As a personal trainer, and as a person, I tend to stray from focussing on weight, body weight, losing weight, looking good etc. and focus more on performing well, being stronger, having a more functional body, and feeling good. I don’t weigh, measure or focus on anything body weight related. But I have a little secret. There is one body part that I like to work on, and I like working on it because I think it looks GOOD!! I am talking about the glutes (butt). So I can’t say that I don’t train for any aesthetic reasons, because I like a good butt!
The glute muscles (butt muscles) are some of the largest, most important muscles in the body. They are responsible for:
– Hip extension (climbing stairs, running, standing)
– Balance and stability during motion and standing still (one or two legs)
– Providing a strong stable foundation for the pelvis/hip region so that the lower back can be stable and protected.
– They are a crucial component to create a strong ‘core cylinder’ when training functional exercises (climbing, digging, throwing). Think of gardening, you squat, dig, twist, throw, all movements that require strong glutes to assist with the rotational movements of the core.
– They play a large role in posture. The glutes need to be slightly engaged to hold your hips into extension and upright. Lack of glutes will cause your pelvis to tilt anteriorly or posteriorly leaving your low back in a lordotic position, or a sway back position. Lower back pain anyone?!?!
– Creating power from the hip- sprinting, jumping
And they look good!! A strong butt isn’t going to be tiny! A strong butt looks great in your clothes, and has awesome functions from sport related activities to everyday life.
Why do many of us have flat/flabby/not functional butts? Sitting all day basically reminds our butt’s how to grow wider and lazier! Look at the position in the chair. The butt cheeks are splayed out, and don’t have to do any work throughout the day. They lose the ability to fire even when they are told to. Time to wake them up!!
So how can you build a strong butt in the gym?
Here are my 5 favourite exercises:
Check out this video for a detailed explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTYCBITD0nA
Once you perfect your form you need to add WEIGHT to this exercise. You can’t just squat your body weight forever and expect to grow any glute musculature! Here is how to do a barbell back squat:
- Secure the bar on the ‘shelf’ created on your upper back. The shelf is the soft part of your back, off of your neck, and above your shoulder blades.
- If you don’t have a barbell you could hold two dumbbells at shoulder height.
- Feet are slightly wider than hip width and toes are pointed out slightly.
- With all the weight in the heels, inhale and tightly engage your core, sit back and down.
- Ensure that you keep the bar over top of the midfoot as seen in the photo (like the deadlift), this will force you to keep your upper body tilted forward slightly for the low bar squat.
- On the way back up, drive the hips up first, and then squeeze the glutes to move the hips forward. You must squeeze the glutes or else the knees will cave inwards.
- When you gain proper ankle and hip mobility you should start to take your squat just below parallel (90 degrees), as this will ensure you activate the quadriceps and hamstring muscles equally, as well as the glutes. Squatting above parallel is a quad dominant squat.
- Photos below: (Right) Squeeze the glutes so that the knees do not cave inwards as seen in the second half of the photo. (Left) Showing an improper curve of the spine. You need to keep a perfectly flat spine from head to toe.
Great video resource: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZkGazuoVGM
- Learning the hip drive movement: Stand a foot away from a wall. Look straight ahead. Hinge at the hips and push your glutes back towards the wall. Then contract the glutes and squeeze the hips forward.
- The upper body movement: Draw the shoulders down and back. Contract the core, engage the back and keep the neck in neutral by looking down and a few feet in front of you. You can use a broomstick, as seen in the picture, to get the right back and hip position (everything should be flat and straight).
- To do the full motion with a barbell:
- – You want the barbell to be off the ground so that the bar runs along your mid shins to start the motion. This can be done by securing the appropriate height bumper plate, or by setting the bar on 2 stacks of risers, or using the safety bar in the squat rack to lift the bar off the ground..
- Your feet should be hip width apart, and the bar should be over top of the mid part of your foot. You then should lower your knees down so that the bar is making contact with mid shin.
- Grab the barbell a thumb length outside of the hip.
- Sit the hips back so that the shoulders are stacked over top of the bar vertically.
- Engage the core. Ensure the shoulders are rolled down and back. Widen and engage the chest. Look straight ahead.
- Inhale, set your strong core cylinder, ensure lats and glutes are engaged.
- Drive the heels into the ground and bring the hips forward and extend the knees after the weight has passed the knee joint. DO not shrug the shoulders up. Remember that the motion isn’t a pulling motion of the back, but a pushing motion from driving the heels into the floor and bringing the hips forward.
