Flip through social media on any given day, and you’ll find an endless supply of pseudo “experts” preaching their training methods to the masses. And while there can be some useful and often motivational content in there, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of frequently contradictory advice.
One of the biggest problems I see is that many of the people doing the so-called teaching lack real qualifications, and are really just sharing some cool stuff they invented or most likely saw in the gym one day.
As result, it seems every month someone has discovered the new “secret” move to building the perfect glutes. This keeps you chasing the goal, without any real understanding of the process to get there.
I like to tell my clients, “If you take five different people’s different directions for how to get to a destination, you’ll probably get lost and never reach your goal.” On the other hand, follow the full advice of one trusted person, and the directions will be clear and concise, and you will reach your destination much sooner. It’s when you get caught up in following different methods, experimenting and never actually sticking to one plan, that you run into problems.
In this article, I will share with you my top five booty building hacks that I’ve used with many of my elite bikini competitor clients, including IFBB Pro Jade Atkinson, to create award winning physiques. I’m sparing you the gimmicks, witchcraft and other time-wasting activities you don’t need, and I’m skipping to what you actually need to know: the training methods that are proven to work and the best exercises to build perfectly-sculpted glutes.
1. The Basic Function Of Glutes
No matter the fitness level or educational background of the client, I like to try to explain the function of the muscles they are trying to recruit during the workout. How can you be expected to properly isolate a muscle and get it firing if you don’t understand it’s basic functions? You can’t. So step one – get familiar with the function and movements of the glutes muscles and it will become much easier to really think about what you are doing in the gym and ‘feel’ the exercise more in the target area. This is critical because many clients have difficulty feeling their glutes contract during the exercise and if you can’t feel something, don’t expect it to develop to it’s fullest capacity.
The largest and most superficial muscle of the glutes is responsible for three main functions:
- Hip extension: Occurs when you increasing the angle between the thigh and the front of the pelvis. Examples of hip extension movements are: donkey kick, cable kickback, glute bridge, reverse hypers, etc.
- Lateral/external rotation of the hip: Opening up or moving away from the midline of the body. Examples of lateral/external rotation are: abductor machine, fire hydrant or side step walking banded lunges.
- Abduction of the thigh at the hip: Moving the leg away from the midline of the body. Examples of abduction of the thigh at the hip would be as in a side cable leg lifts or side lying straight leg lifts.
There are two other smaller muscles that also comprise the glutes complex – the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. These two muscles also play a role in abducting the thigh at the hip as well as internally / medially rotating the thigh (moving toward the centre/midline of the body) as in a hip adduction movement.
Best Training Tips: Reps, Tempo And Tricks
The glutes are the largest muscle in the body, so it should come as no surprise that it takes a good dose of effort and intensity to properly engage them and bring them to momentary failure during your workout. Here are some simple guidelines that can help to fast track your results in the gym.
The glutes are a power mover and respond best to slightly heavier loads and a rep range of eight to 15 reps, with most sets being in the 12 to 15 range to failure. Going lower than eight won’t be enough to bring enough fibres to failure but occasionally I will have clients go a little lower with something like a sumo barbell deadlift or a deep barbell pause squat. Alternatively, doing too many sets above 15 reps may not be enough weight to engage the fast twitch fibres and stimulate hypertrophy. I will mix in some high rep weeks where the reps will go into the 20 to 25 rep range occasionally to shock the muscles and extend the time under tension.
The typical rep tempo I prefer to utilize on most glute exercises is 1 to 2 seconds up (explosive), 1 to 2-second peak contraction (flexing glutes hard), 4 seconds down (i.e. the negative) and depending on the exercise either no rest in the stretch position or a 1-2 second pause if the movement places tension on the muscle in that position. So that’s 2/2/4/1 typically – which translates to an explosive concentric push, a hard flex at the top, slowly lower the weight and a small pause in the stretch position. This tempo varies slightly from exercise to exercise but this tempo guidelines has proven to be the most effective when it comes to building and shaping the glutes.
One of my favourite, high-intensity training techniques to push clients beyond failure on glute day is to superset two opposing glute movements that stimulate the muscle in different ways such as one extension focused movement and one stretch-position focused movement. Some examples would be:
(Stretch position) Stiff-leg barbell deadlifts – 12 reps superset with (extension focus) barbell glute bridge – 15 reps.
(Stretch position) Barbell walking lunges (deep) – 12 reps each leg superset with (extension focus) weighted reverse hypers – 15 reps.
Glute Training Frequency And Volume
For some reason, many women fall into this trap of thinking that the glutes that are some magical muscle with special qualities that don’t follow the same universal principles of any other skeletal muscle in the body. They want them to grow, so they train them as often as they can, even every day in some cases. This is just straight up wrong and will not produce faster results, no matter who you are. Train your glutes as you would any other large muscle in the body – hit them hard, then let them rest and recover for 48 hours at least.
The optimal glute training frequency that I would recommend would be to hit them no more than three times a week using different movements, rep ranges and exercise order. You might make one of the days a ‘heavy’ day and use lower rep ranges of 6 to 12 and include exercises like heavy squats. Another day could be a moderate rep range of 12 to 20 and focus on posterior chain movements such as stiff leg deadlifts. A third day could incorporate explosive plyometric bodyweight movements like plyo jump lunges performed in a circuit. Training your glutes the same way each session will eventually lead to overuse type injuries such as sprains and strains and be counterproductive for your goals. If you can train your glutes more than 3 times per week I would have to suggest that you’re probably not training with enough intensity and effort.
