadlift up to 185-275 pounds if I pushed her. This may or may not lead to overdeveloped traps, depending on the shape of the woman. Deadlifts indeed work the glutes well, but they are also the best all-around back exercise and will lead to muscular growth from the neck down to the feet. Is there an exercise that is more specific to “what women want?” Enter the hip thrust.

Let me preface this by stating that squats, deadlifts, and lunges are amazing exercises. I’m not stating that women or trainers should avoid these amazing exercises. I’m simply stating that there comes a point where women may become “too strong” at these exercises and their strength will start to negatively impact their physiques. In contrast, a women can develop all the strength in the world at hip thrusts and it will only benefit her physique. The stronger she gets, the better her butt will look. A simple bodyweight hip thrust typically activates 40% MVC for the glutes in women while offering less quadricep activity and virtually no upper back activity. While squats and lunges may make the thighs too big and deadlifts may make the back too big, hip thrusts hone in on the butt region.

It’s very rare that a woman’s actual glute musculature become too bulky. Sure, we’ve all seen pictures of women with huge, round butts but usually all the matter/mass comes from a combination of fat and muscle. If we were to take a scalpel and carve away the fat, these women’s butts would likely look absolutely perfect; shapely and firmed. The problem with the typical “starve yourself and do tons of cardio” method is that you’ll lose weight and lose your butt along with it. Now you’re left with “No-ass-at-all,” a disease characterized by an uninterrupted flow of legs right up into the back with no bulge where the glute muscles should appear.

In all my years of experience as a trainer, I’ve seen several women whose quads started getting too big, several women whose backs started getting too big, and not a single woman whose glutes started getting too big. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her hip thrust up to 185-275 pounds if I pushed her. The best part about the hip thrust is that I don’t have to worry about the woman getting “too strong.” The stronger the thrust, the better the butt!

Obviously training needs to be very specific to the individual. Overweight women need to simply move around a lot using basic movement patterns so they can lose weight and eventually incorporate barbell movements into their arsenals including hip thrusts. On a side note, since overweight people weigh a lot, bodyweight hip thrusts are an excellent strength and conditioning exercise for these folks. Weak, tight women need to increase their hip mobility, core stability, and glute activation before attempting barbell hip thrusts or they’ll simply use their low back and hamstring muscles to move the weight and will end up doing more harm than good to their bodies.

However, I’ve had a ton of success with hip thrusts and if you start incorporating them into your routine, I believe that you can have huge success as well. Just make sure you start off with bodyweight and move up slowly over time. After you get the hang of bodyweight and can perform 3 sets of 20 repetitons, move up to the barbell. Make sure you place a pad around the barbell to minimize the pressure on the hips. Learn to develop an intense “mind-muscle connection” by contracting the glutes as hard as physically possible on each repetition. Always make sure you feel” the glutes doing the work. There are also many other great glute isolation exercises that can be employed that won’t work the quads or upper back, such as single leg hip thrusts, band quadruped donkey kicks, single leg back extensions, reverse hypers, and pull throughs.

If you are a woman, I recommend continuing with squats, lunges, and deadlifts, but keep an eye on the size of your quads and upper back. If muscle mass starts negatively impacting your physique, then stop going heavy on these exercises. Concurrently, start supplementing your routine with hip thrusts and some other targeted glute exercises for optimal glute development. If you do this, I believe that your glutes will be very appreciative.

22 Comments

  • Ron Crenshaw says:

    Bret,

    Instead of not going heavy in those exercises that bild up the quads or upper back, would it be a viable option to keep intensity up and drastically reduce the volume….perhaps something like 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with 3-5 minutes between sets (during which you can incorporate various filler/work on other areas to keep the down time between the other exercises productive)?

    While those parameters may apply more so to deadlifts or squats than lunges (although if load is properly selected, 3-5 reps of lunges is still feasible), they would seem to be decent maintenance guidelines that would work fairly well unless the woman expressed an actual desire to decrease her muscle mass in those areas. But to maintain without additional growth, those parameters might work, or perhaps I am smoking something!

    • Ron,

      Great question. We often hear that medium to high reps are best for hypertrophy while low reps are best for strength. However, the women who have to worry about getting too muscular (probably one in twenty women) get big from all rep ranges. So even if you go with low reps and long rest times in between sets, it’ll still be too much.

      Jessica Biel I’ve heard is like this, which is why she sticks to mostly sprints, plyos, and medicine ball drills.

      Of course, there are the occasional women who actually desire increased muscle mass as well as female athletes, with whom you would keep going heavy.

      Hope that helps!

      Bret

  • Mark says:

    Hey Bret,

    First of all thanks for all your glute insight on T-Muscle, the Strength Coach forums, and here on your blog. I’ve been having great success using the hip thrusts with my clients, but some can’t seem to get their hamstrings out of the movement and are having a difficult time getting their glutes to really fire properly. Any thoughts on how to reduce hamstring involvement and increase glute activation besides static stretching the hamstrings to inhibit them?

    Thanks!
    Mark

    • Thanks Mark!

