by Dean Somerset T-Nation
Here’s a fact:
Guys lift weights to attract the opposite sex. That may not be their only reason, or even the primary one, but to suggest otherwise is a steaming load of horse hooey.
Here’s another fact, one that I learned after getting married and listening in on a lot of female conversations – women look at a guy’s butt the way guys look at a woman’s chest.
But that’s where the similarities end, cause while women often pine for enhancement surgeries and padded miracle bras to improve their assets, guys on the other hand are either completely oblivious to being tragically ass-less, or think that squeezing their anemic behinds into hipster skinny jeans is somehow appealing to prospective mates.
This is wrong with a capital “W,” and it goes back to evolution. It’s been said that men are wired to be attracted to larger breasts as they signify greater reproductive capability. However, women may also be drawn to well-shaped glutes as they indicate strength and virility, or what some less genteel types would refer to as “piston power.”
Scoff at this all you want, but think about it. From an evolutionary perspective, a jackhammer behind makes being hung like a Keebler elf less of a deal breaker when it comes time to make babies.
What Do The Glutes Do?
The Glute Guy himself, Bret Contreras, has gone off repeatedly about what the glutes are and what they do, so for a more in-depth analysis you should check out the T Nation articles he’s written, like this one.
To sum up, the glutes produce hip extension and external rotation, are primarily fast-twitch and high force producing, and are very difficult to completely fatigue.
Think of a skating stride in hockey. The toe turns out so the flat of the blade can dig into the ice (external rotation and abduction), and then the hip extends back into the ice to provide some forward movement (extension).
Additionally, think of a running back in football about to make a sharp cut and speed burst. The hard rotation and extension of the hip causes them to shoot the gap and get in the house for 6, whereas the guy who needs a set of suspenders to hold up his pants is left in a pile on the 30-yard line.
While this is all well and good, most people tend to sit all day in cubicle farms, making their glutes less than ideally formed and functional. This means most hip extension work gets picked up by the glutes’ little brothers, the hamstrings, and to a less desirable degree, the lumbar spine.
After working with a lot of people with low back pain, there seems to be a direct correlation between low back pain, hypermobility through the low back, weak and dysfunctional glutes, and tight hamstrings.
What this means is that if I were to just get you to do a glute exercise when your default go-to is to get extension out of your hamstrings and low back, your sad-sack butt will just dangle there loosely while your hamstrings cramp-up and make your low back hate you for days.
What SHOULD Happen
When you contract a muscle, there should be an actual shift in the shape of the muscle and tension you feel in the area.
Try it now while you’re sitting and reading this. Flex your glutes while sitting. You should feel tension develop, and you’ll probably bump up a few inches as they change shape. If you have strong and sizable glutes you may even hear your underwear whimper a little as you strangle the life out of it momentarily.
The trick to getting glutes to work is to now take your flexed glutes and get into various positions – such as half-kneeling, tall kneeling, standing, lunging, squatting, and hip hinging – and have them fire excessively hard against a load, so that when you go out and deadlift or squat or sprint you don’t wind up ripping yourself a new one.
Once you can make them flex, the next step is to make them flex harder and harder, and under higher resistance.
The following is a simple ladder method to help you develop a solid groove for getting your glutes going. Each step up the ladder is a bigger challenge, which means the glutes have to work harder, thereby making it more of a mental game within yourself to see what level you should be at. In other words, it’s sort of like Inception, except in your butt.
Start at the beginning, and as you’re able to get the glutes flexing, changing shape, and maintaining contraction strength, move on to the next level until you get to a step that gives you some trouble.
Stay there as long as needed to make sure you have some solid activation, and only then move on to the next level.
Each exercise will be 10-15 reps, and preferably not to failure.
Again, this article is for those guys who have sleepy glutes and have trouble getting anything going in their caboose. However, if you pull 500 pounds and have a back-end that resembles Serena Williams’, it could still serve as an occasional shakeup.
Step 1: Partially Supported
This one is an oldie but a goodie. In a 4-point position (like you’re getting ready to crawl around on the floor), keep a strong back position and straighten your leg out so that you’re reaching your foot to the wall behind you.
