Are you struggling to properly train your glutes?

Glute training is huge in the fitness industry right now, so much so it’s almost becoming an industry all by itself. There are experts and trainers who seem to focus specifically on just one muscle. Which to me seems ludicrous but that’s the way this train seems to be going.

You’re looking to get the best exercises for your glutes so you just jump onto Instagram and search for glute specific training.The first thing you notice is that if the camera is focused on a hot chick’s arse then it counts as a glute exercise. What I want to do in this blog is to have a look at some of the more popular glute exercises and break down whether or not the movements are actually effective for glute training.

Another side to this gluteal obsession comes from the functional training and rehab world where glute strength is touted as the prevention and cure to many different ailments including knee and back pain. I couldn’t count how many clients I’ve seen come out of the physio’s office with some form of glute strengthening work to do. Pain is a topic I’m not going to get into here but if you’re using tissue development as a means to solve pain then you probably need to re-evaluate your understanding of the mechanisms of pain. If you’re currently strengthening your glutes to help with some form of pain, you may want to get in touch.

(The technical part)
I’m not going to get into any real detail here but I’ll take this chance to spend just a little time talking about the structure of the muscle before examining how to effectively train it. There are 3 different muscles, but I’m going to focus more on the glute max here. It originates on the Illium (back of the pelvis), lumbar fascia, and sacrum and inserts all along the outside of the femur and runs into the IT band connecting below the knee too. From a functional point of view this means that the muscle will have a role to play in controlling movement in the spine, the hip and the knee.

So what exercises are supposed to be good for the glutes?

Hip thrusters, glute bridges, squats, kick backs and clamshells are all exercises that are deemed good for glute training. They all tend to focused on the motions of hip extension, some abduction and a little external rotation because if you were to concentrically contract (shorten) the muscle then this is the motion that would be created at the hip.

Looking at the structure of the muscle and where it originates and inserts it would be too simplistic to just train the glutes in these motions as it’s clearly involved in so much more than that. If you were to just take your leg and extend, abduct and externally rotate the hip then you would move into a similar position to a dog peeing on a post and that seems strange that a muscle as big as the glutes would only be used for that.

What else can the glutes do? Lets think about eccentric muscle contractions which is decelerating motion as the muscle lengthens. The glutes eccentrically contract to stop the hip flexing, internally rotating and adducting and before the body moves out in another direction. If you were to examine the movement at the hip in gait (walking or running) for example then these motions would be happening when the foot hits the floor. The glute works to stop you collapsing here which would better explain why it’s such a big important muscle as gait is a pretty common muscle for most humans.

So lets evaluate the effectiveness some of these exercises regarding how much they target the glutes and how good they are for glute activation. Just because an exercise isn’t as glute dominant as you think it is doesn’t mean it’s a bad movement or wrong it just means that that particular exercise isn’t as glute specific as you were lead to believe.

The same thing can be said for hip thrusters, clamshells and kick backs. I don’t think the movements performed during these exercises are effective means to eccentrically load the muscle and are all based upon the concentric action of the muscle. Whilst you might feel the muscle working, without sufficient overload then you’re not really doing much. It’s the same as why bodybuilders need to do more than just practice posing to get big muscles. Contraction isn’t king here it’s load put through the muscle.

How do you train the glutes if these exercises don’t work?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because without a specific client in mind then I cannot really say how I would most effectively train them. How I would train a bodybuilder would be completely different to how I would train a runner, or how I would train a cyclist and as much as I would love to provide some simple advice on how to best train them, unfortunately the answer will always depend.

So now I’m left with a little bit of a decision, do I just give out more generic advice through a blog which would inevitably turn out to be just as shitty as everything else out there isn’t going to cut it. So I’d like to bring this back to the fitness industry having professional standards. You don’t see many other professions just handing out how to advice on how to do their job. If you’re sick, and want the best advice for you then you go and speak to your doctor. If you google it then you’ll probably end up believing you have cancer. So if you hit up instagram looking for tips on how to train glutes then expect a similar standard of answer than if you wanted to cure cancer except it won’t be in any way dangerous, just quite ineffective and not the best use of your time.

I also don’t want to appear completely useless here, so if you have any specific questions then please hit me up in the comments section and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.