      Absolutely! I have just the solution. Barbell glute bridges. I’m starting to freaking love these! I was never that big of a fan of them in comparison to hip thrusts but the shortened range of motion seems to help people focus more attention on the glutes.

      Of course, one needs to go through the normal process of teaching people how to flex their glutes in the first place (flexing, posing, loadless training, whatever you call it), opening up the hips via hip flexor stretches, and progressing gradually from easy exercises (glute activation, low load training, whatever you call it) like bodyweight glute bridges and clams to more difficult exercises.

      The barbell glute bridge has been amazing in this regard. Once my clients demonstrate proficiency in glute bridges, clams, bird dogs, side lying abductions, and quadruped hip extensions, I progress them to barbell glute bridges. I use a 45 lb bar with a Hampton thick bar pad and I simply instruct them to “move the weight with their glutes and feel everything in their butts.” This almost always does the trick, and most of my clients go hobbling off because their glutes are burning so bad.

      Moving up to the hip thrust too quickly is just too hard for most and they’ll end up using low back and or hamstrings and forgetting how to incorporate their glutes. By getting them used to the barbell glute bridge first, they can then move up to the hip thrust in time for a larger range, more total hip-extensor exercise that incorporates the hamstrings and glutes to a large degree.

      Also, have them push through the entire foot. While many advocate pushing through the heel with toes lifted up (I believe Verstegen, Cook, Boyle, etc.), Stuart McGill believes that having people push through the top of the foot will eliminate some hamstring contribution and activate more quad. I say just have them push through the whole foot and don’t cue the “push through the heel” if trying to eliminate hamstring dominance.

      Hope that helps!

  • Sally says:

    Hey Bret

    Great Blog and amazing articles, alot of people seem to read “the glute guy’s” articles these days. I have been doing some of your exercises trying to figure out which ones are the best for my case, and I need your help. I started doing squats and lunges a couple of months ago, had good results in the lower area of the glutes but still I need to add alot of size specially my upper gluteal area. After reading your articles I was amazed with the amount of quality information but I am still not sure what’s the best way to add size to my glutes overall with more emphasis on the upper part. I did glute bridges, quadruped hip extensions, bird dogs, and abductions for a week (activation phase) my mind-muscle connection became better but I just want to make sure that I am doing the right exercises to help me reach my target (more size and roundness in the upper area).
    I would really appreciate your valuable comment
    thanks

    • Sally, check out the charts on this blog:

      http://bretcontreras.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/glute-secrets/

      Just keep doing a lot of glute activation work before each workout (all the stuff you’re already doing) and then keep bumping up the weight or reps while you do the heavier, more challenging movements.

      It’s not just about going through the motions; you have to stick with it and get stronger while still using excellent form.

      I recommend sticking to the template I wrote about in the blog that I linked.

      Best of luck!

  • Tyciol says:

    This is a great advice and illustration.

  • Lindsey says:

    Hi Bret!
    I discovered your article on T-Nation a year ago and have been including hip thrusts into my workouts since then. My glutes have gotten so much stronger and bigger in a great way! I get some entertaining looks in the gym when people see the hip thrust.

    My question for you is what do you tell people who want to get their legs leaner while getting their butt bigger? When squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc are starting to make body parts disproportionate to the body because a client is too strong, where do you set the weight and rep ranges for those exercises? I understand that you go heavier with hip thrusts, but where do you draw the line at the other exercises? I appreciate your input!

    • Lindsey, what I do in this scenario is focus on the hip thrust and place squat, deadlift, and lunge strength on the backburner. We still do them, we just don’t focus on progressive overload and getting stronger over time. And, we mix it up a lot…different variations, rep ranges, etc. Hope that helps!

  • Brenda says:

    Hi Bret,
    I’m so late, but as I was navigating to find how to get better looking buttocks, this link came up,and I decided to check it out! I just have a simple question: do hip thrusts increase hip width?
    All help appreciated!!
    Thanks

  • donny says:

    Bret,

    love the work you do on here and i learn every week from you, i am after some direction to an article about how to train your partner i read over the xmas period on here but cant find it for the life of me.

    donny

  • What women really want is to lose their fat first of all, and just be a bit toned, but not overly toned.

  • Kally says:

    I have this problem….my quads are SO dominant that I absolutely cannot, no matter how hard I try to activate my glutes (even with mind-muscle connection) do squats, lunges, etc. without working my quads. I’ve been weight lifting for 4 months now and my quads have grown twice as fast as my glutes, leaving my legs looking ballooned out and bulky. I’m only 4’11” and 118lbs, so now my legs look even more short and stubby from when I started. Even when I do leg curls on a machine lying on my stomach I get quad activation. It’s SO frustrating and discouraging, I leave the gym nearly in tears every time. I am going to try out some of your suggestions…but I feel I am cursed with dominant quads.

