At a recent family function, I was having a conversation with my 12 year old cousin, my brother, and his girlfriend. At some point in the conversation, my logic train took me to “Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt.” I was surprised that the first response was “Tunechi!”, from the 12 year old. Excuse me? Apparently, that’s the line from
the worst song ever, The Motto, which I’ve ranted about before. Apparently, crappy music has caught up to the Google search engine:
I quickly understood why jaded old folk look at today’s youth and reflect on better days. We quickly clarified to her that anyone born before 1990 knows that Sir Mix-A-Lot should get pop-culture credit for what may be the anthem for well developed glutes, “Baby Got Back”. Then, my brother’s girlfriend proceed to rap in a restaurant for at least two minutes. She’s pretty legit:
In a 1992 interview, Sir Mix-A-Lot remarked, “The song doesn’t just say I like large butts, you know? The song is talking about women who damn near kill themselves to try to look like these beanpole models that you see in Vogue magazine.” The fitness and fashion industries missed this message, and over the past 20 years the national waistline has expanded while the cut of jeans has shrunk; what’s going on? I think we need bigger butts and smaller guts.
For a while, we’ve had ‘tried-and-true’ basics for developing a strong lower body; you know I love me some squats and deadlifts. Thankfully, there are great exercise physiologists and trainers who are tinkering with their tushes, and experimenting with effective strategies to develop your diminutive derriere. Glorious glutes aren’t gender specific; everyone can benefit from a rounder rump. During today’s post, I’ll discuss some strategies for the ladies looking to step up the game with their posterior chain.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss glute training without reference the work of Bret Contreras. Bret’s known as “The Glute Guy” for good reason; he’s spent thousands of hours researching glute function and training strategies, and is currently working on his PhD. Not only is he ridiculously smart, but he does a fantastic job of translating his scientific knowledge into practical application. Many of these exercises were either invented, influenced, or popularized because of his work. Bret has given us the present of prosperous posteriors.
Thanks to Bret’s EMG research, we know that many of the top glute exercises take place in the anteroposterior or axial load vectors, and emphasize hip extension and/or hip range of motion. An exercise that takes place in the anteroposterior load vector means you’re moving a weight away from your hips. Typically we see these exercises being the most challenging at the top of of the range of motion, when your hips are fully extended. Examples of this include the glute bridge, hip thrust, kettlebell swing, and pull through. Here’s an example of Marianne Kane doing a hip thrust variation:
Exercises that are axially loaded, through the spine, are usually more popular in most gyms. The glutes are challenged more when the hips are flexed during these exercises than at extension, and examples include conventional/sumo deadlifts, box squats, full squats, and split-squat/lunge combinations. When you begin to consider variations from each load vector, and look at bilateral and unilateral options, it can get pretty confusing. It’s hard to tell which exercises are the ‘best’, because we each have different bio mechanics and preferences. However, let me share with you my personal favorites, along with specific reasoning behind why I recommend each exercise.
Look, I love me some deadlifts, right? They tax the posterior chain, and are badass as hell. In this case, badass translates to goodass. The glutes are responsible for hip extension, external rotation, and abduction: Essentially the lockout position of the sumo deadlift. The glutes typically get to take it easy at the top of a deadlift, but I find that pulling sumo stance lets more folks better contract their glutes at the top of the movement. If we consider that ‘badass’ factor, anyone that’s picked up heavy weight off the floor will tell you that it’s empowering; you’ll develop confidence to back up that butt. Here’s a video of one of Bret’s clients pulling sumo stance:
ValSlide Reverse Lunge / Deficit Reverse Lunge
Reverse lunges emphasize the posterior chain more so than split squats or forward lunges, because of the eccentric muscle action of the hamstrings and glutes. Standing on a step or riser allows you to increase the range of motion, which increases the difficulty (and effectiveness) of the exercise. Completing the exercise with ValSlides makes it more challenging, and I find that they tax the core in addition to the trailing leg hip flexor. I’ve heard Mike Boyle refer to the ValSlide reverse lunge as the best exercise if you could only choose one for your lower body, and I agree. You can move through a large range of motion, and will use relatively lighter loads; this may be a selling point if you know people who are scared of ‘heavy’ weights. Here’s a video of Jen Grasso banging out some bodyweight ValSlide Reverse Lunges:
Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is Bret’s baby, and it’s becoming popular with those looking for athletic and aesthetic goals. If you want to look better and perform better, this one’s for you. It’s rather simple: Find a box or bench to rest your back on, roll a barbell over your lap, line up with your hips, and use your glutes to pull yourself into a straight line. Bret’s done a ton of writing and videos about it, and I’d suggest you watch his Hip Thrust Instructional Video. (Nick Horton has a good one HERE as well.) The hip thrust is the big lift when it comes to anteroposterior glute training, and strong glutes allow people to move some serious weight. Below, you’ll see female powerlifter Christine Beauchamp hip thrust 225lbs for sets of 11 and 15:
Single Leg Glute Bridge
I like the single leg glute bridge for a multitude of reasons, and it’s likely my favorite unilateral anteroposterior movement. The asymmetrical movement helps develop rotary stability in the trunk and hip musculature, which is important for performance and aesthetics. When you flex the non-working leg at the hip, the trunk works harder, and the working leg can produce better hip extension. This exercise is too good for you to miss out on. Here’s another video of Jen Grasso, this time with the single leg glute bridge:
45˚ Back Extension
The 45˚ Back Extension is underrated in the league of ‘bad ass’ trainers and athletes, considered the bastardized cousin of the Glute Ham Raise, and less functional than the Romanian deadlift. Fortunately, the 45˚ Back extension is pretty good, and I like it because it let’s almost everybody do dedicated glute work. It would be lovely if everyone understood the importance of getting strong with the ‘big’ lifts (including hip thrusts), but there are people who are just too uncomfortable to train. Instead of neglecting this population, we should speak their language, and provide an exercise that facilitates their glute training. The 45˚ Back Extension is that exercise!
In the video below, you’ll see Nia Shanks performing a back extension while holding a dumbbell. Please note that she’s moving from her hips and not her lower back:
Kettlebell use is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s because they work: when used correctly. Swings are great for developing hip-extension power and as a conditioning tool, but most folks are too eager to use them without focusing on technique. Most people typically perform a half-squat/front raise combo instead of a truehip hinge. It’s still demanding, yes, but it doesn’t put the emphasis on the hips. Once you’ve learned the pattern, it’s a beautiful blend of powerful and grace. Here’s a video of Neghar Fanooni doing “roundabout” swings with a 24kg (52.8lb) bell:
Hill Sprints are one of the greatest exercises you can do for torching body fat, and that’s important since we’re thinking about building a better butt. Excess body fat can prevent you from reaching aesthetic and performance goals, so these are great to use for a finisher at the end of a workout, or in a conditioning workout on your own. The incline of the hill helps you practice proper technique while reducing impact forces, but they’re still very taxing. Find a long steep hill near where you train, and sprint up it as fast as you possibly can. I like to keep these sessions between 5-15 minutes depending on the distance and your recovery intervals. You can use this soap when you’re done:
Glorious glutes are rarely a gift; they require hard training, intelligent training. Proper exercise selection is key if your goal is a respectable rump, and the aforementioned exercises should take you a long way. Ultimately, it comes down to proper nutrition, program design, and recovery; Eat your meat and veggies, get strong, and account for recovery workouts and sleep. Those are key components in training for everybody, and can help you build the butt of your dreams. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below; now get your butt in gear!