Glute, Glorious Glutes!

Who among us can’t appreciate a nice set of glutes? It’s okay. There’s a reason there are so many synonyms to describe the rear end. It’s an important part of the human machine.

     Science will tell you they’re an obvious indicator signaling strength, fertility, and vitality in (and to) both men and women. But you may not be interested in the reasons why. If you’re looking to build a great butt, the how is more important to you than the why. You already know why.

     The glutes have the potential to be the body’s largest and most powerful muscle. Train it the right way and you can make it really stand out. But it’s not just for looks.

     Developing strong glutes will give you the “go” to go along with the “show”. In addition to appearance, they’ll help your athletic performance too. If you’re not an athlete, you can just look more like one.

Peach

Function

     There’s a good reason they’re so prominent. They work to keep your body upright. They propel you when you’re moving.

     The main function of the glutes is hip extension, basically going from bent at the hips to straight. Picture getting up from a chair or standing up from the bottom of a squat position.

     It’s the muscle you use when you raise your leg out to the side. It also helps rotate your legs in and out.

     So glutes’ main jobs are hip extension, hip stability, control upper leg rotation. Weak or inactive glutes can lead to poor posture and lead to back pain and knee pain.

Structure

     We tend to think of the butt as one muscle when it’s actually three major ones. They attach from the base of your spine across your hip to the top of your upper leg.

 

Glutes

     The gluteus maximus is the largest. It’s responsible for driving you forward and keeping your balance when you walk or run. It keeps you stable when you’re moving uphill or on uneven terrain.

     The gluteus medius stabilizes your hips as you move. When you move you’re usually alternating balancing on one leg, then the other. This muscle keeps your hips from dropping down when you’re on one foot. Without this, your upper body would tilt side to side with each step.

    The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the trio. It’s below the glute max and helps rotate your upper leg internally and externally as well as forward.

    Strong glutes keep your lower back and knees healthy by taking up much of the work.

Bodyweight Exercises

Sneakers

     There are a bunch of exercises you can do to a stronger rear end. Before we get to them, it’s important to touch on the mind-muscle connection. It’s important that you really feel the muscles as you’re working. This is particularly relevant in glute training because it’s easy to emphasize other muscles if you don’t pay attention.

    You should feel your glutes working during every rep. 

     You don’t need equipment to train your glutes. There’s plenty you can do with just your bodyweight.

     You can do squats. These train all the muscles in your lower body including the booty. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Rotate your toes out slightly. The exact width and angle of your feet is going to vary from person to person. You’ll have to experiment a little to find the most comfortable position for you. Keeping your torso mostly upright, sink your hips by bending at the waist and knees. Descend until your thighs are just below parallel with the floor. Push through your whole foot to drive yourself up to the starting position. Keep your balance so you don’t rock forward causing your heels come off the floor. You don’t want to lean too far backward that your toes come off the floor either. Some people will be able to go much lower than others. It’s not necessary to drop “ass to grass” in order to benefit from squats. If your thigh reaches parallel at the bottom, you’re fine.

Lunges allow you to train one side at a time. This lets you ensure there’s no huge imbalance where one side is far more developed than the other. Lunges come in several flavors including static, Reverse Lunges, walking, and side. To really target the glutes you want to take big strides so when your upper leg is parallel with the floor, that shin is mostly vertical. Remember to land each stride softly. Drive up through the heel of your front leg to the starting position. A slight forward lean of your torso is perfectly natural.

     Glute Bridges are another great exercise to develop this body part. Lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, you flex your glutes to extend your hips up. The key is again to really feel your glutes the entire time. There are versions to challenge you depending on your current capabilities. Using one leg is more advanced than using two. Elevating your feet is more demanding than having them on the floor.

    Fire hydrants work your glutes in abduction. On your hands and knees you raise one leg out to the side. Use an exercise band around your legs (above the knee) and you’ll really feel your glutes working.

