Training Tips

Why Your Glutes Aren’t Growing

You’ve been squatting and lunging your butt off…literally! If you have not been getting the results you have been looking for with glute training, there may be some components of your workout and calories you may be neglecting. Whether you are a certified personal trainer or you are working with one, there is hope in the process! 

Many people train their glutes to get a full, round butt while some people train them to get stronger. Either way, when you can truly achieve glute activation and work the entire muscle group, you will see results! The gluteal muscles are a large part of the lumbopelvic-hip complex (LPHC) which is also known as the core. They are also a major contributing muscle group to the lower body. A strong LPHC and glute muscles can improve posture, reduce back pain, increase balance and stability, and have a great aesthetic that many individuals are after regardless of gender.

What Causes Weak Glutes?

Weak glutes are a common issue in the general population. The problem is that most people sit on their glutes all day! That sitting all day puts the hips and hip flexors are in a constant state of flexion, which makes the anterior muscles of the body tight and shortened. In turn, the posterior chain—the glutes and hamstrings—are lengthened and loose. This means they are weakened.

Commonly Missed Glute Training Exercises

When someone asks how to build the perfect glutes there is no easy answer. There is more than one muscle in the gluteal muscle group—the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius. We use these muscles every day to walk and move, but we often neglect to train them all on a regular basis. 

Squats and lunges are a great start, but these exercises mostly target the gluteus maximus with hip flexion and extension. To further engage the hips and target the deeper muscles of the butt, you must add challenging hip abduction and adduction exercises and keep the hip flexors open and mobile. The gluteus medius and minimus specifically control hip abduction and adduction. Keeping the hip flexors opened promotes ideal hip mobility and range of motion. 

If you’re not sure, speak with your personal trainer to ensure your warm-up is not sabotaging your training routine! Flexibility, self-myofascial release, and dynamic stretching are all critical parts of a warm-up to ensure proper glute activation. 

Using a combination of specific exercises with heavy weights, it is very possible to increase muscle mass in the lower body. To start, the glutes must be engaged. It is possible to perform an exercise and assume the glutes are working when they are not. Try the following glute activation exercises as a warm-up for a workout or with heavy weights.

Hip Thrust

Seated on the floor in front of a bench, place the barbell across the anterior pelvis with knees bent at 90-degrees, hip-width apart. Elevate the glutes off the floor and shift the upper back onto the bench. Brace the abdominals, press through the midfoot, and squeeze the glutes to push the hips up and bring the body parallel to the floor. Avoid hyperextension of the spine. Release with a controlled tempo back to the start position.

Clamshell

Lay on one side with the hips flexed, knees bent at 90-degrees, and a mini band just below the knees. Stack the knees to begin and keep the feet stacked throughout the range of motion. Brace the abdominals, squeeze the glutes, and raise the top knee. This will create an arc—hip abduction and external rotation. Press as far as possible across the band while keeping the hips evenly stacked. Release and return to the starting position

Hip Abductions

This goes beyond hip extensions for glute activation. A hip abduction moves the leg laterally away from the body to engage the glute medius and minimus and challenge the stability of the LPHC. Complete this exercise with a band, a cable and ankle cuff, or with an abduction and adduction machine (standing or seated). A band is a great starting point to understand the movement and you can progress to add more weight with the cables and the machines while building foundational strength. 

With a band placed at the ankles, begin in a standing position with the feet hip-width apart. Keeping the leg fully extended and knees soft, shift weight to the right foot without laterally shifting the hips. Flex the left foot and abduct the hip to elevate the left leg. Squeeze the glutes to stabilize the LPHC and prevent the body from leaning in the opposite direction. Release the left leg and return to the starting position.

More Comprehensive Leg Exercises

Once you’ve activated the glutes, train the entire leg to target more of the muscles of the thigh—the hamstrings and quadriceps—that help engage and target the butt as well. Exercises for full leg reps include:

The Squat

Set the feet just outside of hip-width, grasping the barbell at the width of the shoulders. Brace the abdominals, hinge back, and keep the arms extended and relaxed. Bend the knees and push the hips back, maintaining as close to a vertical shin angle as possible. The barbell may not touch the floor. Squeeze the glutes, drive the knees out into the forearms, and press through the midfoot to return to the start position.

Kettlebell Swings

From a standing position with the feet at shoulder-width and the load held in front with extended arms, hinge back as far as possible without dropping the hips. Brace the abdominals and forcefully drive the hips forward keeping the arms extended and relaxed. The head will drive straight up to maintain a neutral spine and avoid hyperextension. The kettlebell will float to the top with momentum—ideally not above the shoulders. Remain in an upright position with relaxed arms as the kettlebell begins to swing back toward the body. Then hips hinge just as the kettlebell reaches the anterior part of the legs (the load drives the hinge).

Single-leg Squats

Begin from a seated position, starting with one foot planted and one foot elevated high enough to keep the heel off the ground and the weight loaded at the chest (goblet hold). The stationary foot should be directly under the knee. Brace the abdominals, shift the weight to the midfoot of the stationary leg, and press through the foot to come to a standing position. Avoid weight shift or tilting the hips during the range of motion. From the standing position, continue to brace the abdominals, hinge back, and bend the knee until the glutes reach the box while keeping the heel elevated.

The Split Squat

Starting in a split stance with the feet at hip-width and weight evenly distributed in both feet, bend the back knee towards the floor ensuring the front knee remains stacked over the ankle. Some hip flexion is expected so long as a neutral spine is maintained. Press through the midfoot of the front foot and squeeze the glutes to return to the start position.

Programming for Glute Training

With any training seeking hypertrophy or size gains, you must use heavy weights. The theory of progressive overload dictates that to see adaptation in the muscle fibers, they must be challenged over time. 

With hypertrophy training, the heavy loads used will require recovery time post-workout. The reps range from 6 to 12 with 3 to 5 sets performed for a single exercise. The ideal recovery time between sets for hypertrophy training is one to two minutes for submaximal training. 

If you are training near maximum resistance (with ideally between 1 and 5 reps), the recovery time may need to be up to 5 minutes between sets to allow for proper metabolic muscle recovery.

The time allowed between glute workouts should be 48 to 72 hours. The gluteal muscles are a relatively small muscle group and can recover quickly. However, heavy weights will have a different effect on the muscle tissue during recovery than the endurance of everyday activity. The muscle fibers activated are slightly different (Type I endurance fibers versus Type II power fibers).

Switch It Up and Watch It Grow!

Take measurements around the hips and thigh to track your progress. Keeping a log of your body fat percentage every few weeks will also ensure your calories are balanced and you are feeding your muscle gains instead of storing the excess as fat. 

Armed with a properly balanced diet with the right number of calories to promote muscle growth and development and support a healthy metabolism, incorporating the most effective exercises will yield gains! It can take a few weeks of soreness and recovery to begin to see the size gains as with any muscle group. The butt is no different! The adaptations of hypertrophy training can take 4 to 8 weeks to show measurable difference but keep working. 

For certified professionals looking to learn more about corrective exercise techniques, dive into the ISSA Corrective Exercise Specialist certification today!

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References

Schoenfeld, B J, et al. “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 29, no. 10, Oct. 2015, pp. 2954–2963., doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958.

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