  • Sarah says:

    OMG this is an article I have been trying to find all my life. My quads far outweigh my hamstrings and glutes. For the past couple of years, I have tried minimizing my squats and lunges and trying for more glute and hamstring focused exercises, but still no difference. I have read some of your other articles Bret and in the past 3 weeks, I have begun targeting the glutes 3 times a week and including lots of hip thrusters and single leg exercises as well (side note: I think I have a glute imbalance so I have been doing some extra work on the weaker side). My hope is that in a few months time, with a better diet and some more sprinting, I will see more glute and hamstring development that will nicely balance out the quads. I have found your website to be a wealth of knowledge that I was always on the lookout for and could never find. Thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!!

  • SoPhIe says:

    Unfortunately Hip Thrusts, as you also wrote in this article, dont work for me. I’m skinny and have muscles. My quads are strong while my gluteus is really weak. Therefore I think, that Hip Thrusts also dont assist me to form a better butt. Although I squeeze the butt, I feel mainly the hamstrings. So should I totally leave out weighted Hip Thrusts? I’m really frustrated, cause the most important thing for me, already at the beginning of this kind of sports, was to form at least a nice bootie.

  • Woodrow says:

    I don’t know what women want to see in the mirror, but I know that us men don’t mind thick quads at all. We like thick thighs so if the quads get built up along with the glutes, there’s no problem there. Thick thighs don’t make a woman look less feminine, so go ahead and build those quads up. However, a wider and more muscular back does make a woman look less feminine, so avoid building the back up too much. In other words, I think women should avoid dead lifting because it widens the back muscles around the waist. A more womanly body is one with a thinner waist and wider hips, so let’s not reduce that waist to hip ratio with dead lifts. Dead lifts are a manly exercise. Finally, I think that a woman with lots of fat around her flutes doesn’t have a problem where she needs to build the muscle up. A woman in that situation has plenty of junk in the trunk so she should focus on cardio to slim down her stomach region. Any fat she loses around her butt will usually not detract from her already round butt, however, she doesn’t need to build her flutes up to make it shaplier. If anything, she should just do stair masters or something to shape and tone that region while burning away her stomach fat. A skinny woman with a flat butt is the one who actually needs to focus on building her flutes up instead of just toning them.

    • JHS says:

      I think you should suck it.

      It’s one thing to say, “If a woman prefers to narrow her waist, she should avoid deadlifts.” It’s quite another to say women who deadlift don’t look feminine and they *should* stop deadlifting. Deadlifts aren’t a manly exercise; you think a farm wife never had to lift a bale of hay or a colt or a sick grandmother? Give me a break.

      And for what it’s worth, deadlifts upward of 240lb haven’t widened my waist at all. They (and C&J’s) *have* built up my traps beyond what I prefer, but I love deadlifts, and I love the functional strength it gives me, so oh well.

      -Female deadlifter

      • kry says:

        I think you were kind of harsh, he was only pointing out his own personal opinions on what he finds feminine or masculine, something that is actually not surprising at all and within the social construct of what most of us see to be masculine or feminine anyway. from the very beginning of the thread, the forum poster is talking about how a lot of girls don’t want to have this big masculine shape, and he was only pointing out some things that could aid in doing that. it won’t work for every woman however, doing stairmasters unfortunately has been a blessing and a curse, it did build my glutes but my leg genetics for building muscle is far more prominent, and so my quads are gigantic, they are always pumped up and even in pain sometimes. I can’t stand having large quads but hes only speaking from the male perspective, an opinion he’s entitled to.

        I need to desperately figure out a way to reduce my quad mass because i’m not doing it to please the opposite gender, i’m doing it for myself, lean muscle is the best aesthetically in my opinion I despise bulkiness

  • BETHANY ROSE SCHEFFER says:

    Great article.
    After reading many of your articles i decided to tone down how many days i work my quads and hams.
    I am 5″2 so when i squat heaps i tend to build thick thighs and lose the whole hourglass shape thing!
    I used to train a typical body-part split, being in the bodybuilding scene.
    But i got sick of this and keep coming back to full-body training.
    I am also currently training for my second powerlifting comp, i now train full body twice a week, so one day i focus on heavy bench, one day i focus on heavy squats or sumo deadlifts.
    On those days my other lower body training usually includes 2-5 of the following:
    Banded DB hip thrusts. (using the hardest pull up band wrapped around the safety inserts)
    Goblet squats, squeezing glutes at the top of each rep.
    Reverse lunges with front toes elevated as to engage glutes more.
    Cable pull-throughs.
    Weighted frog pumps.
    Reverse hyperextensions.
    One legged squats to progress to pistol squats.
    Pendulum lunges.

    I do glute isolation exercises at home 2-3 times per week and sometimes some upper or core isolation or body weight training depending on what my current goals are to build or strengthen.
    I love bands and light DB’s for this training.
    Thanks bret you have shown me i do not have to sacrifice my strength for glutes or my glutes for strength!

  • Marianela says:

    Hi, Bret! How many times a week do you recommend to do these hip thrusts, squats and lunges? I mean, which is the optimal recovery time for the butt to grow?

  • Stephani says:

    Hi Bret, I have seen many women who has a great glute development,but usually I see that many of them don’t grow their glutes,they are tonified and strong, but their glutes look a little bit small, so my question is: what can I do to grow my glutes? it is enough with increasing my hipthrust weight?

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