In 2011, the IFBB introduced Bikini competition as a professional sport. I would venture to say that this introduction not only changed the world of physique competitions but also female aesthetics worldwide. In this sport, they say that competitions are won from behind. Of course, by this, I mean by a world class pair of glutes. Females spend hours and countless sets training this area. What is amazing is that their training in this area has radiated to all sports. People are realizing the functional as well as aesthetic benefits of training the glutes. So how do you effectively build the glutes? This article will provide you with a step by step guide to a questions and answers format on exactly how to accomplish this! We start with the basic anatomy of this muscle group.
What is the Basic Anatomy and Function of the Gluteus Muscles?
The glutes are literally the largest muscle in the body. They originate along the lats, hip, spine, and insert on the upper and outer thigh bone (femur). The two main muscles of the glutes are the gluteus medius (outer glutes) and gluteus maximus. The gluteus medius takes the leg and lifts it out to the side as occurs when you do lateral band walks and use of the adductor machine. The gluteus maximus can be divided into the upper and lower glutes. The upper glutes have similar functions to the gluteus medius and they also externally rotate the leg (turn the leg so your toes are pointing out). The lower glutes are hip extensors such as occurs when you do hyperextensions and glute bridges.
What are the Actions of the Gluteus Muscles
Put an image here
How Heavy Should the Gluteus Muscles be Trained and Should More Time be Spent On the Upper or Lower Region?
The time you spend on the upper and lower gluteus is really an aesthetic issue. In general, the lower gluteus make up 60% of the muscle. Thus, you may want to structure at least 50-60% of the time working on extension type of activities, with the other activities focusing on lateral movements for the upper gluteus.
The weight that we use on gluteus will be based on the percentage of fast and slow twitch fibers that the muscle contains. The glutes are 50% fast and 50% slow twitch (Johnson et al. 1973). The muscle fibers have steep angles (can exert high forces), and are long (can contract rapidly). Thus, at least 50% of the time the glutes should be trained at heavy loads (60-80% 1RM). The other 50% we suggest using lighter loads (50% 1RM) to near failure. Plyometrics are also fantastic for these rapidly contracting fibers!
Where Does the Gluteus Work Best and How Can this be used in Training?
It turns out that the glutes work best near full extension (when you are close to standing up) and are weakest when the hips are flexed (when you are bent over). This means that you should select exercises which are HARDEST during the second half of the lift as you near full extension (Worrel et al. 2001). For example, a hyperextension is easiest during the first half and hardest on the second half. In contrast, a squat is hardest on the first half and easier on the second half. This means that squats are likely not the most ideal exercise for the glutes.
What is a Better Exercise for Gluteus Development? Squats or Hip Thrusts?
This is a great question. Take someone randomly out of the gym and ask them and they will inevitably say squats are the best gluteus exercises. However, research shows that combined hip extension with knee extension lowers activity in the glutes! This is another reason why squats may not be ideal compared to good mornings, stiff legged deadlifts, or glute bridges. In fact, a fairly recent study found that barbell hip thrusts are better for gluteus activation than squats (Contreras et al. 2015)! They also found that squats are a quad dominant exercise and not ideal for building the glutes!
How to Optimize Lunges for Glute Growth?
Lunges are hardest on the bottom of the movement and thus may not activate the glutes effectiveky. However, the stretching motion on the bottom causes likely the most muscle damage out of any exercise on the glutes. To optimize this muscle damaging response, we advise using longer steps on lunges as shorter steps will emphasize the quads more. Again, lunges are hardest on the bottom, and this is a problem since glutes function ideally at the top. So, what’s the solution? One solution is to use resistance bands while doing lunges as studies show this dramatically increases muscle activation of the glutes on the second half of the lift (Sundstrup et al. 2014).
What can I do during my warm up to increase glute activation?
One excellent technique is to pre-activate your glutes with isolation exercises. Studies show that using simple isolation exercises that enhance your mind muscle connection will recruit more glutes during compound movements latter on in the workout.
How Can Squats be a More Productive Glute Exercise?
Squats have 2 primary problems:
1. They are easiest at the top
2. They train individuals at the knee and hips at the same time
Squats are a great overall exercise for the lower body. What can we do to get some use out of them for the glutes?
The glutes are external rotators and abductors, so a wide stance and toes pointed out takes advantage of this when doing squats and leg press. Secondly, sitting back, as occurs during box squats, increases hip range of motion and torque.
How to Optimize Band Training for the Glutes?
Lateral Band walking is great for the upper glutes and gluteus medius! Research shows that placing the bands lower (around the ankles) and performing lateral steps in a squatting position, optimizes glute activation compared to standing more upright with bands higher on the legs (Cambridge et al. 2012).
The glutes are the largest muscle group in our bodies and deserve extensive attention. The upper glutes are best targeted with lateral movements, while the lower glutes are optimized with extension based movements. Train with an equal attention to heavy and lighter loads. Do not overemphasize the squats when training glutes. However, when you do use them take a wide stance and focus on moving at the hips. Finally, we recommend training the glutes at least 2 to 3 days a week for optimal results.