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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Evidence Based Butt Training

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

The butt or buttocks is really three muscles. The Latin names for them are:

1. Gluteus Maximus

2. Gluteus Medius

3. Gluteus Minimus

The gluteals are the largest and most powerful muscles in the human body. Pound for pound the tongue is stronger but thank goodness it is much smaller. The butt muscles are crucial for walking, running, jumping, squatting, balance, lunging, climbing, throwing, thrusting and (for some) attracting a mate. Strong gluteals can protect the hip, knees and back from injury. Virtually all athletic endeavors benefit from having powerful glutes. The gluteals' primary functions are hip extension, rotation, flexion, stabilization and in part, torso extension—big jobs for big muscles.

There are several mechanisms by which to change the shape, size and force output of the gluteal muscles, or any muscle for that matter. The most important being mechanical stress. The ancillary mechanisms are metabolic stress and muscular damage. All skeletal muscles within the body respond to stress and damage. Muscle tension refers to the force felt in your muscles when pushing or pulling against a heavy load. Your muscles contract eccentrically, concentrically and isometrically to produce force and pull on boney structures, thus creating movement. This tension needs to occur regularly and be progressively more challenging to stimulate growth. All muscle and strength building exists on a continuum. The harder you are willing to work, the greater the benefits. However, it is not all about 'the no pain, no gain' dogma. The focus should be on smarter training. I believe it is important to develop a personalized plan that targets the appropriate sets, reps, variety, rest, loads and time under tension to realize the full advantages.

Myth: The gluteals are not contracting, do not 'fire' or are shut off. Total hogwash. As long as you are not in a coma or paralyzed, your gluteals work. Greg Lehman states: "Looking at the concept of the Gluteus Maximus being inhibited and found that it is “inhibited” or late to turn on in everyone.  Meaning, what people were calling a dysfunction was just normal existence!" So they might be slightly inhibited, but they are certainly not turned off.

Several factors come into play when designing an appropriate workout plan. One size does not fit all. We all have varied genetics and body types. It pays to know your body and understand how much effort you are willing to devote to this goal. That being said, here are some of the several factors needed to be considered to develop a personalized gluteal plan:

1. Workout experience level

2. Available time to commit to training

3. Level of consistency

4. Prior and/or current injuries

6. Current daily physical demands

7. Stress levels

9. Diet

So once you figure out a consistent schedule, you will need to choose exercises, weights, rep/set ranges, rest periods and time under tension plans. Sometimes it is best to play around with these variables and see what you respond to most successfully. Personally, it has taken me decades of experimentation to find the best configuration for my goals. By no means should it take you this long. As I've aged and my priorities and hormones have changed, I've needed to rewrite my program. It is always useful to be willing to modify plans when life throws you a curveball or new evidence presents itself. The field of exercise science is constantly growing and new data is always making its way to the light. The current peer-reviewed research has demonstrated the following exercises to be some of the most effective gluteal movements:

1. Hip Thrusts

2. The Back Squat:

3. Sumo Deadlift

4. Deficit Reverse Lunge

5. Lateral Band Walk

6. Single Leg Glute Bridge

7. Deep Dumbbell Squat

8. Side lying Hip Abduction with Band

9. Single Leg Lateral Step Down

10. Bulgarian Split Squat

This is obviously not an exhaustive list of all exercises for the gluteals but they are some of my favorites. Keep in mind there are also many variations on each exercise listed above. Adding weight, changing the range of motion, increasing the balance requirements or varying the angles will add to the variability component. Data shows most people will benefit from 2 to 3 sessions per week with a total volume (number of work sets) between 10-20. Play around with the movement patterns and variables to see what works best for you. You'll be bouncing quarters off your tush before you know it!

For more information contact me or check out the best textbook on the subject: "The Glute Lab" by Bret Contreras, PhD

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