It's All About the Glutes

When Bret Contreras first wrote this article, I thought he was nuts - along with just about every other strength coach across America.  After all, who spends over 10 years (that isn't a paid researcher) reading almost every study, article, or book ever written on the glutes, and hooks up electrodes to his own butt to measure which exercises elicit the greatest glute involvement?! Not to mention, very rarely had people ever trained the glutes the way that Bret suggested we should, and I am always skeptical when so called "new and improved" exercises hit the public.  The basics have worked for centuries, and this isn't going to change anytime soon.

The point is that this series of experiments revolutionized the way that strength coaches train people's glutes today.  Basically, we've had it all wrong for quite a while now.  As Bret mentions in the article:

"Despite the fact that the gluteus maximus muscles are without a doubt the most important muscles in sports and the fact that strength coaches helped popularized "glute activation," none of them have a good understanding of glute training..."

"..And second, athletes' glutes are pathetically weak and underpotentialized. Even people who think they have strong glutes almost always have very weak glutes in comparison to how strong they can get through proper training."

The cool thing, too, is that there were real-world improvements in athlete's performance when coaches began to train the glutes the way Bret teaches in the article (I make a point of this because there are many things that occur in the "scientists labs" that don't actually pan out in real life scenarios).

It makes sense, too, as (noted in the article) the gluteus maximus muscles are heavily involved in some of the most important movements in sport: sprinting, leaping, cutting from side to side, and twisting (the "geeky" way to describe this is that the glutes function to produce hip extension, hip hyperextension, hip transverse abduction,  hip abduction, and hip external rotation).

So, after reading (and scoffing at, initially) about the way we "should" be training the glutes, I gave it a shot.  After all, if Bret was right, this would mean enormous advancements in improving people's athletic performance, low back health, physique enhancement, and quite a few other bonuses.

After spending about a year training my glutes with more focus than I ever had in the past, I was shocked with the results.  Below are two staple exercises (after progressing appropriately) one can perform for stronger glutes: the Barbell Glute Bridge and the Barbell Hip Thrust.

Here's a 555lb Glute Bridge:

You can then increase the range of motion the glutes have to work through (thus having to lower the weight).  Here's a 435lb Hip Thrust:

Now, it is imperative that one knows how to properly use his or her glutes to do these exercises.  Otherwise, the low back will take over the force production, which is a recipe for injury.  I often joke on bodybuilders for their touting of the "mind-muscle" connection in lifting, but I actually have to say that this is of extreme importance in glute training.  Weighted glute movements are phenomenal tools, but you need to know how to actually use your glutes (trust me, you're probably worse than you think) before attempting these.

It's all about cracking walnuts The cue I give myself (and anyone I coach) during any bridge variation is to "Crack a Walnut" between the butt cheeks.  I wish I could remember where I got this coaching cue from, because it is brilliant.  For some reason, people don't know how to bridge correctly when I say "use your glutes," but as soon as I say "crack a walnut between your butt cheeks" they know exactly what to do!  As funny as it is, it's actually key to do this to ensure you're not just hyperextending your low back to achieve the range of motion desired.

Progressions Below is a BRIEF listing of some of the bodyweight progressions you can use (for more exercises, as well as suggested sets and reps, go back and read the article linked above):

How do YOU benefit (regardless of your occupation)? So why should anyone really care about this stuff?  Whether or not you're an athlete, effective glute training provides incredible benefits.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll quote "the Glute Guy" himself:

"Athletic performance • Strong glutes will help you jump higher and farther • Strong glutes will help you run faster and with more efficiency • