The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Glutes
The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Glutes
As you can see this is the ultimate guide - we are going to cover the most important aspects build some killer glutes!
- Glute Anatomy
- Types of Exercises
- Muscle Growth 101
- Nutrition & Recovery
- Myth Busted: Glute Activation
- Sample Training Plans
Why glute anatomy first? Anatomy tells us how the muscle should be used, so once we know what we are dealing with and how it works, you will be confident in choosing from an infinite combination of workout plans – to best suit you!
Muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus
Primary Function: Hip Extension, Abduction & External Rotation
Motions of the Hip
Hip extension – opening the hip joint to create more angle between your pelvis and thigh. Think of any thrusting movement, at the top of that exercise – in a table top position – that is maximal hip extension. This action shortens the glute fibers, contracting them. This is also the primary force generator in walking, running and sprinting. Any exercise that recreates this movement pattern, will be beneficial for glute growth. The gluteus maximus predominantly controls hip extension.
Hip Abduction- Moving your legs away from the midline of your body – in other words moving your legs apart. This can be done with a straight leg away from the body or bent knee across the body. The prime mover of hip abduction is glute medius and is assisted by glute minimus.
External Rotation and Internal Rotation-It is important to remember that your hip is primarily a rotational joint. Maintaining rotation requires daily inputs of movement in the hip capsule (where the femur inserts into the pelvis) and loading movements of rotation. This can be done a variety of ways including isometrics, load variances that emphasize hip rotation, cable and banded work. While not as glorious as a good hip thrust or deadlift, these motions are critical to long term health and function of the glutes.
- In summary, the hip is primarily a rotational joint which we requires we work on maintaining rotation. Once rotation is addressed then, to grow the muscle work on hip abduction and extension for external stimulus to increase glute size.
Types of Exercises
Now that we have discussed the anatomy and movement pattern of the glutes. We need to know what exercises use this pattern!
Knee Dominate Variations
Types: Back Squat, Hack Squat, Goblet Squat, Front Squat, Leg Press
To most new trainees, squats have forever been held as the best exercise for growing your glutes. As you squat down, you are entering hip flexion, once you reach the bottom and start to go back up, you enter hip extension. We know that hip extension is the primary function of the glutes, so we are mainly utilising the glutes throughout half of the squat.
You have the ability to use heavy loads with squats, so it can still be quite beneficial for overload. Your depth is completely dependent on your hip anatomy along with tissue and joint mobility. Different squats and knee dominate patterns can be used to address different limitations in mobility. Ultimately you should squat to a depth comfortable for you to maintain tension in your hips. Adding load but not being able to reach much depth will only reduce your ability to use your glutes during your set – so if necessary, pull back the weight to ensure reasonable depth and control.
Types: Hip Thrusts, Hip Extension (45 degree), Glute Kickbacks
Hip Thrusts are thought of as one of the most efficient movements for glute development (Neto et al., 2019). It allows for maximum hip extension with the force being focused in the same direction the glute fibers sit. There are variations with stance of feet and height of bench. A bench around the height of your knee (no more than 12-16 inches) is best for glute engagement. As well as keeping feet in position that makes a 90 degree angle at your knee at the top of the position.
Hip thrusts also allow for significant progress with loading – which is very important for muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth).
There are also some other options here like the 45 degree hip extension. This does not allow for as much loading and also fatigues a lot more than just your glutes, but is still a useful exercise. The same can be said for the glute kickback, when performed on a cable, it can be a bit unstable and ineffective. However, there are kickback machines that are much more effective by providing a greater amount of stability.
Types: Deadlifts (Conventional, Sumo, RDL’s, Stiff Leg), Good Mornings
Deadlifts are also a great option for glute development, and allow for significant loading. The sumo variation works the greatest on maximizing glute contraction and minimizing assistance from the hamstrings (Martin-Fuentes et al., 2020). Hinging movements focus on hip flexion and extension and can be performed in a variety of ways. Some limitations that may present themselves in deadlifts are weak low back strength, technique deficiencies, and hamstring mobility issues. To combat hamstring mobility issues, perform your deadlifts from a raised platform to decrease the lengthening requirement of the hamstring in hip flexion. A platform of 2-3 inches is sufficient though a good guide can be 1/2 -2/3 the height of your shin.
Single Leg Variations
Types: Bulgarian Split Squats, Walking Lunges, Unilateral Leg Press / Hip Thrust
As we have mentioned the glutes have 3 main functions. What’s nice about single leg (unilateral) exercises is that we can theoretically perform a slightly more challenging and ‘well-rounded’ exercise. They are also hugely beneficial in reducing asymmetries (reduced strength on one side then the other) and increasing strength in various positions of the hip.
