Strong Butt equals strong back; mobile butt equals pain free movement
Strong and highly functioning glutes are responsible for a lot more than filling out a pair of pants. This extremely pivotal muscle group plays a key role in how the body functions, looks, and feels. The glutes are the largest muscle group in the human body, and are a vital component of the core muscles. While countless people train their backside purely for aesthetic reasons, strengthening and developing the glutes is extremely important to the overall health of the body and its ability to function and perform.
Unfortunately, many people of all genders are committing some glaring mistakes that might be preventing them from achieving their glute strengthening and pain free goals. Here are some key errors that might be holding you back from strengthening and developing your glutes to their peak potential:
1) USING TOO MUCH RESISTANCE
When it comes to strengthening and developing your glutes, like any other muscle group, using proper form for 100% of your reps is paramount to your success. Many people suffer from breakdowns in form as they select a resistance that is too great for their current strength or level of technical proficiency. This is called getting ahead of yourself for the sake of mentally feeling like you are going above and beyond. As a result, people either skimp out on range of motion, lack of control, lose proper body positioning, or compensate with other muscle groups (this is the biggest mistake). An exercise where many people use too much weight is the hip thrust. As a result, they might compensate by using the muscles in their lower back instead of their glutes, they lack control, or they lose proper body positioning (you will often see a flared ribcage and hyperextended lower back). This is just one of countless exercises I could use, and let me be clear, I’m talking about all types of resistance, including a barbell, dumbbells, bands, cable resistance, and ankle weights. Select a resistance that allows you to achieve your full range of motion, use the correct muscles, and maintain proper body positioning and control for 100% of the movement. One should start with body weight movements, and only add resistance incrementally if and when you are sure that you are performing the exercise correctly. If you are unsure, ask someone who is qualified.
2) NOT USING ENOUGH RESISTANCE
Many people shortchange their glute strengthening goals as they are using much less resistance than they are capable of. Again, this resistance can come in the form of a band, barbell, dumbbells, cable machine, or ankle weights. For whatever rep range you choose to adopt, use as much resistance as possible that allows you to go through a full range of motion while maintaining proper body positioning and control. This is especially true when you are performing lower risk exercises. For the higher risk/more technically demanding exercises, leaving several reps in the tank is advisable for most people, but for the low risk exercises (often band resisted or bodyweight), going to technical failure can be a good option. A few examples of low risk exercises would be bird dogs, clam shells, bridges and deadbugs.
3) NOT PERFORMING UNILATERAL VARIATIONS
Bilateral variations of glute exercises are fantastic and should be included in your training program, like bridges. However, many people solely perform the more popular bilateral glute exercises and skimp out on the equally important single leg exercises. People tend to favor their stronger or more mobile side, which can reinforce imbalances. Many daily movements and sport specific movements are done unilaterally (running and walking are good examples of this. Therefore, it is really important to perform both unilateral and bilateral variations. This will also help you strengthen your glutes to their peak potential.
4) NOT PERFORMING A VARIETY OF MOVEMENTS
When it comes to achieving all performance, aesthetic, and even health-related glute-goals, performing exercises that target all of the fundamental movement patterns is extremely important. Making sure to include bilateral and unilateral squatting and hinging variations, in addition to single leg exercises like glute bridges, hip thrusts, lunges and step-ups, will help ensure that you are targeting all of the muscle groups in your glutes, and in all planes of motion. In addition, performing exercises that involve hip abduction and external rotation will help you improve the strength, development, and overall function of this ever-important muscle group.
5) STICKING TO A SINGLE REP RANGE AND TEMPO
When it comes to the glutes, make sure to use a variety of rep ranges. Many people get married to a single rep range (3 sets or 20 repetitions), and this can hold them back from strengthening and building their glutes to their full potential. While in most cases I’m not an advocate of performing extremely low rep ranges (1-3), using a combination of a higher end low rep range (4-6 reps), a medium rep range (7-12 reps), and high rep range (12-20+ reps) can be very beneficial. With the lower rep range, you can increase the sets, Ie – 10 sets of 4 reps. This allows the body to achieve 40 repetitions without fatigue or potential compensation. Using different tempos is another important variation technique. For instance, really focusing on the eccentric (lowering phase) and performing the movement slowly (3-5 seconds is a good benchmark). Holding for a longer count in the top position (for instance, the lockout during any hip thrust, glute bridge, or other hinging variation), or performing both the concentric and eccentric movements explosively are different examples tempos that can be used. It is important to note that no matter what tempo you decide to use, you must maintain control 100% of the time, and your form must be impeccable. When you are first starting out, performing reps at a regular, or even a slower tempo, is more advisable as it is easier to learn how to master the movement. A key rule is form and fundamentals first, speed after.
