Insufficient strength of the gluteus maximus can lead to an increased demand on the hamstrings or structures of the lower back.
We’ll get right to the point: If your backside doesn’t stick out far enough for you to rest your post-workout chocolate milk on it, then you’re missing the boat. Bigger muscles from stronger lifts mean more attention from the opposite sex.
Regardless of your goals, training to have big, strong, gluteal (read: butt) muscles will have positive implications on every aspect of your life, from injury prevention to social recognition.
Backside Workouts for Injury Prevention
Roughly 80 percent of Americans suffer from lower back pain. A significant number of athletes suffer a hamstring strain at some point during their careers. While there are numerous potential causes of these injuries, typically they have one thing in common: a weak ass. We’ll spare you the complexities of functional anatomy and biomechanics, but basically if a muscle is not strong enough to produce a necessary level of force, the load on the surrounding muscles and joints will be increased. In other words, insufficient strength of the gluteus maximus can lead to an increased demand on the hamstrings or structures of the lower back. Professional trainers and fitness experts can generally tell if someone has or will soon have lower back pain just from looking at them. If there is a smooth merge from their lower back to their hamstrings, something will go wrong eventually.
Backside Workouts for Improved Performance
If you’re part of the 20 percent of Americans who haven’t yet experienced lower back pain and don’t plan to, you may not care about the injury prevention effects of gluteal training. However, the gluteus maximus is potentially your strongest hip extender, meaning it can lead to significant performance improvements in all movements that involve hip extensions. Backside workouts can result in faster sprinting times, higher jumps, sharper cutting, and heavier squatting/deadlifting.
Not only will your squat and deadlift weights improve, but your form should also improve. People with poor glute strength tend to keep their upper body perpendicular to the floor throughout their lifts. As a result, the entire movement is focused on their knees shooting forward. When they run out of ankle range of motion (ROM), they are forced to stop and return to the top, having just completed a quarter squat with horrendous form. These lifters also tend to feel their heels pull up off the floor as they attempt to squat deeper. The key to safe and heavy squatting is to maintain a feet-flat position and to push your hips back as though you were sitting in a chair. A strong gluteus maximus will allow you to control your hips as you sit back and down, then it will rapidly pull you out of this position so you can complete the lift properly.
Benefits of Glute Activation
Similarly, proper use of a strong gluteus maximus is paramount to safe and heavy deadlifting. It's amazing how many people approach professional trainers with back pain related to improper deadlifting. Invariably, the problem is the same: They don’t shift their hips back, maintain a tight/flat back and they don't pull with their hips. Instead, they round over and jerk the bar up with their backs. Dr. Stuart McGill’s research on lower back pain has taught us that repeated flexion of the lumbar spine (rounding of the lower back) is the mechanism for a slipped disk. It should come as no surprise that loading this movement would accelerate the journey to discomfort. By activating the gluteus maximus (more on this shortly) before deadlifting and maintaining correct positioning, the body learns to use the right muscles to produce the safest, strongest deadlift movement.
Training for a Bigger, Stronger Behind
Whether you’re a proponent of single- or double-leg training, your programs should have squatting and deadlifting patterns in them. Note: Leg press and leg extension exercises do not apply to a squatting or deadlifting pattern. Assuming you’re including squatting and deadlifting movements already, the faster way to a stronger, more functional gluteus maximus is through glute bridges.
How to do a Glute Bridge
To perform a glute bridge:
— Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground
— Position your feet hip-width apart, with your heels about an inch in front of your knees
— Pull your toes up toward your shins so only your heels are still on the ground
— Brace your abs as if someone was going to drop a brick on your stomach. You can place your hands on your belly to make sure you’re staying “tight” there
— Push through your heels and squeeze your butt cheeks together as hard as possible as you move to the top
— At the top, you should be in a straight line from your knees through your shoulders.
Glute bridge progression:
Glute Bridge Hold (hold at the top)
— Progress from 3 sets of 20 seconds to 3 sets of 60 seconds
Glute Bridge (move through the ROM for reps)
— Progress from 3 sets of 8 to 3 sets of 15
Glute Bridge March (hold at the top and slowly alternate lifting each foot 1 inch off the ground)
— Progress from 3 sets of 20 seconds to 3 sets of 60 seconds
1-Leg Glute Bridge Hold (point one leg straight up toward the ceiling)
— Progress from 3 sets of 15 seconds to 3 sets of 45 seconds for each leg
1-Leg Glute Bridge (point one leg straight up toward the ceiling)
— Progress from 3 sets of 8 to 3 sets of 15 for each leg
We recommend including 1 to 3 sets of one of the glute bridge variations as part of your warm-up on every training day. On days when you’re squatting or deadlifting, pair your sets with the glute bridge exercise. This will help reinforce that your gluteus maximus should be contributing a significant amount of force to the movement, and minimize the risk of this muscle remaining “dormant.” In other words, a squatting day could look something like this:
— Back Squat - 3 x 3, 2 x 6
— Glute Bridge Hold - 3 x 25 seconds
— Reverse Lunge - 4 x 6 (each leg)
— Glute-Ham Raise - 4 x 8
— Dumbbell 1-Legged Stiff-Legged Dead Lift - 3 x 8 (each leg)
— Bar Rollouts - 3 x 10
Beef Up That Backside
Now you have the knowledge, the progression and a sample program to really get your backside in gear. For those of you who are still missing an incentive, we’ll come back to something we alluded to earlier: Chicks dig guys with strong butts. Whether you’re an athlete, a competitive lifter or a recreational gym rat, you should be spending more time training the big muscle on the back side of your body. It may be the key to a healthier, happier life.
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