Instagram has jaded our perception of the importance of having well developed glute muscles and what it looks like to train your glutes proficiently.
Typically, the general population has an under-trained posterior chain. Posterior meaning the muscles along the back side of your body. Due to a lot of photoshoots and videos, it is not uncommon for a person to flex their butt upward to pose for photo, or move through their lower back as they squat. When someone falls into this category, and they are doing a squat, the load is carried by the quads and the spinal erectors. Compensation in your spinal erector muscles due to flexion (rounding) in the lower back is a common cause of back injury.
Have you ever experienced back pain after squatting?
Did the pain result in you having to take a break from squatting altogether?
We are led to believe that training our butts is all for vanity, to better our twerking, or to get more likes on our social media post with a “bend and snap boomerang”.
The butt is capable of amazing things. Don’t get cheeky with me now though, I am trying to emphasize that the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus are a powerhouse group of muscles which stabilize your pelvis to get it a into neutral position. This combination of muscles play a key role in all the movements that involve your hips.
Think about how many movements involve your hips…
So when you say,
“Well, doesn’t the squat recruit the quad muscles?”
Yes, it does recruit these muscles, but not exclusively. Using only the quads is never ideal for your body’s well being. It leads to fatigue in the wrong muscles and an increased likelihood of overall injury due to compensation in the muscles that were not designed to handle the load.
You may be familiar with the external cue of screwing your feet into the floor, and this is a cue that helps a great deal of people to find their best position in a squat.
If you continued to lift without screwing your feet into the floor your glutes would not be properly recruited and you would be doing a great deal of work with just your quad muscles. Once you fatigue, your spinal erectors would have to compensate if they weren’t already. This can result in back pain.
When your pelvis is in neutral position, it disengages your low back muscles. Essentially, when you feel the load in your back, it will typically translate to there being flexion or rounding in your low back. You want to avoid this. In order to do this we not only need a strong core, but we also need to have conditioned glute muscles. We get into neutral position through the recruitment of our glute muscles and brace our body in this position through abdominal bracing.
You have now removed the flexion from your lower back, you are braced for maximal support. The outcome is that the load will be carried not only your quad muscles, but also your hamstrings and glute muscles. This is the change that occurs when you can attain and maintain neutral position.
What are the best ways to train you glutes?
Let’s start off with this major rule.
Lighter weight on compound lifts = More muscle control
If you are doing a glute raise with a barbell for example, let’s try and lighten the weight. This allows you to control the movement. Instead of going so heavy, you are going to pause at the top of the lift, and slow down your descent. This will give you the intensity that you are aiming for but it will keep the excercise targetting the correct muscles.
Include hip abduction exercises
The hip abduction machine is not a novelty exercise, it is a beneficial part of a good exercise program.
Include a variety of exercises to fully develop your glutes
If your focus for the session is on training glutes, I’d recommend one of your first lifts being a heavier compound lift.
Remember, you always want a neutral pelvis, stacking your ribs above your hips. Try some squats, with a neutral pelvis, no flexion in your lower back and you will be training your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. If you were doing a back squat and holding the bar caused flexion in your lower back, try using safety squat bar. This enables you to perform the lift with a neutral spine in a case where you may not be able to access the required shoulder mobility. This just means you have less movement in your spin in the upper back.
You can also do a deadlift to recruit the glutes. For the deadlift, by attaining neutral position at the pelvis, bracing your core or external obliques and positioning your ribs in line with your hips, you are enabling your body to engage your glutes and hamstrings on the lift. Without lining everything up and staying braced, the load will fall onto the lower back. The lower back is not designed to handle this stress over an extended period of time. Since you are doing either of those as your first lift, choose a heavier load, something in the 5-8 rep range.
On your second glute focused exercise, you can try the abduction machine. You can alternatively do a split squat adding weight with dumbbells or kettle bells to allow the weight to be as neutral as possible, or you can do an romanian deadlift with dumbbells.
Always remember your body positioning is key in attaining the required muscle engagement.
The more neutral the load is, the easier it is to have a neutral pelvis and position your body so that the right muscles are engaged. For the split squat, lengthen out your stance and angle your pelvis forward keeping your leg angle parallel with your torso angle.
These cues will help eliminate flexion in your back and enable a better recruitment of your glutes and supporting muscles. For the romanian deadlift, a cue that works well is to engage your core. This can help flatten out your back but also get you into that neutral position. Whichever one of these you choose, do 3 sets of 10-12 with 3 reps left in the tank (we call this an RIR 3).
Your last glute recruitment exercise is less about load and more about activation and mind-muscle connection.
Here are 2 exercises to choose from:
- Lateral band walk
- Frog pumps (try adding a dumbbell at your hips)
For these you will perform high reps. You can even alternate in a circuit between the two.
Try 10 yards each way for lateral band walks followed by 15-30 reps of weighted frog pumps. Take a short 20-30 rest and perform 3 sets.
These are exercises that are not high risk to compensation of other muscle groups allowing you to basically either crank out a tonne of reps or go as much as you can until failure and it will cap off your posterior-focused training session well. Leaving you with a sense of completion and some valuable conditioning from the elevated heart rate.
Rinse and repeat, your posterior chain is on the road to glory.