Although glute training has become more popular, there is still a considerable amount of confusion which surrounds the need and requirement for this particular muscle group (namely the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus).
For men who lift weights, training the shoulders, arms and chest are often the focal points of their training programs, whilst for women this is generally the glutes - your bum! For athletes, glute training can be important in improving performance but also for both preventing or solving back pain. So as you can see the variation in training for this all important muscle group could benefit everyone in lots of different ways.
Firstly, it is important to understand the glutes; they consist of three muscles, the largest of which is the gluteus maximus, then the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus which is much smaller. In most glute training programs it is the gluteus maximus which receives the most attention, as the gluteus medius is about half the size of the bigger glute muscle. Often, the gluteus minimus is referred to as the “upper gluten” due to its location in the body; near the hip joint. As a result, hip abduction exercises are popular as they focus on the gluteus medius. In terms of the glutes muscles functions, the major ones are hip extension, hip external rotation, hip abduction and posterior pelvic tilt.
This means that there is not simply one perfect glute exercise, and for complete development to be obtained a variety of exercises are essential to be incorporated to a glute training program.
Muscle fiber type influences the optimal number of repetitions to perform for an exercises. For fast twitch muscle fibres which are powerful but have less endurance, lower repetitions are recommended. In comparison the less powerful but more endurance slow twitch muscle fibres respond more effectively to higher repetitions. The gluteus maximus is fairly equally split in regards to the percentage of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres whilst the gluteus medius has more slow twitch fibers. Thus demonstrating why a variety of repetitions should be used when gluteus training.
A useful way to plan exercises is to categorise them; this can be achieved by looking at which portion of the strength curve of the muscles they focus on which is low, mid or upper range. Low range is the beginning of the movement when the muscle is fully stretched, whereas mid range is the middle of the movement and upper being the end of the movement when the muscle is fully contracted. It should be noted that the use of bands can affect the resistance curve as in terms of glute exercises, using bands will increase the muscle activation at the end range.
Here are some examples of these resistance curves for the gluteus:
Low range: Lunge, Front Squat
Mid range: Deadlifts; straight bar or Romanian
Upper range: Pelvic bridge, back extension
Lower back conditions can be aggravated by additional resistance which is applied to the spine for example during pelvic bridges. Similarly, those with a large anterior pelvic tilt may experience lower back pain and levels of stress on the abdominals when performing these type of glute exercises.
As an alternative, back extensions for instance offer a way in which to allow lower back to recover and in time exercises such as single leg pelvic bridges with resistance may be a better choice due to the lighter resistance evident in this form of exercise.
It is important to address the issue of body fat to develop a complete gluteus-shaping training program. For many, simply reducing their levels of body fat this will make a significant difference to the appearance of glutes. The shape of the glutes cannot be noticed if the percentage of body fat is too high; in the same way abs cannot be viewed under a layer of body fat. Therefore, many are surprised the effect reducing body fat has on the appearance of the glutes’ shape.
In order to target specific gluteus muscles there are ways in which to modify your workout. Isolation exercises such as leg abduction can be emphasised by turning the feet outward to activate the gluteus maximus more, whereas turning your feet inward will work the gluteus medius to a higher extent. During squats, using a wider stance will enhance glute activation.
However, there is a common misconception that developing glutes has not occurred because the glutes do not “fire”. The glute muscles help to maintain an upright posture, supporting us in our daily activities such as walking and standing and then exercising such as running. If your glutes did not fire then you would fall every time you took a step, this helps us to understand that if your glutes did not fire then you could be suffering from a spinal injury. Due to this, a better explanation is to say that contraction of the glutes is inhibited in comparison to glutes that do not fire. This is referred to as gluteal amnesia which is often caused by tightness in the muscles that flex the hip and also abduct the hip; this is generally a consequence of excessive amount of sitting. In the case of gluteal amnesia it is recommended from professional research that stretching should be the first course of treatment. If after stretching for 2 weeks, the problem remains, then glute activation exercises should be performed, mainly at the beginning of the workout, such as pelvic bridges.
Ultimately, due to the rise in popularity regarding glute training, there has been a considerable growth in professional research being published, providing an insight into the most efficient way to train the gluteus methods in order to improve overall physical fitness including performance and quality of life. Therefore, this article should provide a useful way in which to set off in a good direction to determine the best personal glute training program.