By Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES Prosource
Throwing a knockout punch, winning a Bikini contest, winning the Mr. Olympia, locking out world record deadlifts, sprinting faster, jumping higher or making the opposite sex take notice because of the way you fill out your boot-cut Wranglers. All of these scenarios have one thing in common: a strong, powerful, well developed set of glutes.
Bottom line, well developed glutes benefit everyone.
Bikini competitors are penalized for carrying too much muscle mass, but are expected to have full, developed, round glutes. Look at IFBB professional Justine Munro. In bodybuilding, the stage has been set; if you want to consistently bring home the hardware, striated glutes are the standard.
It's mindboggling that these same athletes will spend an entire day trying to isolate the biceps by working them at every conceivable angle, but their glute workout does not go beyond squats or lunges (the harder-working athletes might do a combination of both).
Both of those are great exercises, but they are compound movements working multiple joints and muscles. If you follow this logic for glute development and apply it to your "guns," then all that is needed to maximally develop the biceps would be chin-ups and a couple other compound pulling movements that involve elbow flexion. Hogwash, folks!
To fully develop a muscle compound in isolation, movements need to synergistically blend together like a perfectly conducted symphony. It is not a natural movement pattern to isolate a muscle, but in physique sports sometimes unnatural development is needed to develop body parts beyond natural limits. This is accomplished by unnaturally isolating a muscle. What natural movement isolates the quadriceps? None. However, if you want to fully develop the vastus lateralis (quad sweep), you are going to have do some leg extensions. Why are the glutes treated like the red-headed step-child, via not getting any direct work?
Even if you don't care how you look naked or on stage, you are reading ProSource, so it's a given that you want to put on your war hat and throw around some heavy pig iron. With that in mind, great deadlifters display very forceful hip extension. Olympic lifters display the same thing. Visualize strongman events such as: stones, keg throws, log cleans, and power stairs. The common denominator in all these movements is strong hip extension.
When it comes to extending the hips, the glutes are the prime mover. Recently, targeting the glutes directly has paid huge dividends for my client, Brandon Cass, who deadlifted a world record 844 raw conventional at a body weight of 219 pounds. Barbell hip thrusts and single leg glute bridges helped Brandon strengthen his lockout.
Here is a video of the lift:
Weak glutes can cause your pelvis to tilt forward. Obviously, this isn't easy on the eyes. In addition, it is not easy on your back because it puts stress on your lower back and makes your stomach stick out. Even if you are contest ripped, you will look ready to give birth. During any explosive hip extension movement, the hamstrings assist the glutes. If the glutes are weak and cannot do their job, assisting muscles are called into play to do the job of the prime mover. The results aren't pretty. Habitually, when sprinters injure a hamstring, it is because of weak glutes. This is called synergistic dominance.
If you want to bring weak glutes up to snuff, they cannot be targeted with just movement based compound exercises. Let's take a look at a problematic deadlift lock as a result of weak glutes. To remedy weak glutes, you cannot just overload the movement with rack pulls (partial deadlifts). If the glutes cannot do the job with a submaximal weight, what do you think will happen with supramaximal weight? The take-home point is you have to directly work the muscle regardless of what the residential functional trainer says.
Let's take a look at two great glute strengtheners
Barbell Hip Thrusts
I learned about exercise from Bret Contreras. It directly targets the glutes and heavy weight can be used. From a strength standpoint, this will enhance the deadlift lockout or any hip thrusting motion. I have used these frequently with IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Johnnie Jackson. It helped him deadlift 832 raw in a meet this year. Johnnie did these with over 600 pounds. Don't use pygmy weights here; heavy pig iron is needed to get the job done.
How to correctly perform a barbell hip thrust:
Start with your body seated on the ground with your back rested upon a bench
Make sure the bench won't move
Place a weighted barbell on your hips
If you have large hips, plates can be stacked under the loaded weights to give you extra room
From here, lean your shoulders back against the bench with your shoulders resting on top of the bench
Forcefully push your hips up vertically, keeping the bar rested in your pelvis region
Hold this top position briefly
Return to starting position
For strength, keep sets in the 5-8 rep range and for physique development in the 12-20 rep range
Single Leg Cable Kickbacks
This isolation exercise is very effective for targeting the glutes. I have used these with Priscilla Smith and she has gone from a last call Bikini competitor to a strong national level competitor and soon-to-be pro.
How to correctly perform single leg cable kickbacks:
Hook a cuff around the ankle (you can use ab straps or even free motion handles)
Face the weight stack and stand approximately two to three feet from it
Hold the steel supports to balance yourself
Slightly bend your knees and tighten your abdominals
Using the leg that has the cuff, kick back as far as you can
Hold your leg at that position for a second to get a good peak contraction
Return to the starting position
*Important note- This exercise can also be done with resistance bands.
Here are a couple examples of programming glute work into your current routine:
Below is an example on a physique athlete leg day.
Dead Stop Leg Press-15,15,15
Leg Extensions One Leg-20,15,12
Barbell Hip Thrusts-12,12,12
Below is an example of a movement-based power program on the deadlift day
Glute Ham Raises-6,6,6
Barbell Hip Thrusts-6,6,6
Regardless of whether you're a woman trying to impress an ex-boyfriend at the upcoming neighborhood pool party or a hardcore bodybuilder trying to take your physique prowess to the next level, strong, powerfully developed glutes are a must. You now have two proven-effective basic glute developers, so take them and run!