Training volume is related to training experience and level of fitness. I would have beginner clients doing around 15-16 sets per workout and elite level competitors doing 25-30 sets per workout. Add training volume as you build training experience to avoid overtraining and injuries.
Top 5 Favourite Exercises
Glute exercises need not be elaborate and complex as some might have you believe. In fact some of the most effective movements are still the basics. When planning workouts, I’ve always preferred to use about 75% of the standard basics (i.e. squats, lunges, deadlifts) and 25% auxiliary movements (i.e. banded movements, cable kickbacks, unilateral) in each workout.
There are about 15 exercises I feel are effective for training the glutes, but here are my top five go-to movements.
1. Barbell Glute Bridge/ Hip Thrust
- Sit on the ground with your legs extended and a flat bench behind you, perpendicular to your body.
- Roll a loaded barbell over your legs and position it directly above your hips. (Using a pad on the bar can help with any discomfort.)
- Push yourself back into the bench behind you, as close as you can, with your upper back touching the bench.
- Start the lift – with your feet pressing into the floor and your upper back on the bench supporting your weight, extend your hips up, pressing the bar toward the ceiling until full lockout. Hold and squeeze/flex the glutes.
- Lower the bar back down toward the floor slowly, letting your hips drop down and back before repeating the lift.
Coach tip: When pressing the bar up, don’t just think about extending the hips straight up – try to think about squeezing up and in when you press for a more efficient contraction of the glutes. If using a band around the thighs, you can try pressing outward when squeezing.
2. Barbell Squat Or Reverse Hack Squat
- Get set up by stepping onto the platform, facing the back support of the machine and position your shoulders under the pads.
- Adjust your foot placement to the desired angle i.e. shoulder width, sumo stance or narrow.
- Lift the machine up and un-rack it from the safety stops
- Start – Slowly lower yourself down to just below 90 degrees, allowing your hips to tilt back.Pause at the bottom of the rep while maintaining tension on the glutes. Drive yourself back up to the top while focusing on extending the hips and flexing the glutes at the top of the movement.
Coach tip: Use a wide stance, think about pressing through the heels and focus on the hip flexion/hip extension movement, not just moving the machine up and down.
3. High Step Ups
- Set up a raised platform or bench that puts your knee at a 90 degree angle when your foot is resting on top.
- Select the appropriate dumbbells, barbell or cable weight for added resistance if applicable.
- Start – with one foot up on the platform, press through your heel as you step up onto the platform, extending the hip and flexing the glutes on that side. Bring your opposite leg up and onto the platform, beside your other leg.
- Step down using the leg that previously lifted you up and then step up using the opposite leg – alternating reps back and forth, always leaving one foot up on the platform for shorter rest between reps.
Coach Tip: I prefer to use cables if available which will force you to flex and squeeze a little harder at the top of the movement. I also suggest lifting the knee of the opposite leg at the top to create a small amount of instability – forcing the client to flex the glute harder for a stronger contraction.
4. Stiff-Leg Deadlift Or Good Mornings
- Load a barbell with the appropriate weight for the desired rep range and use an overhand grip to grasp it.
- Lift the bar off the rack, step backward and place your feet slightly more narrow than shoulder width.
- Start – slowly lower the barbell down while feeling the weight stretch out the hamstrings on the descent. Key – keep your lower back from rounding and be sure to push your hips back as you lower the bar down.
- Feel the stretch at the bottom before coming back up, extending the hips into the bar and finishing with your torso completely straight at the top.
Coach tip – Placing 10 lb. plates under your toes can help increase the tension on the hamstrings and glutes in the stretch position. Think about elevating your toes at the bottom/stretch position before coming back up.
5. Reverse Hyperextension
- Place your torso and waist on reverse hyper platform so that your waistline acts as the hinge or pivot point for the movement.
- Grasp handles or side of the platform for stability.
- Start – Raise your legs up, extending the hips and squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement. Hold for a second at the top.
- Lower your legs back down to the bottom
- You can add weight or squeeze a ball between your feet for extra resistance.
Coach tip – Most gyms don’t have a reverse hyper machine yet so you can use a back extension machine as an alternative. Try to think about extending the hips/legs out and up, not just up for the strongest contraction.
Glute-Specific HIIT Cardio
If you think of your weight training workouts as building the size and shape on your glutes, you can treat your cardio workouts as playing a supportive role in helping to harden that area with better composition and density. Technically any type of HIIT cardio will burn calories and some fat, but if glutes are a priority for you, why not make your cardio sessions also support that goal. Here are three of my favorite glute-specific, HIIT cardio workouts used my many of my female clients.
Perform 5-10 hard intervals for 45 seconds at 95% perceived exertion intensity – climbing the stairs at a fast pace and extending your hip on every step. Recover for 2 minutes with a moderate pace climb before starting the next hard interval. Once you’ve done at least 5 of these intervals, complete the remaining time with moderate pace climbing.
Crank up the resistance and perform 5-10 hard intervals for 60 seconds at 90% perceived exertion intensity – pushing with your arms and sprinting with your legs against the resistance. Recover for 2 minutes with a moderate pace against low resistance before starting the next interval. Complete any remaining time with moderate pace steady state.
Treadmill Hill Climbs
Up the incline to at least a 5% grade and do a brisk walk uphill for 90 seconds at about 85% perceived exertion intensity – extending your hip on every step and trying your best not to hold onto the rails (only as needed). Lower the incline and speed back down to do a 2-minute recovery before starting the next climb. Perform 5 to 10 work intervals.
Hopefully, this article has given you a sneak peak inside some of the methods and techniques I’ve used to help build some pro-caliber glutes. Understand what you’re doing, focus hard on the muscles during training and be consistent. The results will come.