Everybody and their dogs seem to be selling training programs to target glutes nowadays. Since it is supposedly the era of the Big Booty Craze (this must be new, since my mom doesn’t understand why anyone would want a bigger bum), there are people legitimately making a living off of teaching people the best ways to grow and shape the buttocks.
With no shortage of information pertaining glutes on the internet, I questioned whether this blog was worth writing because I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to copy the thousands of other trainers and capture clients with my prestige, secret knowledge on glutes. However, even with all the easily accessible information on glute training and glute activation, I struggled for years trying to grow my glutes with little to no success. Along the way, I was able to slowly connect the dots as to why my training was ineffective and only recently have I felt a great understanding as to how even the most stubborn glutes should be trained, ultimately debunking some of the popular methods and cues usually recommended by trainers and self-proclaimed glute experts.
Here are my top 3 tips for training glutes that aren’t often mentioned or talked about.
#1 – Fix your posture
Everyone realizes the importance of good form during exercise, but not many give thought into how their body is positioned the other 23 hours of the day. Between working at a desk, driving, watching tv, and eating meals, the average person spends significantly more of their waking hours seated than standing.
In addition to that, time spent standing is usually in compensated positions as a means of saving energy as well as a default posture due to muscle imbalances caused by the amount of time spent sitting. When seated, your hips are stuck in flexion – the position completely opposite to the primary function of the glutes (hip extension). Being static in this position with very little effort used to maintain, the muscles that are shortened (the anterior hip or, to put it simply, the hip flexors) can get used to that muscle length and, ultimately, become tight and stuck in that position. If the muscles on the front of your hip are short and tight, the opposing muscles on the backside of your hips (primarily the glutes and hamstrings) are put on stretch and unable to fire as efficiently.
Going into a training session in this state will likely cause your body to use compensation patterns to get the job done. In the case of sleepy glutes, usually the muscles that are ready to take over the job of the glutes are the lower back extensors since the lower spine segments are the next joints up from the hips. Not only won’t you be training your glutes as effectively, but you will be exasperating the extension and compression of your lower spine segments which can potentially lead to back problems down the road.
Running off of the extension and compression of the lower back, many people live in what is called Anterior Pelvic Tilt. Essentially, this just means your pelvis is tilted to the front which is coupled with excessive extension (arching) of the lower back. If your lower back is constantly in extension, the muscles in that region are working on overdrive to maintain that position. Now, if you go to deadlift a heavy weight with the muscles of the lower back already cranked on and ready to go, what muscles do you think are more likely to volunteer as tribute to lift the weight off of the floor? The glutes that are on stretch and essentially turned off or the lumbar extensors that are already on and ready to go?
To sum it up: sit less, learn how to release your anterior hip muscles (shown below) and strengthen the muscles that hold your pelvis and spine in neutral.
Anterior hip release
My favorite APT (anterior pelvic tilt) corrective exercises
Glider hamstring curls
#2 – Stop neglecting core stability training
Okay, so maybe your posture is fine and you don’t have anterior pelvic tilt. You set up for all of your sets with good position and alignment, but as soon as that load gets heavy or you become fatigued, you lose the alignment of your pelvis, spine and ribcage and dump into an excessive lower back arch or round into lower back flexion. I’ve been there. I knew what a bad squat, deadlift and hip thrust looked like and I knew how to set myself up to avoid those bad positions, but I couldn’t maintain it flawlessly. This is because my core was weak and instable and I did not know how to breathe and brace properly. As soon as fatigue hit or the load was relatively close to max, my torso crumbled like a piece of paper. It wasn’t until I took my stubborn pants off, stopped swearing that I hated training my abs, and regularly incorporated core stability drills in my training did I find that maintaining my position under fatigue or heavy load was much more feasible.
Back health aside, when your torso is strong and stable, the muscles of your limbs can contract to cause movement for effectively. If you can maintain a neutral spine and pelvis during deadlifts, squats and hip thrusts, you’ll no longer feel the glutes shut off and other muscles kick on to compensate as soon as you fatigue or the load gets heavy.
My favorite core stability exercises for better glute activation
Swiss ball roll-outs
Planking glider reaches
#3 – Fix your feet
It’s pretty uncommon to hear cueing of the feet at the gym. It’s likely one of the last things people are concerned about when they’re getting ready for a set. The reason this is unfortunate is because the feet are what ground you to the floor during most lower body exercises. Proper stability, strength and load placement of the feet will drive the best force transfer and muscle recruitment throughout your entire body, whether that be during a deadlift, a squat, an overhead press, walking, running or just in static standing posture.
The posterior chain (the muscles running along your backside) is recruited based on feedback from the floor through your feet. The idea that pushing through the heels causes better glute activation in common lower body exercises has been around for a while. You may feel your glutes that way, but overall, your posterior chain will function more optimally with your entire foot, especially your big toe, planted on the ground. Your center of gravity (what keeps you balanced) runs through the center of your foot arch. If you are driving pressure through your heels during squats, deadlifts, or other lower body exercises, your body will have to compensate by tilting your pelvis to the front (anterior pelvic tilt, as mentioned above) and leaning you forward in order to prevent yourself from falling backwards. If, instead, you keep your entire foot stable on the ground and consciously push through your entire foot during an exercise, you’ll be able to produce more force and maintain good alignment through the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Ultimately, you’ll be more likely to use optimal muscle recruitment (a.k.a., the glutes will do their jobs better).
It’s already pretty well known that doing hip thrusts, activating your glutes before a workout and eating carbs are contributors to a strong, round backside. However, I know I’m not the only person who has seemingly done everything right and reaped no “booty gains” in return. Some individuals’ glutes may grow more effortlessly and in spite of not following these tips, but for those of us with so-called stubborn glutes, some more attention to detail can go a long way.