    Kick backs work your glutes in hip extension. Start in the same position as above. This time you’ll extend one leg upwards. Focus on using your glute to move your leg rather than your hamstrings here.

    Frog Pumps may look a bit odd but they really work your glutes hard. Lay on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet pressed together. Flex your glutes to raise your hips up.

There are other exercise you can do but these are the main ones. The good thing about bodyweight training is you can do lots of reps and still recover quickly.

Weighted Exercises

45 plate

     As with all lifts, breathing is important. Take in a breath, hold it to brace and stabilize your core. Exhale slightly as you move through the exertion (concentric) part of the lift. Inhale slightly before you go through the eccentric part. For example, breathe in and brace before you descend in the squat. As you ascend, breathe out a bit towards the top.

The Barbell Back Squat is a staple in any solid weight training routine. Like the bodyweight version, it trains all the muscles in the lower body. Your core also works to keep the load on your back stable.

The Deadlift is another lift in most good weight training programs. It builds the muscles you typically don’t see, your posterior chain (including your back, butt, hamstrings, traps, and even gripping muscles in your hands and forearm). The technique on the deadlift could be its own article but here are the basics. Start with your feet about shoulder width apart and your shins an inch from the barbell. Set your hips back and reach down to grab the bar with your hands wider than your feet. Take a deep breath into your belly and hold it (this keeps your spine stable). Flex your lats (the muscles on the sides of your back) to keep the bar really close to you. Pull the slack out of the bar so your arms are straight. You know you’ve got it when if you’re just barely not pulling the bar off the ground. Keep your back flat, lift your chest up. If someone were standing right in front of you they’d be able to read whatever logo is on your chest. You’ll feel tension in your glutes and hamstrings at this point. Push hard through your whole foot to move the bar up. Imagine you’re pushing the ground away from you. Keep the bar close against you throughout the lift. Stand up tall at the top, but no need to lean backwards. To lower the bar, set your hips back. As it passes your knees bend your knees to set the bar on the ground.

Barbell Hip Thrusts are the best glute grower for at least couple reasons. The weight is loaded right on the hip and the resistance is highest when the glutes are fully flexed (and the hip is fully extended). This lift lets you train heavy without a lot of participation from your quads and hamstrings. If you want to grow a stronger, bigger butt hip thrusts should be a huge part of your training.

Set up your bench so it’s a little lower than your knee height if you were standing. Find the appropriate weights to use. Sit down so your shoulder blades are against the bench. Place a pad between your hips and the bar. Roll the bar into position right on your hip crease. Your feet should be flat on the ground. The distance between them and the angle of  your feet will vary from person to person. Find what’s comfortable to you. Drive the weight up explosively with your hips. Flex your glutes hard at the top. Pause. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Sink your hips to lower the weight under control. Keep your chin tucked to your chest the entire time. This makes sure your spine and hips are in good position.

The Kettlebell/Dumbbell Swing also trains your posterior chain. This lift is done explosively. Holding the weight in your hand, set your hips back. Keep your back flat, let the weight travel between your legs. Your knees will be slightly bent. Start the swing by explosively shooting your hips forward. This moves the weight, not your upper body. You want to hold on to the weight with your hands, but your arms are just along for the ride. At the top of the repetition your hips are fully extended and your glutes will be fully flexed. The weight doesn’t need to swing all the way up to your head. Concentrate on driving with your hips, not on how high the weight goes.

Cable Pull Throughs are another good way to train your butt. Select an appropriate weight. Hold the handles so the cable is between your legs. Step forward until you feel resistance from the cable. Keep your back nice and flat. Set your hips back to start the movement. Snap them forward to move the weight. Stand up tall and flex your glutes really hard at the top.

I won’t go into detail about every possible glute lift. A couple other great ones are Romanian deadlifts and Bulgarian Split Squats. The Leg Abductor works the glutes well also, if you like machines.

Reps and Sets

     Strength and hypertrophy are strongly correlated but they’re not exactly the same thing. Stronger muscles tend to be larger, and larger muscles tend to be stronger. But a strong muscle isn’t automatically big and a big muscle isn’t automatically strong.

