Your butt is your body’s powerhouse. The glute muscles have the largest cross sectional area of the body and are capable of producing incredible torque at the hip – your most important joint. It’s here that nearly all force for performance in the gym and on the sports field is generated. It’s also the site of most common injuries like back and knee pain, which means that ensuring your glutes are performing at their peak can safeguard your health, as well help you to look good in leggings.
The glutei, butt, peach emoji – whatever you want to call it – has grown in popularity (as well as size) in recent months, fuelled by the booty workouts of Instagram. And while this is all well and good, allow me now to explain why there’s more to glute training than double-tapping. Don’t worry – we’ll get to the exercises themselves.
Many knee and lower back problems can be traced back to underactive or ineffective glutes. The knee is for all intents and purposes a dumb joint – it does what the hip tells it to do. As the glutes are the driving force of the hip joint they are directly responsible for controlling the stability of the knee. Strong glutes equal stable, strong knees that can carry you through training (and life) with less risk of injury or pain.
In addition, the vast majority of lower back complaints are what we call ‘extension intolerant’ back pain. In other words, pain is aggravated by arching of your lower back. Your glutes, when properly trained, work together with your hamstrings and core musculature to counteract extension, protecting your back.
Direct glute work is therefore a non-negotiable in my programming for both male and female clients. Whether your goals are performance or aesthetically based, this often-neglected muscle group is vital for so many aspects of your life (including Instagram likes).
Programming direct glute work should involve both bilateral (two legged) and unilateral (single leg) variations, and as with all forms of resistance training there are progressions and regressions to suit all levels. Here are my six best exercises for a better butt:
Basic option – Cable pull through: The major advantage of this movement is that there is no shear force to the spine. The resistance cable is parallel to your spine in its most vulnerable position at the bottom of the rep and loads are also self-limiting. As they increase there will come a point where the cable quite simply pulls you over making this a very low risk / high reward variation.
Intermediate option – Hip bridge: Upping the pressure and the load means you need to be more aware about your body position. Ensure you maintain a neutral lumbar spine under load and be aware that, at the top of the rep, you don’t over extend. This option allows the client to use much more load than the pull through for faster gains, but the risks are also greater. Form is incredibly important.
Advanced option – Kettle bell swing: Whilst mechanically this may look very similar to the cable pull through – the very nature of this movement being an explosive, power based exercise brings with it significant increases in risk but also reward. My advice to all trainees is to become technically proficient in the two previous exercises before attempting this advanced variation.
Basic option – Single leg hip bridge: This may look simple, but beware. Removing a point of contact forces you to work hard to maintain stability and engage maximum muscle fibres in your glutes for fast improvements. This exercise finds its way into the programs of even my most elite clients.
Intermediate option – Cable single leg deadlift: Technically more challenging as the trainee is now upright (and on 1 leg!), this movement carries the same safety advantages as the bilateral cable pull through. Minimal force to the, cable running parallel to the spine and self-limiting loads combine to make this a safe option, but one that taxes your glutes individually by adding instability.
Advanced option – Kettlebell single leg deadlift: Touching the kettlebells to the floor on each repetition gives the athlete feedback on every rep that they have maintained a symmetrical movement, so this is a slightly easier version of the exercise than a barbell or dumbbell single leg deadlift. However, the progressions from the cable version are clear in that greater loads can be utilised, and also there is a significantly increased stability demand. The athlete must ‘find’ their way into the correct position, as opposed to be being pulled into position by the cable. Master this and you’re well on your way to your bets ever butt.
I recommend incorporating glute work into both upper and lower body training sessions and typically tend to program higher reps with moderate loads to encourage correct form as well as promoting a hypertrophy response. Because, whether you’re a guy or girl, remember – size matters.