6) NOT TRAINING YOUR GLUTES FREQUENTLY ENOUGH
Many people do not train their glutes enough to experience significant gains in development, strength, and overall function. While this of course varies on an individual basis, many people benefit from training their glutes 2-3 times per week, and performing multiple glute exercises during these workouts. Other people experience a great deal of success when they address their glutes most days of the week. That being said, you do not want to over-tax your glutes every day as this might take away from your other performance, aesthetic, or health related goals. You absolutely need to give your glutes ample time to recover. If you prefer to train your glutes more frequently than the 2-3 days per week, opt to perform different exercises and movements throughout the week, and stick to a lower overall volume per workout (volume = sets * reps). Plan your training intelligently, use trial and error, and figure out what works and feels the best for you. Again, there is no one size fits all approach.
7) NOT UTILIZING THE MIND-MUSCLE CONNECTION
Countless people do not achieve their glute-related goals as they skimp out on the mind-muscle connection. When you are performing exercises that are meant to primarily isolate the glutes, make sure that you are actually using your glutes to execute the movements. This is especially true when you are performing exercises with band resistance, a single leg, or are using less resistance and your main objective isn’t moving as much weight as possible. Palpating the muscles that should be working is a great way for many people to tune in to the ever-important mind muscle connection. Making sure that you are both mentally and physically attentive for 100% of your reps is vital. A lot of people do not perform exercises correctly as they have checked out mentally, and they are not making use of the mind-muscle connection. In many cases, people accuse an exercise of being too easy; however, the reason the exercise feels too easy is because they aren’t performing the exercise correctly. This demonstrates a poor mind-muscle connection.
8) NOT MAINTAINING CONTROL
With all glute exercises, make sure that you are performing 100% of the movements with complete control and mindfulness. Using the hip thrust as an example, rather than performing the eccentric (lowering) component with control, many people drop down without control and end up hyperextending their lower back and flaring their ribcage. Many others fail to gain control in the top position during the lockout. Great success is found when pausing for a few seconds in the top position.
9) FAULTY SHIN ANGLE DURING ANY HIP THRUST OR GLUTE BRIDGE VARIATION
Hip thrust and glute bridges are extremely common glute strengthening exercises. When people are performing these two exercises, and this includes both unilateral and bilateral variations, they place their feet so they are too far forward, causing their shins to be on an angle. This can cause the hamstrings to kick in and dominate the movement. People will feel their hamstrings cramp up when they make this common mistake. While preferred shin positioning will vary from person to person, aiming to keep the shins in a relatively vertical position tends to be extremely effective, and allows the glutes to perform the bulk of the work, instead of the hamstrings. When you are setting yourself up, take a look at your shins and make sure that your knees are close to, if not directly above your heels.
10) PUSHING THROUGH THE FULL FOOT INSTEAD OF THE MID TO BACK PORTION
When a lot of people are performing any hip thrust or glute bridge variation, (and you could even add in any glute exercise where the feet are in contact with the floor), they mention that their quads are taking over. While a lack of glute strength can be a culprit, another common reason for this issue is that they are pushing through their forefoot and toes more than they are the mid to back portion of the foot (heel). This is one of few exercises where I encourage people to push through the back of their feet. In some cases, lifting the toes off the ground and focusing solely on the heels can help take the quads out of the equation, and can allow the glutes to do the majority of the work. Figure out what works and feels best for you.
11) INABILITY TO ISOLATE THE GLUTES DUE TO POOR BREATHING, BRACING, AND RIB POSITIONING
This applies to all glute exercises. Having the ability to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic region makes engaging the glutes andperforming 100% of movements correctly. People may notice their lower back working during many glute exercises, or they compensate with other muscle groups as their pelvis and spine are not in a fixed position. This lack of stability around the hips and spine can result from poor breathing, bracing, and incorrect rib positioning. For the duration of most exercises, your head, torso, and hips should remain in a stacked position. If you are performing a hip thrust or glute bridge, your head, torso, and hips should remain in a stacked position, and should move as a single unit. During other exercises, such as side lying clamshells or standing band resisted toe taps, proper breathing, bracing, and rib position will help stabilize the pelvis and spine so you can utilize your glutes properly. With clamshell exercises, you will often notice the pelvis and spine wanting to rotate. Both should remain in a fixed position and facing straight ahead. This can be reflective of a lack of lumbo-pelvic stability. For all exercises, be extremely mindful that you keep your ribcage down, and do not allow it to flare. This will also help prevent your spine from hyperextending, and the muscles in your lower back (or other areas) from kicking in. Here is a pic of a flared rib cage:
12) ASSUMING THAT SQUATS AND DEADLIFTS ARE ENOUGH TO STRENGTHEN AND DEVELOP YOUR GLUTES
I absolutely love squats and deadlifts, and they are staple movements that most people should be performing. In fact, there are countless variations that can accommodate people of most fitness levels and abilities. However, they are not top tier glute building options. In fact, your glutes usually need to be strong for you to thrive at both squats and deadlifts. So, while both of these exercises can absolutely be a small piece of your glute building puzzle, they should not be the entirety.
Here is a simple glute building routine that I find helpful for beginners. Advanced movements should be performed with an appropriate Chiropractor, trainer or Physical Therapist.
Dr. Derek Gearhart