Lots of people that I work with want a great set of glutes.
Now I know what you’re thinking:
“But Mike! You work with athletes! These people don’t care about training muscle groups…”
First and foremost, I’m not talking about bodybuilding splits here.
What I am talking about is building a set of glutes that not only function at a high level, but that look great as well.
Here’s something that’s really important to note…
Just because someone plays sports and wants to train for function, does not mean they don’t want to look great too!
So lets’ start by looking at what I think we, as an industry, can do better with regards to glute training.
And then I’ll put the rubber to the road and give you a step-by-step blueprint for building a strong, athletic, and dare I say sexy set of glutes.
What’s Wrong With Our Current Thinking?
Needless to say, I think we’ve done ourselves a great disservice when it comes to glute training.
Quite simply, there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.
Firstly, when it comes to training the glutes, I think we’re spending far too much time in the sagittal plane.
Now that’s not say the sagittal plane isn’t important – it is. And if you don’t believe me, read this first: Sagittal Plane First.
So we have to control the sagittal plane first, before we get cute and start dabbling in the frontal and transverse planes.
And yes, I definitely understand the glutes also work to extend the hip – you won’t get an argument from me there.
But when you look at the pennation angle of the glutes (and especially glute max) it just wreaks of a muscle that’s meant to rotate.
Last but not least, not that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a great indicator of quality work, but if you’re ever loaded your glutes in a more tri-planar fashion, chances are sitting wasn’t the easiest thing to do the next day!
So our first goal is to start looking at multi-planar glute training, once we’ve got control of the sagittal plane.
But there’s another issue at play here as well.
The Social Media “Look”
Look, if you know me and have read this site for any period of time, you know I’m not a hater in the slightest.
So people like Jen Selter that have like a bazillion followers on Instagram?
Good for them – do your thing girl.
But just because a certain look gets attention from the male species, doesn’t mean it’s the epitome of high-quality function.
In fact, I’d say that very deep back, anteriorly tilted look is a sign of someone whose glutes might look great, but are not in position to do their job.
I don’t know about you, but the people I work with don’t necessarily care how it gets done, but they want a set of glutes that look great and do the job when it comes to performance.
So how do we do that?
Let’s take it step by step…
Step #1 – Reposition and Reload
If we really want our glutes to do their job, the first thing we have to do is reposition our body.
We’ve discussed the scissored posture for years – where the lower rib cage flares up and out, the pelvis tips forward anteriorly, and the curve of the lower back deepens.
This lengthens the glutes, and puts them in a suboptimal position to produce force.
To address this, I’ll often put an athlete in the hooklying position: Lying on their back, hips and knees flexed, with their feet resting on a low box.
This allows the lower back to relax, and passively puts them in a position where the rib cage and pelvis are facing each other.
From here, I’ll often put a light kettlebell in their hands and simply have them work on breathing.
- Start by finding the hamstrings first. Feel the whole foot on the box, but make sure you can find your heels.
- Focus on inhaling while making the arms long. You should feel some air flow into the back side of your body.
- Finish by exhaling fully, and making the arms even longer. This will help you engage both the hamstrings and the abdominals.
I’ll often do this for two sets of 8-10 breaths.
Next, it helps to get our hamstrings in the mix as well. To fire those bad boys up, try doing some bench hamstring curls.
Lie on the ground with your heels resting on a bench or box. Pull the toes back towards your face, and exhale fully.
Now curl yourself up to a point just before you’d lose this exhaled/tucked position, and bang out two good breaths.
Perform for 2 sets of 5 reps.
Once we’ve started to control our sagittal plane, the next step is to open up the frontal/transverse planes.
Here are a few exercises you can try in your warm-up to open things up:
Now let’s talk about how we can take this new found position and start to explore new positions…
Step #2 – Explore
This is where things get fun.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent way too much time camped out in the sagittal plane with my training.
Sure I looked strong, but I wanted to not only look strong but to move in a smooth, fluid and athletic fashion as well.
Enter the frontal and transverse planes.
If we want to truly load our glutes in all three planes, we have to do so in a smart manner at the start.