Stability has to be considered as stabilization is a key component of unilateral movements and can be a limiting factor. The king of single leg variations for building unilateral glute stretch is the step up which shows the greatest activation of glute max (Neto et al., 2020).
Tips: Keep torso over the leg in lunge variations or with a slight lean forward – this will target the glutes best. The more you lean back to more emphasis you will place on your quads. Keep knee and toes in same direction with your knee over the midfoot and keep your hips and core stable. Allow yourself to hold onto a wall or pole to remove any balance issues. This will not reduce glute development as long as you are not using your arm to pull yourself up!
Muscle Growth 101
Consistency Beats Variation:
Weight training takes time to learn. When you first go to the gym and train, you may feel soreness the next day in those muscles – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). This is not the sign of a great workout though isn’t something to be worried about unless the pain is debilitating, limiting motion of the muscle. New exercises provide a novel stimulus – this does not equal muscle growing stimulus. Your nervous system needs to adapt before your muscles. This means you need to stick to your program and those exercises for a minimum of 4-6 weeks before you will gain any real hypertrophic (muscle growth) benefit. This does not mean you change after 4-6 weeks. This is where the real building and benefit will begin. It is recommended that you stick to your programme for at least 12 weeks before changing. (Hughes et al. 2018)
This doesn’t mean you have to do the EXACT same thing every time. You can change the higher rep work slightly (every 4-6 weeks) but I would stick to your bigger lifts (i.e. hip thrusts, deadlifts, squats) for a lot longer (12-16 weeks), as it will take longer to adapt to these exercises – the more complex the lift the longer it will take to adapt! The important thing to consider is that adaptation takes time and stimulus.
Training to Failure & Loading
Some will say training to complete failure is the only way to activate the muscle fully. The evidence simply does not support this. With sufficient load (around 80% of your max) you will be able to recruit all of the motor units within your muscle. (Pinto et al. 2013). Other factors can play into this which won’t allow for full recruitment like exercise selection, previous muscle fatigue, etc..
We have said 80% is sufficient for complete activation what about the other end of the spectrum. The problem for a lot of people is they simply don’t lift heavy enough, especially on exercises like hip thrusts and deadlifts. (<30%) of you max is going to be too low to encourage muscle growth. You need to be challenging yourself, near failure, that doesn’t mean we always need to hit it. The harder the exercise, you will be recruiting more of those units that allow for muscle growth. More volume or reps equals lighter load and less rest and the same works inversely. It is recommended to stay within 3-5 reps of failure. This allows you to get the most from your muscle without causing large amounts of fatigue that increases recovery time and will hinder progress (Sundstrup et al. 2012).
How Many Reps?
We have just mentioned that staying 3-5 reps from failure is ideal. However, that doesn’t tell us how many reps to do – which you need to know as this will inform your load.
We mentioned 80% of your max – on average that will look like 8 reps of your 1 rep maximum (1RM). 30% looks more like 35-40 reps of your maximum.
If our goal is growing our glutes, we are trying to grow our muscles – this is called muscle hypertrophy. When dealing with muscle hypertrophy we need to think of two things – metabolic stress & tension on the muscle. Metabolic stress plays a role in allowing for motor unit recruitment. Muscle Tension refers to tension within the muscle as a result of loading – increasing muscle hypertrophy. There is a lot more to both of these, but this is “muscle growth 101” – the absolute need to know (Schoenfeld 2010).
Overall, technically you can build muscle in any rep range. The ideal answer lies in individual factors. Performing 30 reps is quite daunting and not many actually will want to stick to it as it can be quite psychologically difficult. You also will become very fatigued performing an exercises for a longer period of time. On the other end of the spectrum lifting very heavy loads for few reps is also extremely psychologically demanding and fatiguing.
Like everything else somewhere in the middle will work best. 6-15 is a pretty nice range to go off. With your bigger, heavier lifts in that 6-10 range and the accessory, slightly lighter work in that 10-15 range.
This involves increasing either the load, frequency, or reps (overall volume) to force muscle growth and strength development. Knowing when to increase one of these factors is important. After you know your rep range and load. Keep track of your workouts, as the weeks go on, track your progress. If you get to a point where the set becomes significantly easier than it once was, think about adding one set, or increasing the weight incrementally. If this is too much you can even change the tempo of your set. Performing the reps slower, this leads to more time under tension which we now is a factor for muscle hypertrophy.