To build strength you want to work in fairly low rep ranges, usually 1-5 reps per set. To build bigger muscles you generally want to work in a higher range, about 5-12 reps per set. I’m not saying that if you do 6 reps you’re no longer getting stronger. Nor that if your do 4 reps your muscles won’t grow. These ranges are a tendency.

For bodyweight training you can work in much, much higher rep ranges (perhaps as high as 50 if you can stand it). But for heavy compound lifts like squats and deadlifts you want to make sure you can do all the reps with good form. If your form breaks down at the end of a set of bodyweight squats it’s not optimal but you probably won’t get injured. Sacrifice form at the end of a set of barbell squats and you could get hurt. I don’t think it’s particularly wise or necessary to do sets of more than 10 for deadlifts. High-rep deadlifting is asking for injury.

To grow a big and strong booty, you want to do plenty of barbell hip thrusts. Once or twice a week, if you truly want to build that peach. You can do one day in the lower rep range (1-5) to emphasize strength. Use the 6-10 range to emphasize hypertrophy on the other and you’ll have it all covered.

As you get stronger you’ll need to increase the resistance in order to keep progressing. This is true no matter which rep range you’re using. When you first start out you’ll be able to increase the weights pretty frequently. Once you’re using heavier weights, the rate at which you add more will slow down. This is normal.

You do not have to do every exercise listed in order to build a bigger, stronger, better butt. Obviously you want to do barbell hip thrusts 1-2 times per week. Depending on your goals, you may not even want to include barbell squats or deadlifts. If you do, once a week is plenty for those.

Each workout should have maybe 5-6 lifts total. Activate the glutes with a set or two of kick backs or kettlebell swings. Next are the lifts where you use the most weight and involve different muscle groups (e.g. squats, deadlifts, leg press). Do 3-5 sets of these. Then do 1-2 accessory lifts for 2-3 sets (e.g. hip thrusts). End with 1-2 others as finishers (e.g. cable pull throughs).

If you want to build a bigger butt in relation to the rest of your lower body, then you want to focus mostly on those exercises emphasizing the glutes and less on ones that train your legs overall.

Stretches

stretching

     Be sure to warm up properly before you pick up any weights. A few minutes of walking, jogging, biking, etc. gets your heart rate up and tells your body it’s work out time.

Next it’s time for some active stretches like Leg Swings or bodyweight squats. This primes your body for the specific movement you’re about to do. A set or two of glute bridges or fire hydrants will wake up your glutes, helping you establish the mind muscle connection.

Once you’re done lifting you can cool down with some static stretches. I like these glute stretches in particular.

Sample Workout

      Below are two sample workouts. They’re just examples what a glute workout might look like. The first one assumes you’re doing a bodyweight only glute session. The second is if you were doing weight training with a glute emphasis.

Sample Workout 1:

Squats – 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions, with :30-:60 minute rest between.

Glute bridges – 3 sets of 10-20, with :30-:60 minute rest between.

Lunges – 3 sets of 5-10 (each leg), with :30-:60 minute rest between.

Frog Pumps – 3 sets of 10-20, with :30-:60 rest between.

It’s short but not so sweet. You’ll have a nice glute pump.

Sample Workout 2:

Warm up, active stretch.

Kettlebell Swings – 3 sets of 3 reps, 1 minute between.

Deadlifts – 3 sets of 5 reps, 1-3 minutes rest between.

Hip Thrusts – 3 sets of 8-12, 1-2 minutes rest between.

Leg Extension machine – 3 sets of 8-12, 1-2 minutes rest between.

Leg Curl machine – 3 sets of 8-12, 1-2 minutes rest between.

Abductor machine – 3 sets of 8-12, 1-2 minutes rest between.

Cool down, stretch.

