Much of the anatomical, biomechanical and muscle physiology knowledge in this article is taken from Bret Contreras AKA the Glute Guy.
Bret has studied the glutes in-depth and is now the leading authority on them. It would be pointless me trying to write this section of Muscle Specific Training up without referencing him. I’m pretty certain he has forgotten more about glute training than I know.
So after the technical info is done I will chime in with my input on practical programming tips for the glutes based on my experience working with thousands of clients.
Disclaimer out of the way let’s get to growing those glutes…
The gluteus maximus connects the pelvis and legs to the upper body. It has multiple origins across the pelvis, sacrum, coccyx, lumba, thocaolumbar and gluteus medius. It inserts on the femur and the ITB. Given the wide range of attachments it is able to perform a large variety of functions.
It is the largest muscle in the body. As a result, it should be given a similar training volume as other major muscle groups. This is, unfortunately, very rarely the case with most popular training programs.
It is primarily responsible for extending the hip. It is most effective when the hip is near full extension. Based on this exercises which produce peak contractions at this ROM will be optimal for its development.
The gluteus maximus has a mixed fibre distribution. It has the ability to produce high levels of force at low velocity in a small ROM and low force, high velocity in a large ROM. Consequently, to fully train it movements in both categories are required.
Avoid simultaneously flexing the knee during hip extension if targeting glutes. Conversely, flexing the knee and then keeping knee position constant places more emphasis on glutes (e.g., hip thrusts/bridges).
Medium to high reps work extremely well when targeting the glutes and lower back (bent knees for glute emphasis).
Practical Programming Tips:
Before training the glutes stretch your hip flexors. The hip flexors work in opposition to the glutes and if your hip flexors are tight (it is pretty common) then your glutes will have limited ROM and get sub-maximal activation. I often have clients start a lower body session with a hip flexor stretch followed by glute bridges with a sec peak contraction to ‘activate’ the glutes.
The glutes are a huge muscle and so if trained hard need a long recovery period. Assuming you have a sensible lower body training plan (e.g, built around squats & deadlift variations) the glutes will be trained to some extent doing these. Since they are involved in so many other lifts they get a reasonable stimulus through the week. As a result, I’d suggest 1-2 days a week of direct glute training is all that is required to optimally train them.
When planning your glute training the total number of direct sets for glutes must take into account the irraditation effect of other exercises. If you do a bunch of squats, deadlifts, RDLs, lunges, and GHRs in your training then the volume of direct glute work will be quite small even though they are a large muscle. About 10-12 sets a week is a good general rule of thumb if you are hitting the other big lifts hard.
Based on the fibre type and angle of pennation of the glutes I would suggest you spend 50% of your glute training using heavy loads (60-80%) 1RM and the other 50% at lighter loads (around 50% 1RM) and higher reps (20+).
My best ‘bang for your buck’ glute exercise is the band around knee hip thrust. This creates a great deal of activation in the glute max. Adding the band around the knee also gets the glute max to work isometrically. Two birds one stone.
If aiming to hit the glutes when lifts like squats and deadlifts focus on maintaining the arch in your foot. With flat feet the glutes don’t ‘fire’ optimally.
So now you know all you need to build a strong set of glutes. Want to know more about the optimal training for other bodyparts? Here is a rundown of where to find all the info: