As a continuation from last week’s tips, this week I’m sticking with the lower body and focusing on some ideas to help develop one of the biggest muscle groups in the body – the gluteals (butt muscles) or glutes for short.
Building a strong set of glutes will not only ensure you fill out those swim shorts on the beach, they also help to boost your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury.
Many of the lower body exercises commonly used in resistance training programs (squats, deadlifts, lunges etc) will incorporate the glutes to varying extents. The following suggestions all have an emphasis on maximising the contribution of the glutes during the exercise to optimise the gains for this area.
The barbell hip thrust
This can be considered the king of glute building exercises. Tension in the glutes can be felt throughout the whole movement and muscle activation has been found reach higher levels when compared to other glute focused exercises.
Set up sitting on the ground with your upper back resting against a bench so it runs long ways across your back. With your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, rest a barbell across your hips (use a pad on the bar for comfort). Push down with your feet with most of the pressure through the heels and drive your hips to the ceiling.
As you do so your upper back should pivot on the bench, resting on it at the top of the movement. Squeeze the glutes as you reach full hip extension and be mindful not to arch the lower back. Keep your eyeline towards the hips so your chin is close to the chest when the hips are up. Lower the hips down to the ground under control before repeating the next rep.
The cable pull-through
This is one of the more underrated glute exercises but it provides a great hit on the area when performed correctly. It maximally loads the hips closer to their extended position and as the body is working against forces that want to flex your hips, it’s a great back friendly way to work on your hip hinge pattern needed for exercises like deadlifts.
Set up a cable column so the pulley is about a foot from the floor. Using a rope attachment, stand facing away from the column with the cable between your legs and the end of the rope in each hand (your hands should be resting just on the inside of the upper thighs). Take a few steps out to put the cable on tension.
Keeping a straight back, sit back into your hips and bend the knees slightly until your upper body is parallel to the floor (this should feel like the cable is pulling you backwards and your weight is shifting into your heels). Next, drive your hips forward to come back to a standing position, squeezing the glutes hard as you get to full hip extension. You don’t need to pull with the arms just hold on and let the movement come from the hips.
The single leg hip thrust
This is basically the same movement and set up as the barbell hip thrust except there’s no barbell and you only use one leg at a time. Don’t let using just bodyweight fool into thinking this is an easy exercise, as soon as you go one leg the movement becomes much more challenging.
To make sure you keep good form, keep the heel down on the grounded leg and pull the free leg into your chest with your hands, holding it there during the set. This will make it harder to cheat range of motion by over extending your lower back.
This variation allows you to work on evening out any strength differences between your left and right side and because it tends to work best unloaded you can go for higher repetitions and use it towards the end of your workout.
If you struggle for time you can pair these exercises with the quad session from last week to build one workout, alternating between a quad and a glute exercise. Alternatively, if you have time to train more frequently you can do them as separate sessions. For the first two exercises, you can use the same rep and set scheme as previously shown:
Week 1 – 3×8 (72reps/session, 144reps/week), Week 2 – 3x 10 (90reps/session, 180reps/week), Week 3 – 3×12 (108reps/session, 216reps/week), Week 4 (deload week), 2×10 (60reps/session, 120reps/week). Then repeat the cycle for next 4 weeks aiming to add small increases to the weights used (don’t miss any reps though!). Aim to include these exercises into your training schedule twice each week.
For the single leg hip thrusts complete 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps at the end of your leg session.
Bonus Nutritional Tip
If maximising muscle growth is the goal then you can’t afford to be a carbophobe. Your body needs to be well fuelled to train hard so you can grow muscle. It’s not completely clear how much carbohydrate is needed to maximise exercise induced muscle growth but avoiding them will be to your detriment. A reasonable guide to start with is 3grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. Aim to consume mostly whole food sources from foods like vegetables, wild rice, lentils, quinoa and oats.