- Staying within a rep range of 6-10 for bigger lifts and 10-15 for slightly easier ones is a good standard range of muscle growth.
- Start off with 2-4 Sets per exercise / Week as you adapt you can increase the number of sets by 1-2 as the weeks go on.
- No more than 15-20 sets per week is needed for muscle growth (this is a max) – You don’t need to spend 3 hours in the gym!
- Stay consistent for a minimum of 4-6 weeks with less complex exercises and 12-16 weeks with more complex ones.
- Aim to progressively overload. As your training becomes easier, you can think about increasing the weight slightly, adding 1-3 reps, adding a set, or slowing your tempo down.
If you are new to the gym, muscle gain can technically happen when you are in a slight calorie deficit, at maintenance, or in a surplus. Although, without a doubt, being in a calorie surplus is definitely most efficient way! If you are an experience lifter, a calorie surplus is much more of a requirement.
Pre -Workout – There is no consensus on eating preworkout. Exercise intensity and duration dictate pre workout nutrition needs (Rothschild et al., 2020). Longer duration strength sessions with higher amounts of intensity need store glucose to create glycogen to create force and sustain performance.
Intra Workout-For larger sustained workouts, there can be a need for carbohydrate supplementation to maintain performance. These can be carbohydrate supplement drinks or gels. Again, this is dependent on the intensity and duration of the training sessions.
Post Workout – We want to replenish protein and glycogen stores. Don’t stress about needing to have it right away. Get a solid meal in whenever you can after training, if that means a few hours later that is okay. (Schoenfeld et al. 2017)
Example: Protein shake with banana & yoghurt. OR a homemade burrito bowl (meat, rice, veg, cheese), Porridge oats, protein powder, peanut butter/ nuts, and some fruit OR
A wrap with chicken, veg (peppers/ spinach/ onion), and some avocado or olive oil.
If you are eating closer to your workout something faster digesting, ex: cereal and a protein bar.
Rest is vital for muscle growth. Prioritising sleep and stress management is just as important as prioritising your nutrition. When you train you damage your muscles, when we sleep, we encourage the repair and growth of those muscles. A good sleeping habit, has serious benefits on recovery, fatigue, overall mood, and athletic performance. (Dattilo et al. 2011)Aim to get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night! As well as sufficient sleep, we also want to be managing our stress too. Ensuring that our nervous systems are in a nice calm, relaxed state most of the time.
There are many ways of doing this, whether it be through improving time management, journaling, socialising etc,..
Myth Bust: Glute Activation
Let’s end this myth now. You do NOT need to activate your glutes! Your glutes are just like any other muscle group. Do you activate your chest or your back before training it? No. Your glutes to not turn off when you are not exercising, with this idea, you wouldn’t be able to stand up straight.
However, warming up your muscles is still recommended. Warming up allows you to get blood flow to the muscles, but the goal is not to fatigue them! People tend to ‘activate’ their glutes so much that they are fatigued before they even begin their actual workout!
Frog Pumps are a fantastic exercise for a warm up or even a finisher! They utilise all 3 functions of the glutes – extension, abduction, and external rotation! You cannot load these that well so using high rep ranges of (15-25) would be more beneficial.
- Notice it is the same structure for each programme. Once you know the functions of the muscle group, choose 3-5 solid exercises that utilise this and stick with it. It does not need to be complicated!
- If you are training glutes multiple times a week be aware of overtraining or ‘junk volume’. Start off with a lower amount of sets if you are just starting (6-8/week) as you progress and adapt to this you can start to increase the training volume. (8-10 sets/week). There comes a point where increasing the number of sets just increases your fatigue and does not give you much return. Around 12-15 sets / muscle group is sufficient for anyone looking to grow.
Sample Programme 1
- Hip Extension Variation: Hip thrust 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.
- Deadlift Variation: RDL’s 2-4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Squat/ Press Variation: Kettlebell Goblet Squats 2-4 sets 10-12 reps
- Unilateral Variation: Step Ups 2-3 sets 10-12 reps per leg.
Sample Programme 2
- Hip Extension Variation: Hip thrust 3-4 sets x6-10 reps.
- Hip Hinging Variation: Sumo Deadlifts 2-3 sets x6-10 reps
- Squat/ Press Variation: Leg Press 2-3 sets x10-12 reps
- Unilateral Variation: Walking Lunges 2-3 sets x10-12 reps
- Finisher: Frog Pumps 2-3 sets x30 reps