- Place the weight back down on the floor gently by hinging at the hips first until the weight has passed the knees, and then bending the knees.
Things to look out for:
- Watch that your shoulders and torso angle stay constant until the bar reaches knee height, and then the hips come forward.
- The bar should always be in contact with the legs as it travels up and down the body. If the body is too far in front you will end up hurting your back.
- When you lift, inhale and create tension throughout the core, and maintain this tension as you perform the movement. At the top of the movement release your breathe while maintain tension to lower down.
- Keep your back neutral, and your chest proud/wide.
- Squeeze the glutes to ensure your knees do not cave inwards.
- If you don’t have a barbell, you can perform the motion the same with dumbbells .
- Always keep your back flat and straight. The lifter in the picture to the bottom left has allowed his spine/back to round.
Here is a good resource for how to deadlift: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpbgoFSoWOI
Deadlifting is a seriously challenging exercise to do properly. I rarely see it done properly in the gym. Please don’t read this article and try a deadlift. Learn from a professional. You can seriously injure your back doing this exercise incorrectly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!
Hopping on a treadmill and doing interval training (anywhere from 20-60 seconds of fast sprinting followed by 10-40 seconds of recovery) is an amazing way to tax your core, hamstrings, and your glutes. When you run full out it’s a totally different muscle recruitment than when you jog. Jogging requires a lot of stabilizing, half ass muscle firing. You can’t sprint without having a super tight core, and maximal power generated from the hamstrings and glutes. Work your way up to doing some sprints a few times a week (if you are doing them right you won’t last more than 10 -15 minutes). Check out this sprinters butt (above)!! (Please don’t worry that you are going to grow your butt to that extreme, he’s an elite level athlete :)).
#4: Hip Thrusts
This next exercise can look a bit awkward and be a bit uncomfortable, but it is one of my favourites for glute activation because you absolutely can’t NOT use your glutes. When you squat and deadlift you can compensate and use poor form and you legs can take over from the movement. In the hip thrusts there is no possible way for you to get your hips up to full extension without engaging the glutes. This one is a burner!
1. Have your shoulder blades on a bench, with your legs off the bench and the weight on top of your hips. Your feet should be hip width apart, toes pointed out slightly.
At the bottom of the motion inhale and get your core tight. Without pushing back on the bench, instead send your hips straight up in the air by squeezing the glutes. Your shoulder blades should stay in the same position on the bench. Drop your hips down low (without sliding off the bench) and squeeze back up again by driving all parts of your heels into the ground. You should be able to squeeze so that your hips come all the way up to a flat line. At the top of your motion your shins should be parallel with the knees stacked over the ankles. Keep your butt engaged throughout the entire motion! Make sure that you don’t arch or cave your spine, your back should stay in a nice straight line.
#5: One leg bridges on the floor, or off the bench.
Single leg bridge on floor: Lay flat, with your foot a foot distance from your butt. Put one leg straight up in the air. Keep your hips even and level and try and engage the glute of the leg on the ground and lift your hips up into full extension. The problems I find with this exercise: People tend to jam their body up by arching their lower back, or using the hamstring. Avoid this by keeping a flat spine, tight core, and really feel your glute engage to lift you. Watch that your hips come up even. Also- if you are super tight in the quads or hip flexors you are going to have a hard time with this one- get those stretched out!
Single leg hip thrust off bench: Just like the two leg thrust, but this time you only use one leg. This is one of my favourites! Just like with the double leg hip thrust, make sure you spine stay’s flat and level, and don’t arch through your back or push back into the bench.
Those are the main 5…..
Some other ‘isolated’ exercises you may consider for glute training: These exercises should be in addition to the last 5. Without the last 5 you won’t get the functionality or definition you are looking for.
1) Back extension, or reverse hyper. (machine)
2) Glute kickbacks with the cable machine, single leg.
3) Single leg deadlifts.
I should warn you…. if you currently have a flat butt, a butt that lacks muscle, be ready…as you start to do these exercises a stronger butt may mean a different shaped butt, and a bigger butt! Don’t worry. Your pants may fit differently, and you might need new ones, but the functionality you are gaining is worth it!
I hope you got some good ideas from here that you can implement into your program. In terms of sets/reps etc. this depends one your current program. If you train 3 days a week in the gym, maybe throw 1-3 of these exercises into your current weekly program. Focus on low weight good form, high reps to start and then work your way up into heavier weight.
Need help? Don’t be shy!
Let’s wake those butts up!!