Building a Better Butt: Upgrading Your Glute Workouts
“Work your glutes!”
If you’ve ever been treated for low back, sacroiliac or pelvic problems at Ascent Chiropractic, you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about the importance of glute strength.
But why’s it so necessary?
Modern culture and lifestyle often means that we’re spending a lot of time sitting. Whether in the office, in traffic or at home, so much sitting weakens an important group of muscles – your glutes.
Improving glute strength is absolutely critical for pelvic stability, and is easily one of the top things you can do at home to prevent future low back and pelvic problems.
Let’s talk about butts
There are three different gluteus muscles: the Maximus, Medius, and Minimus.
The Gluteus Maximus
The Maximus is the biggest and most important muscle in your butt, as well as primary mover in hip extension exercises like squats and hip bridges.
The biggest issue stemming from weak glute max muscles is anterior pelvic tilt, which can in turn lead to biomechanical problems both up and downstream – your low back, upper back, neck, knees, hips and ankles can all be affected.
Strengthening the Gluteus Maximus
For a long time, squats were considered the gold standard glute max exercise by fitness experts. But times are a-changing, and in the majority of fitness circles hip bridges have surpassed squats in the battle of booty-building.
On one hand, multiple studies comparing glute activation in squats and hip thrusts via EMG have shown that hip bridges result in significantly better peak muscle contraction.
Butt wait! (pun intended)
In a new study published last month by the International Journal of Sports Medicine, a group of Brazilian researchers put the hip bridge and squat to the test head-to-head. They recruited a group of 22 women who performed either just squats or just hip bridges as their lower body workout for a period of 12 weeks.
After 12 weeks, the researchers compared strength gains and found that squats were most effective for improving strength of the glute max in a lengthened position while hip bridges were best for improving glute max strength in a shortened position.
So while you can get away with doing just hip bridges or just squats, they are complimentary exercises. If you want to maximize your glute max workouts you’re going to need both an exercise that works the glutes in a lengthened position (i.e. squats, lunges, or Romanian deadlifts) as well as one that works them in a shortened position (i.e. hip bridges or modified side planks).
Interestingly enough, they also found that squats led to twice as much glute growth (and 6x more quad growth) than hip thrusts/bridges. So if you’re hitting the glutes solely for the booty gains, squats should be your main focus.
The Gluteus Medius & Minimus
Unlike the glute max, the primary role of the gluteus medius and minimus is external hip rotation. That means they’re responsible for leveling your hips, especially when you’re walking or running.
A weak glute medius/minimus can lead to hip problems, gait abnormalities, genu valgum (knock knees), and knee pain and osteoarthritis.
Strengthening the Gluteus Medius & Minimus
An easy way to hit these smaller glute muscles is simply to add a resistance band loop around your thighs and push your knees out while doing hip thrusts/bridges, letting you hit all three of your glute muscles with one exercise.
You can also activate the glute medius/minimus with clamshells (lay on your side with your knees bent, open your knees like a clam and squeeze your butt) or banded walks/monster walks (loop a resistance band around both lower legs, get into a squat position, step laterally).
A recent study from the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that the clamshell exercise is one of the best for hip strengthening and helping with hip injury treatment and prevention, so it’s definitely worth adding if you deal with hip problems.
To put it into practice, here’s a quick glute workout using everything previously discussed.
- Front Squats/Goblet Squats: 3 sets of 6-8 reps (go as deep as possible)
- Lunges: 2 sets of 10 reps
- Modified Side Planks (knee to elbow): 2 sets of 10 reps, alternating sides, held for 10 seconds each
- Banded Hip Bridges: 3 sets of 10 reps, held for 10 seconds each
- Clamshells: 2 sets of 12 reps, alternating sides
These don’t necessarily need to all be performed on a dedicated “butt” day; they can be fit in with other routines as well. And of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list – there are a ton of add-on glute exercises if you’re feeling extra ambitious.
And remember, while you can expect to experience some degree of delayed onset muscle soreness with any kind of weight lifting program, pain is never normal. Pain is the body’s way of saying something is wrong – consult your chiropractor if the pain persists.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or just looking to tone up, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of getting out of pain and reaching your full potential.