We can’t go right into the highest level exercises right off the bat; there has to be a progression.
Which is why I love starting with med ball throws and jumping exercises at the start.
Not only do I get to train power development, but both of these exercises are safe and allow you to slowly build up your movement skills.
Lateral Jump and Hold
For the lateral jump and hold, the goal is to make a small jump to the side, but most importantly, to stick and hold on the landing.
When jumping and landing, think about feeling the whole foot, but really finding the inside of the foot. This not only helps you load your hips, but lines you up to “push” on the next jump as well.
Once you’ve mastered the standard jump and hold, the sky is the limit with regards to opening up the training menu. With my athletes, I’ll generally start with a double-jump, and then move to full-blown multi-jump series’.
Med Ball Throw
I really like the combination of lateral jumps paired with lateral med ball throws.
While the jump puts a premium on deceleration and body control, the med ball throw focuses on force production/summation of forces.
The goal with all of these drills is to start in a good, athletic position (which I covered in-depth here).
Start in that athletic position on each rep, with the feet wider than shoulder width, and feeling the entire foot – but again, putting a premium on the insides.
From there, think about agressively pushing to get that med ball moving.
If the standard option is too easy, feel free to add elements of acceleration or deceleration to the mix as well.
In this video I simply add a reactive element by performing a mini-jump/shuffle away from the wall:
If you change nothing else about your glute training but add in the repositioning and exploration work up front, and then throw in some multi-planar work in your R4/Reactive section of your workout, I guarantee you’ll be feeling awesome.
But if you really want to torch those glutes, feel free to proceed!
Step #3 – Crush
Now that we’ve repositioned the glutes and throw in some fun reactive work, let’s talk about how we can finish the glutes off in the gym.
Trap Bar Deadlift
Trap bar deadlifts are a great compound exercise to build the glutes. I like the trap bar because the high-handle allows you to keep the lift more hip-dominant.
One thing with regards to performance: Please stop violently thrusting your hips through at the top. If things are in the right position, the glutes will naturally turn on and fire when you need them to.
Bulgarian/Rear-Foot Elevated Split-Squats
Bulgarian (or rear-foot elevated) split-squats are another monster exercise when it comes to developing the glutes.
The nice thing here is when we switch from a bilateral to a split-stance position, we immediately increase frontal plane stability demands.
And when we go frontal plane, our good friend glute medius gets invited to the party!
One of my favorite hacks for this exercise right now is using either a reach, Goblet or 2-KB position to ensure I’ve got my rib cage stacked over my pelvis. This position ensures that my glutes are loaded properly and able to do the work.
(Side note: If you want more thoughts on the role that single-leg and split-stance training should have in your program, definitely check out my Complete Single-Leg Training product!)
Goblet Lateral Split-Squat
Another great option is to move out of the sagittal plane even more into a lateral split-squat position.
Doing this will put even more stress on the glute medius/glute max, as you’re forced to decelerate that hip adduction/internal rotation, and then power out of it.
Toe out as much as necessary to make the movement feel natural, and make sure you can feel the whole foot and PUSH to return to the starting position.
And if these are too easy, by all means, turn it into a lateral lunge!
Last but not least, kettlebell swings are the creme-de-la-creme when it comes to glute finishers.
I still remember the day Rick Huse (a local kettlebell instuctor) told me about 5 Minutes of Fury. I was struggling to get my conditioning up for the RKC snatch test, and I simply wasn’t getting enough volume in with snatching.
Rick told me to do swings instead, just to get my conditioning where it needed to be. He said do 30 swings, rest a minute, 30 swings, rest a minute, and then finish with 40 swings.
Once you get to 100 swings in five minutes, you’re at least in the ball game, conditioning wise.
So I took his advice, and needless to say after that session, the glute pump was so real it hurt to sit on an Airex pad.
If you want to finish off your glute training with a killer workout, try get 75-100 high-quality swings in to wrap up your session. I guarantee you’ll be feeling it the next day!
Whether we’re talking aesthetics or performance, the glutes are a muscle group the virtually everyone wants to develop.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the issues we have right now with regards to glute training, and some simple steps you can take to take your glute training to the next level.
All the best,