Summing It All Up

     Great glutes look good and make you strong. Healthy and active glutes take the strain off your lower back and knees. You build a great butt by including exercises that emphasize them in your workouts, especially hip thrusts. Train a few times per week, focus on getting stronger. Be consistent and patient and you’ll be impressed with your results.

Any questions, hit me up at jquinn.fitness@gmail.com!

 

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Top 5 Chest Exercises

Here are 5 great exercises you can do to develop a strong, defined chest!

You knew it was going to start with Bench Press, right? It’s the runaway favorite lift for your chest. It also works your triceps and shoulders.

Set yourself up so your upper back and butt are firmly on the bench. Your feet are planted on the ground. Your shins should be perpendicular to the ground. You don’t have to have the huge back arch that powerlifters like to use, but you should arch a little. Keep your shoulder blades packed tightly together and down. This helps make sure your shoulders remain in a stable position.

Your head should be on the bench. Your eyes should be just past the bar. Pick a spot on the ceiling and focus your vision on it. Grip the bar tightly in your hands, which are a little bit further than shoulder width apart. The distance is going to be different for everyone. Comfort is the main thing you want. At the bottom position of the lift your forearms should be perpendicular to the ground.

You don’t want your upper arm too far away from your sides. You don’t want to look like a scarecrow. This puts the shoulder in a position for potential injury. You also don’t want your upper arms too close to your ribs. Keeping them in too tight takes emphasis off the chest and puts it more on the triceps.

On to the lift itself! Unrack the bar and extend your arms fully. Lower the weight in a controlled manner down to your mid-chest. Let it touch your chest gently and then drive it back up to the starting position. Not touching your chest shortens the range of motion. I hope it’s obvious why you don’t want to let the bar slam into your chest. If not, just know that it’s dangerous and painful.

For your last repetition, make sure you fully extend your arms. Then rack the bar. Trying to rack too early is a good way to get injured.

Inhale at the top position. Exhale as you drive the weight up.

Incline Bench is up next. It’s similar to the flat bench but it emphasizes the upper part of your chest. The degree of incline will vary depending on the equipment. Find an incline that’s comfortable for you. A steeper incline is going to put greater emphasis on your shoulders. You’ll notice the steeper it is, the more closely it resembles a seated shoulder press. The flatter the incline, the closer it will be to a flat bench.

Again, pack your shoulder blades together and down. Upper back and butt are in contact with the bench. Slight arch in your back. Feet firmly on the ground. Eyes focused on one spot on the ceiling.

Unrack the bar. Extend your arms. This time you’ll lower the weight to your upper chest, just below your collarbone. Touch and drive it back up. Again, breathe in at the top, breathe out as you drive the weight up.

Flys are a good chest isolation exercise. The bench and incline bench are compound lifts because they use more than one muscle group. Flys isolate your chest. There are a bunch of ways to do them.

To do them on a bench, grab a pair of dumbbells and lay flat on a bench. Start with your arms straight out in front of you, with your palms facing each other. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Maintain that slight bend for all the repetitions. Lower your arms so your body pretty much looks like the letter T, if someone were to view you from above. You’ll feel a stretch in your pecs. Squeeze your pecs to bring the weights back up to the start position. Exhale as you raise the weights. Inhale at the top.

You can do them on an incline bench also.

Other variations will have you using a cable machine.  An advantage of using a cable machine is you’ll be under constant tension. Try the different ways and see which feels best for you.

Push-ups are a staple chest exercise. Like the bench, they work your triceps and shoulders as well. Most people just use their bodyweight, but it’s possible to add weight if you want to.

Start with your hands on the floor, a little bit wider than shoulder width apart. The exact distance will be different from person to person. Find the distance that’s comfortable for you. Your body should be straight. Keep your abs tight, flex your legs and glutes. Lower yourself by bending your elbows until your chest is just off the floor. Push hard to extend yourself to the starting position. Try not to tilt your head too much. Tilting it up so you’re looking straight a head, or tucking your chin into your chest can put a strain on your neck. Breathe in at the top, and out as you push up.

