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Much of our body shape and abilities are reliant on genetics. This includes factors such as muscle-fiber and fat distribution, conduction of metabolic functions, muscle-belly length, and the strength and endurance of skeletal muscle throughout the body. Nevertheless, a larger percentage of our physical and physiological procedures is dependent on environmental factors and daily habits.
That being said, even if you weren’t naturally blessed with a rounded, plush behind, all hope is not lost! Especially if you’re part of the “quad-dominant” squad with me, continue reading for my top five transformative tips for building the glutes!
#1: Eat enough.
Before you roll your eyes at this advice, hear me out. You would be surprised how many individuals fall into the trap of not eating enough, especially when the goal is to build muscle while losing fat.
As a recovering anorexic over the last seven years, this tip was probably the toughest for me to accept and implement into my life, but you certainly don’t need to have an eating disorder to consistently fall short on calories. The bustle, high stress, and anxiety associated with work, kids, and responsibilities can make it easy to not only forget or skip meals, but to overlook hunger cues in the first place.
Here’s the thing, though: a consistent low-calorie diet doesn’t provide the body with enough nourishment for efficient energy expenditure. The food you’re consuming will always fuel the essential body functions that keep you alive first before adhering to processes such as muscle-building.
If you’re not eating enough calories to begin with, high-protein consumption will not do you justice because that protein won’t be used towards muscle growth. Over an extended period of time, you might even lose lean muscle, which is not the goal when growing the glutes.
Some signs you might be undereating include:
- Long time gaps between meals
- Fatigue and lack of energy even when sleep is sufficient
- Decreased strength in workouts
- Frequent headaches, irritation, and anxiety
- Consistent, unintentional weight loss
- Frequent feelings of emptiness, dissatisfaction, and hunger after meals
- Loss of monthly/regular menstruation
It can be helpful for many people to track their intake over the course of a few days to cast attention towards habits and find areas for improvement. Out of all the things on your to-do list, eating might not seem like a top priority, but your body and mind will thank you for doing so.
#2: Focus on glute activation.
Let’s be honest: heavy, glute-focused exercises are exhausting. Even though the glutes are the most powerful muscles in the body, they are just as susceptible to fatigue as any other muscle.
That being said, it’s very easy to passively complete glute-focused exercises by using the back muscles to propel your hips in exercises such as deadlifts, squats, glute bridges, donkey kicks, and straight-leg kickbacks. This is not only ineffective in terms of targeting the glutes, but it’s also dangerous for the back and puts you at an increased risk of injury.
If you’re looking to grow the glutes, a little more focus will need to be placed on the mind-to-muscle connection. Take the time to slow down and pay attention to the points of each exercise where your glutes should be squeezing e.g. from the bottom of a squat or glute bridge, from the backward hinge of a deadlift, in the leg-lift portion of donkey kicks and straight-leg kickbacks. Allow that squeeze to power your movements. Maintaining the squeeze for as long as possible before performing another rep of any given exercise places the glutes under increased tension.
If you’ve been slacking on this glute activation portion in your workouts, you, too, will realize how much of a game-changer it is. This certainly takes some practice, but repetition will make it habitual!
#3: Progressively overload.
Now that we have the glute activation aspect out of the way, let me ask you a question: are you actually challenging yourself in your glute workouts? Be honest.
How long have you stayed at that same, comfortable dumbbell or barbell weight? When was the last time you challenged yourself to go a little heavier?
If you’ve been working with the same weights for an extensive period of time, I totally get it. It can be intimidating and frustrating to reach for heavier weights and put yourself in a vulnerable place of struggle and failure. That challenge is essential, however, for your glute gains.
The body is the ultimate adaptation machine and will adjust to the stimuli you place upon it – the stimuli being the weights you use for glute exercises in this case. After 4-12 weeks, the body becomes accustomed to that weight. If the conditions aren’t changed in terms of resistance weight, tempo, and/or increased time under tension, the body remains in a plateau.
If you’re limited in terms of weighted resistance, you can increase the intensity by performing additional reps, taking shorter rest periods, improving glute activation, and/or focusing on a slower, more powerful tempo.
The bottom line is that you have to challenge yourself to see change. A new stimulus will wake your glutes up and initiate that growth within the next 4-8 weeks!
#4: Don’t forget about the gluteus medius.
When it comes to glute building, we tend to emphasize exercises such as squats and deadlifts. Although those exercises are foundational and of high importance in terms of developing strength throughout the lower extremities, they mainly target the gluteus maximus.
Based on genetic components and level of fitness experience, training the glutes with a focus on exercises such as squats and deadlifts may be enough for some of us to develop a shaped booty. The remainder of us, however, may need a little more help in making that happen by dialing in on training the gluteus medius.
The gluteus medius is the muscle that composes the top/side portion of the butt. When trained appropriately, growth in the gluteus medius muscle provides that desired perky, elevated, and rounded appearance.
Incorporating exercises that directly target the gluteus medius such as:
- Lateral leg lifts
- Lateral squat walks
- Glute bridge abductions
- Bulgarian split squats
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Single-leg squats
into your lower-body routine can be very beneficial! Keep in mind the glute activation component discussed earlier, and you’re golden! Using a glute-resistance band can serve as an additional challenge, especially when performing the first five moves in the list above. The knees need to be consistently pushed outward to maintain tension on the band, which targets the gluteus medius!
#5: Make sure to recover.
Let’s address a common mistake people make in the fitness world (I was guilty of this, too; don’t feel ashamed.) When we want a certain body part to look a specific way, we tend to feel inclined to train it more frequently, thinking that “more is better.” Sometimes, we push this misconception to the extreme and train the same body part with a high intensity way too frequently (like, every day.)
First of all, we can’t spot-reduce fat or spot-gain muscle. It’s an overall body process, meaning that you can’t target a specific body part, do a bunch of exercises that target the muscles in that area, and expect change. The body doesn’t work that way. Burning out the lower body every day with squats and deadlifts will not build your booty quicker, even though it feels like you’re working harder. Now, based on your genetic make-up, you might notice fat loss or muscle gain in certain areas faster than others, but that process is unique to you!
Depending on how often you work out, it’s recommended that the lower-body is trained 1-3 times per week with varying intensities, allowing at least 2-3 days of recovery in between. This rest period allows time for the glute muscles to breakdown and rebuild. If we’re constantly training the glutes without recovery, the muscles are being broken down, but not given a chance to rebuild and display muscle growth. This also places you at risk of muscle-overuse injury.
Not to be cliché, but less is literally more when it comes to glute-building.
Especially on the days when you’re not training the glutes, make sure to engage in recommended recovery techniques, such as stretching, foam rolling, eating enough calories, and remaining mobile to speed up recovery and reduce soreness.
A Final Reminder
If you read through this article thinking “I’ve been training my glutes all wrong,” don’t worry. It can be frustrating and overwhelming, but take it one step at a time. Choose one of the tips mentioned above and develop a plan for incorporating it into your lifestyle. Once you feel like you’ve formed a consistent habit of that one tip, move on to the next challenge.
It’s very likely that you’ll start seeing results within 4 weeks by working on the tip you currently struggle with the most, but ultimately buckling down on all five tips ensures the best glute gains!