One of the most recognizable titles of all home exercise programs is Buns of Steel. It was introduced in 1987 by Greg Smithey, a former pole vaulter and owner of a hip-hop aerobics club in Alaska. In the ’90s the exercise program was taken over by fitness instructor Tamilee Webb. Getting people to work their glutes is fine by me, but what concerned me about the original program by Smithey was that it focused on floor-based, isolation movements. While these exercises did technically work the glutes, there are better ways to develop these muscles.
Other training methods that I do not recommend for glute training are the glute machines that were popular in the ’90s. These machines had the trainee in a prone position, and required them to push a pedal backward. EMG research showed that these exercises were more effective for working the lower back and the hamstrings than the glutes, and unfortunately they caused unnatural hyperextension of the lower back.
Now for the types of glute training I do recommend: As you might suspect, the single best exercise for developing the glutes is the full squat – and this is evidenced in the gluteal development of Olympic-style weightlifters. The problem is, most trainees who perform the exercise don’t go down low enough to fully develop these muscles; in contrast, weightlifters not only go all the way down, they actually bounce out of the bottom position in the snatch and clean.
Some will say that lunges and split squats are just as effective as the squat for developing the glutes, and it’s undeniable that these exercises are extremely effective. However, with the squat more weight can be used due to the stability of the exercise; more weight means greater workout intensity, and greater workout intensity means a greater training effect.
Research on muscle activity when squatting to full depth compared with squatting to a partial or parallel depth shows that the full-depth squat requires two times the contribution of the gluteus maximus. Another type of squat that really focuses on the gluteus maximus is the one and one-quarter squat, in which you squat all the way down, come one quarter of the way up, squat all the way down again, and then come to the fully erect position. This type of squat is also great for strengthening the VMO, which is often underdeveloped in athletes and non-athletes alike. Another effective variation is to use a wide foot stance, rather than a hip-width stance, and making sure the load is at least 70 percent of your 1RM if using a program of 3 sets of 10.
As a great finishing exercise for the glutes, I recommend the glute-ham gastrocnemius raise. Because it works the hip and knee extensors together, the glute-ham raise is a more natural movement than the isolation exercises that are often featured in glute-training fitness videos. The glute-ham gastrocnemius raise is best performed on a special bench for this purpose. Rather than having a flat bench on which to rest the upper thighs, a glute-ham bench is curved to facilitate the bending of the knees. I especially like the Atlantis version because it has two pads, separated down the center, making it more comfortable for men. The better units have a footplate that secures the ankles between two roller pads; also, the footplate is adjustable vertically and horizontally to accommodate all body types.
Of course there are many other exercises that work the glutes, but a good place to start is the full squat. Also, if you have the time, include some lunges, split squats and glute-ham raises to supplement your workout. It’s that simple – no video player required.
10 Tips to Improve Your Glute Training
Glute training is a special interest of women who want to firm their glutes and of athletes who want to train these muscles to improve athletic performance. Let’s take a closer look, starting with distinguishing between performance and appearance.
As for athletic performance, when it comes to glutes, what you see is not necessarily what you get. The glutes are a bit like the calves in that the size of the muscle group does not necessarily reflect its strength. A bodybuilder would want a low muscle attachment so that the bulk of the muscle would be in the center of the calf to give the illusion of greater size, but for athletes a high attachment would provide better leverage for running and jumping. Likewise, it’s possible that athletes who can perform tremendous deadlifts and vertical jumps may not have significant gluteal development.
For those interested in aesthetics, specifically women, here are 10 tips to improve your approach to glute training.
1. Lose body fat. For most individuals, simply reducing body fat will make a tremendous difference in the appearance of the glutes. Just as you can’t see six-pack abs if they are covered by a layer of fat, you can’t notice the glutes if the percentage of body fat is too high. Many women will be surprised just how good their glutes look when they get down to a reasonable body fat percentage.
2. Avoid aerobics. The shape of the glutes is influenced by its muscular development, and aerobic training compromises muscle development. You can still perform energy system training to help you lose weight, of course, but it’s best to use exercise intervals involving the short- and intermediate energy systems (ATP-CP and glycolytic).
3. Train throughout a full range. Partial-range training does have benefits, especially in the area of strength development, but for maximal glute development you should perform exercises throughout a full range of motion. This is especially true with exercises such as back squats, front squats, split squats and step-ups – exercises that are often performed with a limited range of motion in order to use more weight.
4. Use resistance. Often I see trainees performing exercises such as back extensions and glute-ham raises to develop the glutes, but they err by using little or no resistance. This approach will be ineffective for anyone except beginners with extremely low strength levels.
5. Use a variety of training protocols. For maximal gluteus maximus development, or development of any muscle group, you need to use a variety of training intensities (high reps and low reps) to work all your muscle fibers to their full development.
6. Use a variety of exercises. It is a myth that there is one specific, ultimate exercise for the glutes; you have to allow for various factors such as resistance curves and angles of pull. Yes, back extensions with bent legs are great for the glutes, but so are lunges, back extensions and Romanian deadlifts. Also, consider that if you perform hip extensions for your glutes, you will also be using your hamstrings – there is no such thing as a true isolation exercise for the glutes.
7. Sprint or push a sled. Sprinting is a great way to develop the glutes, but it can be impractical. However, many gyms now have pushing sleds that enable you to precisely overload sprinting mechanics. For maximum results I recommend a 45-degree angle of the torso in relation to the sled.
8. Correct structural imbalances. Poor posture and limited range of motion will affect your ability to perform many glute-building exercises properly. For example, excessive tightness in the psoas, a muscle involved in flexing the hip, will restrict the range of motion in exercises that strongly affect the glutes.
9. Consider soft-tissue work. Adhesions and scar tissue often develop with training over time. As such, you may need soft-tissue body work such as Active Release Techniques® to deal with adhesions and other issues that interfere with range of motion and muscle fiber activation.
10. Be smart about cross-training. Many athletes such as figure skaters, sprinters and gymnasts have excellent glute development, so consider how other athletic activities outside the gym might affect your glutes when you want to get out of the gym to train.
Just because a magazine cover promises to reveal to you the secrets to developing glutes like Beyoncé or Jennifer Lopez does not necessarily mean you can develop a figure just like hers. But if you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to exceptional gluteal development.