Let's Talk About Your Glutes
I have a confession to make. I have a bit of an unsavory past. Part of my past life directly contradicts my current state of being. As a personal trainer, and a general fitness enthusiast I feel like it’s my obligation to share the best information with the public at large, but also follow my own advice and truly “walk the walk”.
It pains me to share this with you, but out of fear of being a hypocrite I feel like I must come clean.
I used to have a small butt.
I was one of those guys who looked like a cardboard cutout. I had all the features of a grown man, but when turned sideways I was perfectly flat. I am a tall, formerly lanky guy and I simply had no muscle mass on my derriere.
I also had A LOT of back pain. I would get shin splints when I ran, and my knees hurt at least once a month.
You see, this problem of flat-ass-itis was not only a problem when it came to looking good in jeans, it was a structural problem that caused me to move like the tin man.
Who is your favorite athlete? They could be a fighter, a basketball player or a body builder. This may sound weird- look at their butt. I would bet you that it is not small. Strong glutes are tremendously important for athletic, and aesthetic development.
The glutes (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus) are THE most important and largest muscle group in your body. They are also the most neglected and ignored muscle group in your body.
Weak glutes lead to lower back pain. The two are inexorably linked. Your lower back depends on your glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings to remain strong and stable. Without them you will have an unbalanced, out of line pelvis which will put extra pressure on your lower back.
Weak glutes are more times than not a result of prolonged periods of sitting. It’s unfortunate that most people are forced to sit on their ass all day at the office. The process of sitting for long periods of time tends to tighten the hip flexors, which basically deactivated the glutes.
Weak glutes also lead to overcompensation from your hamstrings and quads, making strains and pulls more common. Without a strong, working medius to align the femur, knee and ankle, you’re more likely to overpronate(turn in, arches flat on the ground) your feet, which can cause plantar fasciitis (heel pain), Achilles’ tendinitis and shin splints. Inhibited gluteal muscles also lead to tight iliotibial (IT) bands, and patello-femoral pain, or runner’s knee.
The good news is that glutes respond very well to strength and mobility training.
The fist thing you need to learn how to activate your glutes. It sounds like a hard thing to do but it’s really not. I use this sequence as a warm up before each lower body day in the gym, before each cardio session and every time I play soccer.
The routine is simple. It's 3 movements done 6 times, and repeated twice.
First you perform 6 hip thrusts with your right leg, then with your left leg.
Then you place both feet on the ground and perform six hip thrusts with both legs. After that you repeat.
Make sure you are squeezing your glutes as hard as you can on each rep. After the first round your range of motion will increase.
An easy to ensure your glutes are ready to fire during the day is to flex them regularly. If you work at a desk, stand up once every hour as tall as you can and squeeze your butt as hard as you can.
The next step is to stretch your hip flexors. It’s an easy stretch to set up, but it is not as simple as it looks.
You get into a lunge position, and let your knee hit the ground. Once you are in the correct position, with your hips aligned over your knees- squeeze your butt in order to straighten your pelvis. You are not leaning forward, or trying to push your hips forward, you are as tall as possible and contracting your glute as hard as possible.
What this does is re-align the pelvis and push your hip flexor back to it’s natural, lengthened position.
Once this stretch becomes too easy, you will need to elevate the rear foot. All the same steps and cues apply. It will look like this:
I started my journey to a bigger, stronger butt by deadlifting, squatting and performing single leg exercises. This produced adequate results, especially once I learned how to squat past parallel.
Squatting and deadlifting did wonders for my butt. However, I saw the most rapid increase in strength and size once I was introduces to the kettlebell. Kettlebell swings can be included in almost every workout program, without sacrificing the original intent of the program. They are a simple way to target the glutes and hamstrings, while burning a ton of calories. The explosive aspect of the movement will get your heart rate racing, causing you to burn some serious fat while posing no serious threat to your lower back.
How to Kettlebell Swing
Set up as if you are playing center in the NFL. The kettlebell should be about a foot in front of you. Press your hips backward and slightly bend at the knees, allowing your chest to drop towards the ground.
Notice how my butt is pushed back, my back flat and my knees slightly bent. This position will put the onus of the movement on your glutes and hamstring.
"Hike" the kettlebell between your legs. It will ALMOST hit you in the butt, but trust me it won't. Lean back onto your heels and keep your back flat and knees slightly bent. You should have a loose grip, don't squeeze.
Drive your hips forward. Keep your arms loose. They should not be doing any of the work.
While you are swinging think of your body like a wrecking ball hanging from a crane. Your back is the crane- it is stable and unmoving, your arms are the chain- they are simply holding onto the kettlebell, and not providing any power in the movement. The engine is your butt and hamstrings, they are providing all the power for the movement.
This is the mid-point of the exercise. See how my chest has risen and my hips are in the process of being extended. My arms and back are still straight.
Complete the process of driving your hips forward. Your glutes will be completely contracted, and your hips extended full forward. AT this point you will have driven the bell up to chin level.
The whole movement will look like this:
It's all in the hips.
This movement pattern is called a Hip Hinge, and it is the same pattern needed to deadlift. To develop your glutes you must master this pattern of movement.
You can practice by standing a foot in front of a wall, with your back to it. Drive your hips back until they touch the wall, while at the same time keeping your back flat. If you are having a hard time keeping your back flat, slightly lift your chest as if you were trying to show the logo on your t-shirt to the wall in front of you.
A lot of people have the tendency to "squat" their swings. Instead of pushing their hips backwards, they drop them towards the floor. It's a natural tendency to revert back to a known pattern of movement when trying something new. Be aware of this tendency and practice your hinge!
That is the epic story of how I developed my glutes. After prioritizing hip-driven movements like deadlifting and kettlebell swings I completely erased my lower back back, knee pain and shin splints. I finally look good in jeans, and actually got a bit faster.
The most important result of my glute-centric training is how much happier my wife is.
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