I recently had the chance to work with Walter, one of my friends from the bodybuilding world. Walter’s a stage veteran with an awesome physique, but he’s only beginning to dabble in the world of strength, and as a result, he has some weaknesses we need to address so that he can put up huge numbers on the platform (while looking the part, of course).
One of those weaknesses involves the glutes!
For female physique athletes, glutes often become a main focus, but guys tend to overlook them in favor of the quads and hamstrings. In fact, legendary bodybuilding trainer Vince Gironda derided heavy squats for their tendency to overdevelop the glutes, leading to an unappealing aesthetic by mid-20th century standards.
When it comes to strength, however, powerful glutes are essential, as they play a significant role in coming out of the hole on the squat and breaking the bar off the floor in the deadlift (both sumo and conventional).
If you’re lacking glute strength, don’t fret: there’s a simple cure, and I’m going to outline it here.
The first thing to remember when you’re training glutes involves anatomy. There are actually several different muscles that make up what are usually referred to just as “glutes,” but for our purposes, we’re specifically concerned with the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. Both of these muscles must be well-developed and actively involved in hip extension to maintain proper technique on the squat and deadlift.
The gluteus maximus is pretty simple to work, as it’s what most people think of when they think of the butt. It’s by far the largest glute muscle and it’s going to be worked in most movements that involve hip extension.
The gluteus medius, in contrast, is a bit smaller and wraps around the outside of the hip. To feel your gluteus medius contract, try standing with straight legs and hands on hips. Then simply turn your feet outward. The gluteus medius help to externally rotate the hip, and maintaining that external rotation is crucial to properly recruiting all the muscles of the leg (quads, hamstrings, adductors and abductors) during squats and deadlifts.
All that jargon comes down to essentially one major point: to properly train the glutes for powerlifting, we have to use muscles that involve both extension and external rotation of the hip.
Training the Glutes
So, to address both those areas, we’re going to use two movements: the cable pull-through and the banded Bulgarian split squat. If you’re not familiar with the latter movement, take a look at this video:
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Here’s another sample of my #mobilitytraining planned by @kabukistrengthlab – banded #splitsquats. This movement requires a ton of strength in the feet, #glutes and #adductors to maintain tightness while moving through the entire range of motion, and you can see from the lateral movement of my knee how lacking I am there. When you set this up, don’t start with a whole ton of band tension, and you might want to use a stable platform instead of a #balanceball. And yes, that sound is my knees crunching 😳 Swipe for a different angle and to see the whole setup! #kabukistrength
Now, whenever you’re training individual muscles, it’s not enough to just go through the motions. Instead, you need to be very deliberate with it, so that you’re isolating the intended muscles as much as possible. Here are the movement cues to follow for each movement:
- When you set up for this movement, make sure to move far enough away from the weight stack to keep constant tension on the glutes and hamstrings.
- Do not brace in this movement if you’re trying to target the glutes – instead, try to perform a vacuum, which will limit your ability to turn this into a bastardized reverse crunch.
- Keep the reps high (15+) and the loads fairly light so that you’re not tempted to cheat on your technique.
- Focus on the high hamstrings as you initiate the movement; then squeeze the glutes hard as you fully extend your hips.
Banded Split Squats
- Set up the band with a moderate amount of tension so that you really have to work to keep your knee in line with your toes.
- Initiate the movement by pushing the knee forward, and make sure to use as full of a range of motion as possible.
- As you initiate the concentric portion of the movement, push the knee out hard against the band to activate the gluteus medius.
The Glute Routine
Once you can execute these movements properly, training the glutes is pretty simple. Here’s a quick circuit that I like to use to fry the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors:
- Seated Hamstring Curl, 12 reps. Try to push your back away from the machine pad to focus on the glutes and high hamstrings.
- Cable Pull-Through, 20 reps. This will be brutally hard after the hamstring curl, so use a light weight.
- Adductor Machine, 10 reps. Training the adductors is important for balance and injury prevention when you’re working the glutes and hamstrings hard.
- Banded Split Squats, AMRAP. I suggest not using any weight here – after the rest of the circuit, you’ll probably struggle to crank out very many reps!
Repeat for 3 circuits. This should take no more than 10-15 minutes total and will bring your glutes and supporting muscles up to speed very quickly!
Glute Training FAQs
Do I need to hip thrust for strong glutes?
In fact, there are a ton of different exercises you can perform to build strong glutes. What’s most important is that you’re adequately loading the glutes per your strength levels and what’s needed to progress properly. It’s also important to train the glute with variety to ensure you’re targeting all of the glute musculature.
Why is it important to have strong glutes?
The short answer is for everything.
Strong glutes create stable hips, which means in daily life, in the gym and in sports you’ll be moving with more control. If you’re able to create a strong hip extension, then you’ll see carryover to your gait, lifting numbers, and overall performance throughout your daily life.
Feature image from Djordje Mustur/Shutterstock.