If Sir Mixalot taught us one thing, it’s that big butts rule. Well, actually, strong butts rule. Gargantuan glutes, powerful posteriors, and an awesome ass—what every girl wants and what every guy needs.
Glutes are generally overlooked in most training programs though. Sure, you hit them with squats and you can ruin them with a few tough sets of Bulgarian split squats, but we rarely isolate them, which is a mistake. They’re the most important muscle in any explosive lower body movement. The glutes have such a huge potential for force production that they’re vital in sprinting, running, jumping, and leaping motions. Basically, if you play any sport, stronger glutes will improve your performance and make you more competitive.
Glutes are also critical in the prevention of lower back pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, eight out of ten people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives (1). Aside from the obvious poor posture issue, one of the key players in a weak lower back is sub-par glutes. When developed and activated, the glutes take a lot of strain off your lower back and reduce your chances of injury.
A final, and possibly the most important, benefit is that strong glutes build a beautiful booty. Let’s face it—who doesn’t want a fantastic ass. While it may not be up there with bulging biceps, ripped abs, or a massive chest, these are all so 2012. Clearly, 2013 is the year of the glutes.
If you want to perfect your impression of a jacked crab making your way across the weight room, X-band walks are for you. They’re also pretty damn effective for activating your glutes. Specifically, they hit your glute medius muscle, the one that runs along the side of your leg from your hip down to the outside of the knee. It may not be the best show muscle you have at your disposal, but if you ever perform any type of lateral movement in your sport, you want your glute medius to be strong and ready to roll.
Also, I’m not sure if it’s coincidence, but when I do these before deadlifting, my speed off the floor seems much faster. Who knows if this is a placebo effect or not. All I know is that when my glute medius is activated, I’m a better deadlifter. And that’s good enough reason to carry on with X-band walks.
Band glute drills
There isn’t any fancy name for this one, and I’m afraid I can’t take credit for it either. Someone showed it to me on a training course at Ultimate Performance Gym in London. The first time I tried it, my glutes were sore for four days!
The head trainer at UP produced a box of yoga bands—those resistance bands that look like you could snap them with your little finger and are generally reserved for 90-year-old grandmas and people in the very first stages of recovering from a serious injury. You can imagine the howls of derision when a group of twenty-five strength coaches, powerlifters, bodybuilders, and personal trainers were presented with these and told that we were about to train with them. Oh my days! Five minutes in and the tears of laughter had turned to tears of excruciating pain.
Rather than describe it, I’ll let the video do the talking, but the key coaching points are:
- Keep the weight on your heels
- Keep your lower back arched
- Keep your head and chest up
- If they aren’t hurting, you aren’t sitting low enough
I’m going a little band crazy here, but bands are awesome ass pulverizers. I like these for female clients who need to work their glutes but are a little afraid of throwing big weights around or getting under a loaded barbell. They’re good for more experienced guys, too. Just use a heavier band.
Don’t overlook the basic glute bridge. It’s simple but highly effective. With this and the above three, I’d be tempted to use all of them more as activation type exercises or in a glute circuit rather than for straight sets in a strength workout. There are loads of cool ways to make standard glute bridges harder though. There are a few below, but just use your imagination and you can’t go wrong.
This is the exercise synonymous with Bret Contreras, ass master of the fitness industry. Bret can do a far better job than I can of taking you through the hip thrust, so here he is:
Just in case you get a kick out of feeling emasculated, here’s Molly Galbraith and Jen Comas Keck repping out hip thrusts with 225 pounds:
I always hated pull-throughs. Not in a “these are really difficult, they’re burning, how am I going to get through my next set let alone walk tomorrow” hate kind of way, but more of a “what the hell do these do, they’re pointless” way. That was until I started doing them regularly and nailed the technique. Now, they’re the one exercise that stays constant in my leg routine. I can switch between front and back squats, deadlifts and rack pulls, and leg presses and lunges, but pull-throughs are there in every session no matter what. I’ll throw a sucker punch to the meathead bodybuilder doing his cable kickbacks or the old lady taking up the cable station doing press-downs to get my pull-throughs in.
I’ve found that the key is to go for a slightly wider foot placement, force your hips back but keep your head up, and pause and squeeze for a second at the top. In my first powerlifting meet, I got a red light on my second and third attempts for hitching because my glutes simply weren’t strong enough. In the two months leading up to my second meet, the heaviest deadlift I did was around 85 percent of my one-rep max, and the only change I made to my training was to get pull-throughs in religiously once a week.
In competition number two, I set a five-kilo PR, got three white lights for every lift, and felt like I had more in the tank. All hail to the pull-through.
Glute training may not be sexy, but it’s a must for increasing strength, getting better on the sports field, and crafting the perfect physique. Hold that—it’s sexy, too.