When you get to your full leg extension position, try to flex that extended cheek for all its worth. Make sure you feel your pants or shorts moving from the massive shape change. Repeat on the other side.
Step 2: Half Kneeling
Get down on one knee like you’re about to take the big plunge. Now get as tall as you can manage, with your shoulders and hips perfectly vertical over your knee on the floor. Place your hand on the glute of the down leg and check to see if you can get that sucker flexing again. You should get a very hard contraction and a big shape change out of this one, and if not, keep working at it until you can.
Step 3: Glute Bridge
The key to this exercise is to get the hips to extend as far as possible without getting kick-up from the hamstrings or low back. If needed, put your hands on your glutes to make sure you’re getting them to contract properly. Drive through the heels and keep the feet flat on the floor, making sure you hinge up through the hips instead of rolling up through the spine.
Step 4: Split Squats
This is probably one of the most physically and mentally challenging exercises you can do, especially if you have a tight quad or a weak glute. The key here is to get the glute fired up and keep it fired up through the entire movement, from the floor to standing.
If you feel like your quad is ripping off the bone and your glute is ready to explode, you’re doing it right. Don’t think of standing up out of this one, think of extending the knee and getting the glute to drive the entire movement.
Step 5: Hip Hinge
Standing with your feet together and your butt facing a wall a few inches away, stick your butt out with a light bend in your knees until you can feel it touch the wall. Extra points for adding some weight to the back of your neck with a kettlebell or a plate.
You should feel a massive stretch in your hamstrings and glutes at this point. Drive your hips forward and crank those glutes hard.
Step 6: Squat
While there’s been more than enough written about how to squat properly, here’s a cue that will help build your glutes more.
When lowering into the movement, think of pushing your glutes back to the wall and getting down into the hole between your feet. Then, when coming back up, imagine pressing your hips back under the center of gravity. This is a glute-focused program; so let’s spend time focusing on the glutes.
Step 7: Straddle Deadlift
You can use a dumbbell or a kettlebell for this one, or any heavy object that lets you get some glute craziness going on. The benefit of this variation is that you can get the weight closer to your center of gravity, meaning it’s easier for you to get your hips into your deadlift instead of your back.
Standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keep the spine stiff and tight, and grab the handle with your knees slightly behind your ankles.
Sit back until you feel your glutes and hamstrings kick up, and then using the methods you’ve developed in the previous steps to get your glutes to contract and change shape, push your hips forward until your thighs hit your hands.
Hit the top and flex your cheeks hard to make sure they can develop serious tension to get the glutes to develop some training adaptations. Breathe. Now lower and repeat.
Step 8: Deadlift
The positioning of the bar farther from the center of gravity means your low back will want to kick up over the glutes, but the challenge is to make sure you can get those suckers to hang on.
Start with an elevated lift or a trap bar, and then progress down in height as long as you can maintain good, strong glute activation throughout the lift. When you reach the top, snap the glutes hard.
An obvious question is, “How long should I spend at each step?” But it’s more of an “as long as it takes” kind of progression.
Let’s say you can completely own step 6 but have difficulty with step 7. The ideal would be to complete a set or three at step 6 so you can get the glutes talking loud, and then see if you can get them going in step 7.
You may only get one or two reps in step 7, but spending 5-6 sets working at it will surely lead to progress.
If you can do 10-15 reps in a stage, it’s time to move on to the next one. Remember, if you have solid, hard glute contractions and get a massive shape change going on, you’re golden.
Finally, once you’re able to conquer the full deadlifts in step 8 with solid glutes capable of crushing coal into karats, you’re done. You also now have a back end that shows up on satellite imaging, much to the approval of ass-hungry women everywhere.
I can’t promise you this program will get you more action, but I can promise you it won’t hurt your efforts. And at the end of the day, every little bit of push in the right direction only helps.
Save the skinny jeans for the soy-sipping boys languishing in the Friend Zone. By building some quality badonkadonk, you may start finding your way past the goal line and running up the score.