The Glute Basics: Effective Butt Training for Size and Performance
Building a bigger butt is all the rage and there’s good reason: butts are great to look at and functionally crucial.
Let’s look at what they’re for and then the keys to building your best butt.
Why Butts Matter
The glutes are some of the most important muscles in the body – but also some of the most commonly weak and inhibited. Modern life weakens them through sedentary lifestyles and poor movement mechanics.
Why is this a problem?
Well the major role of the glutes is to move the hips effectively and stabilise the lower spine. As you might imagine, with an 80% debilitating back pain prevalence, improving the stability and health of the spine can be a serious benefit.
On top of this, the glutes are one of the most universally important performance muscles. From thrusting to sprinting to the Olympic lifts, stronger glutes mean better power and performance. This makes them a crucial place to invest your time and effort if you’re training for health and/or fitness.
There are some aesthetic benefits to a fine booty, too – but we probably don’t need to explain those to you. So, instead, let’s look at the keys to improving glute strength and size…
The hip hinge is both a fundamental movement and a key way of training the glutes. As mentioned above, the role of the glutes is to stabilise the lower spine and extend the hip, primarily.
As you can imagine, then, we’re going to start by stabilising the lower spine and extending the hip. Shocking and revolutionary.
Hip hinging leans into the hamstrings and glutes on the way backwards (eccentrically – with gravity), and then engages them concentrically (against gravity) on the way forwards. The top half of both a squat and deadlift emulate this hip-hinging position.
On top of this, the Olympic lifts are all about leg and hip extension, so you’re going to get plenty of carryover from a bigger butt. (Especially because Olympic lifters tend to have pretty under-developed glutes/hams relative to their meaty tear-drop quads.)
Here’s the progression we think you should be working on with the hip hinge
Learn to Hip Hinge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob5i7jX9gN4
The Paused Romanian Deadlift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8CyiL8n2Hg
Kettlebell swing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxQTJNup11I
Stiff-Legged Deadlift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYEVqa4C0yg
Paused Back Extension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvAGKQPPsMg
Death March: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBba96tNbDA
Good Morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w22-3NWXRkk
Unilateral Leg Exercise
These are asymmetrical leg exercises and they’re important for the glutes because the butt stabilises the knee. The secondary role of the glutes and piriformis is to control the position of the knee and rotate it inwards/outwards.
Overlooking this role can be a real problem: it introduces a ton of injury risk in the knees, it leads to poor squatting mechanics, and it impedes overall force production in the knee-hip extension. Overall, the picture we’re painting is this: learn to externally rotate your damn hips.
There are a ton of exercises we consider useful here, but you can pretty much progress through them in this order…
Reverse lunge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOOrpOPnIo4
Walking Lunge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vni4lElTvsY
Bulgarian Split Squat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg30Nmammv4
Always add a deficit to the front foot before adding more weight. It pays to work through longer ranges of motion where the glutes will be more involved, and you can add weight afterwards or through lighter accessory exercises.
Equally, you need to keep the glutes and core active together through the movement. They should move as a single unit, so focus on keeping the hips square (in-line when viewed from above) and the chest tall. If your chest collapses, you’re not extending the hip, or training the glute, properly.
Good technique is primary, and these exercises only work optimally if you’re prioritising effective movement.
Isolating the Hips: Abduction and Extension
So, on top of the real-world movement we’ve discussed above, you want to be able to specifically target the buttocks. This is valuable when you don’t want to train heavy hip hinging movements or slap on more leg volume (for recovery or other reasons).
Exercises that remove the hamstrings and quads but involve the use of the glutes alone are rare but effective. The main two we’re going to discuss are the hip thrust and the frog pump.
This is the classic glute-strengthening exercise. It uses the glutes first and foremost but also provides some benefit to the hamstrings which are also involved in the bridging motion.
The hip thrust is one of the heaviest movements you’re going to be able to do – likely somewhere in the region of 100-200% of your squat. This means shifting a load of weight with your glutes as the main force-producer. A recipe for butt gains.
Equally, simpler movements that reduce the weight can be effective. The single-legged glute bridge is a variation on the hip thrust that has the same mechanics but obviously with one less leg. This combines hip extension wit unilateral work for some great performance/size training.
The Frog Pump
This funky looking exercise takes us back to Bret Contreras and proper hip mechanics. It takes out the hamstrings and a lot of the weight from the hip thrust, but really dials in on the clenching/abduction movement.
It’s a high-repetition exercise that we really like for the focus on the glutes, but also the ability to improve awareness and technique. Whether you’re just here to get a bigger butt or to improve your performance with better glute activation for other exercises, the frog pump is useful.
It’s going to look ridiculous, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for looking good/performing well.
Extra Credits: Glute Warm-Ups and ‘Activation’
You can load both the hip thrust and the frog pump with band tension, too, which can be useful for the natural length-tension structure of the butt. We also recommend getting plenty of glute work in your warm-ups and prehab.
Here are our honourable mentions for the glutes if you’re looking for something light that doubles up as both finishers and warm-up/activation drills.
Banded crab walks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHJOQ4mjQ30
Banded clams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjKyGqrAaP4
Banded internal rotations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_2YZFtaSRg
Butts are trendy, but proper processes and a balanced physique are always relevant. It’s important to remember that the function of the butt is the leading factor in how it works, what it’s for, and how to train it.
As with anything in physique, consistently overloading with slightly more reps/sets/weight is the way to go. These are the key movements and exercises to focus on, but the habits around training and recovery are still important.
Make sure you’re training your glutes across all 3 of these main styles of training and be sure to think about how they’re used in other exercises like squats. Getting good at the exercise mentioned above will carry over accordingly, with better movement and strength.
You can do it. Put your ass into it.