Push-ups are very easily scaled to make them easier or more difficult. Essentially, tilting your body so your upper body is higher than your lower body makes it easier. An example of this would be if you put your hands on bench. Or if you did push-ups on your knees. Tilting so your feet are higher than your upper body adds difficulty. If you put your feet up on a bench, this would make it more challenging.

The last chest exercise I’ll talk about today is dips. For bench dips, start with your hands on the bench. Your legs will be out in front of you. Having them straight makes the exercise more difficult. Having your knees bent makes them a little less challenging. Lower yourself by bending at the elbows until your upper arm is about parallel with the floor. Push hard into the bench to drive yourself to the starting position.

If you’re using a dip station, your body will be more vertical but you still lower yourself by bending at the elbow and drive yourself up by extending your arms. These are a progression from bench dips. You want to avoid swinging with your legs which uses momentum instead of muscle. You can keep your legs straight or you can bend at the knees. For more of a challenge you can do weighted dips. You can hold a dumbbell between your crossed ankles but using a belt to hold the weight is a better solution.

Inhale at the top, exhale as you drive up.

So there you have it. Five great exercises to help you build your best chest ever. You don’t have to do them all in order to develop your pecs. These are just tools you can use. You’ll find you’ll prefer some more than others. Some will just feel more comfortable.

Try ‘em out and get to work!

10 Stages of Being a Lifter

When you first start working out, you’re like a newly hatched caterpillar. If you stick with it you’ll go through these stages on your way to becoming a beautiful little butterfly!

  1. What the hell is that? You decide you’re going to start working out. You join a gym and you do the tour. Everything looks like some sort of torture device. You have no idea how any of the equipment works. The place is loud, and if you’re starting in January, probably packed with people.
  2. You’re sore. Everywhere. If it’s going to be like this all the time, how do people do this? The bad news is the first couple of weeks can be brutal. You’re doing a bunch of new exercises, working muscles you didn’t know you had. For a while, those muscles are going to scream at you. The good news is this passes.
  3. Is that a … bicep? A few weeks in, you notice some slight changes. Holy shit, it’s working! You spend a little more time in the mirror. Perhaps you start pondering an overhaul of your entire wardrobe.
  4. Acolyte. This might be the most annoying phase. You know just a little bit and you can’t resist sharing your wisdom with anyone and everyone around you. You regurgitate every tip you’ve ever heard with supreme confidence. Try not to linger here too long or you risk losing friends and family forever.
  5. I am invincible! You’re in a solid groove now. It’s been several weeks. You’re stronger every time you enter the gym. The weights keep going up. You wonder how long it’ll be before the Avengers ask you to join. You might not even want to be part of the group, but at least you can give them some workout pointers.
  6. Stuck. Your newbie gains phase is over. You used to increase the weights on the barbell every week, now it’s a lot less frequent. You wonder what happened. Is it time to completely change your training program? Find a new guru?
  7. Switch it up. You make some changes in your training and you’re back on the gains train, even though it’s not like the Newbie Express.
  8. Satisfied! Injured? If you train consistently over time you’re going to get nagging little injuries. Taking a little time off can help. Or, if you’re like me when I first started, you decide, “I’m satisfied. I bet if I stop working out for a while, my gains will just stay.” And you end up chillin’ for months. Don’t do that. They won’t stay. Take a week or two, then get back into it. Your progress won’t evaporate in a couple weeks. If you end up taking an extended break, you will backslide. Fortunately, re-gaining is significantly easier than gaining the first time.
  9. Pruning. You’ve figured out the sweet spot of what works for you and what you enjoy doing. Your efficiency spikes and you don’t waste time doing the newest fad program that got (insert celebrity name here) in amazing shape in only three weeks.
  10. Enjoy the process. At this point, you realize you actually enjoy training. Not just the results, but the training itself. That’s good because you’ve been at it probably a couple years. You’ve had good results. You’re also in the area of diminishing returns. You have to fight for every added pound on the bar now.