Four Keys to Smart Ass Training
Squats and deadlifts are great, but they may not be the best bet for building a bigger booty. If you're serious about lower body power—or just filling out those new Gymshark leggings—then you need a combination of the right exercises and a good understanding of both muscle action and skeletal position.
We'll run through the actions of the glutes, some skeletal/anatomical considerations, and highlight four keys to building a bigger, tighter butt.
Maximus, Medius, and Minimus
Though frequently referred to en masse as "the glutes", your butt is actually composed of three distinct muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus (for the sake of simplicity, we'll ignore the deep stabilizing muscles of the hip). Despite being distinct muscle groups, there's some literal and functional overlap between them.
Gluteus Maximus. The primary actions are extension and hyperextension of the femur, with secondary actions of femoral external rotation, abduction and transverse abduction.
Gluteus Medius. The gluteus medius is the prime femoral abductor, though its functional role is the reverse; limiting femoral adduction (this is particularly important during gait).
Gluteus Minimus. The smallest of the three, the gluteus minimus assists in femoral abduction as well as being an internal rotator of the femur.
While all three are functionally important, when it comes to bigger butts, the clue is in the name: maximus. Our look at what we'll continue to refer to as "glute training" will therefore focus on this biggest, most powerful muscle of the three.
What's Our Vector, Victor?
To recap, the primary actions of the gluteus maximus are hip (femoral) extension and hyperextension. The trouble with training the glutes as hip extensors is that hip extension is such an important movement that the body has some built-in redundancy in the form of the hamstrings. Squats and deadlifts require hip extension, and as such involve the glutes, but the hamstrings are the muscles doing most of the heavy lifting.
It turns out that the key #1 to smart ass training is understanding force vectors. While the glutes are nearly always involved in any form of hip extension, their contribution increases in propulsive actions. Put another way, your glutes push you forward by pushing your leg backward.
Key #1 to smart ass training is understanding force vectors.
Extend Your Range
Most of our glute gains will come from targeting primary muscle actions. We've covered hip extension, so let's move on to hip hyperextension. Hyperextension of the hip involves moving the femur beyond vertical and behind the body, and while theoretically most of us have as much as twenty degrees of hyperextension (depending in large part on knee angle), it's pretty common to see someone compensating for a lack of hip mobility by arching their back in an imitation of hyperextension. Why? We'll look at two related causes, starting with one we see a lot of in modern life: tight or hypertonic hip flexors.
Key #2 to smart ass training is loosening up tight hip flexors.
Think about it: hip extension, particularly hip hyperextension involves the exact opposite of hip flexion. If your hip flexors are chronically tight, it's gonna be hard to move in the opposite direction. If you want a bigger butt, you need to turn those hip flexors off. Stretching and foam rolling may be good temporary interventions, but a longer-term solution requires addressing posture...
The problem with using lumbar extension to make up for hip extension is that you effectively turn your lower back into your butt. Position determines function, and a pelvis that's stuck in an excessive anterior tilt facilitates the use of the spinal erectors, not the glutes. In order to effectively target the glutes during hip extension and hyperextension we need to own lumbo-pelvic orientation.
The skeleton rarely moves in isolation, and an arched back is nearly always paired with a pelvis that's tipping forward. So how do you control your pelvis? A combination of abs and hamstrings, which brings us to our third key to smart ass training: use your abs. Your rectus abdominis and internal and external obliques work together to flex the lumbar spine by pulling up on the anterior/superior aspect of the pelvis, while the hamstrings—in addition to flexing the knee and extending the hip—can act to help pull the posterior/inferior aspect of the pelvis down. Ass and abs? You can thank me later.
To illustrate the point, try this quick experiment: walk around the room with your hands on your butt and your core muscles slightly engaged, creating a neutral pelvis. Now do the same thing but turn your abs off and arch your back. The difference should be pretty stark, and is a good reminder of the importance of position when it comes to glute training.
Key #3 to smart ass training is using your abs to control lumbo-pelvic orientation.
Mini is Right
Spend an hour or two in a big box gym these days and you're bound to see someone with a mini band around their knees, ready to tell you all about "glute activation". Ignoring the troublesome question of just what "activation" means in this context, the other question this begs is why we're training an absolute powerhouse of a muscle with... a rubber band?
Used correctly, mini bands can be an effective way to target the secondary functions of the gluteus maximus, namely hip abduction, external rotation, and transverse abduction. The problem is simple: these are secondary actions. There's nothing wrong with training these, but not at the expense of primary muscle actions. If you want to supplement your booty building workout with some clamshells and the like then go for it—just don't build a workout around these smaller movement.
Key #4 to smart ass training is not majoring in the minors.
A Few of My Favorite Things
Keeping some of the glute training keys we've covered in mind, here are a few of my favorite exercises for building a big, sexy bottom.
Hip Thrusts and Bridges
Reverse Hyperextension Variations
Back Extension (actually a hip movement, despite the name)
Broad Jumps and Bounds
Done well (with a neutral pelvic orientation and full range of motion) these can help build strength, size, and power in one of the lower body's most important muscles.
The glutes are actually three muscles
The biggest and strongest of these is the gluteus maximus
The primary actions of the gluteus maximus are hip extension and hip hyperextension
Most of our training efforts should focus on these two joint actions
The glutes work the hardest when they act to propel us forward
Good pelvic position lets the glutes work harder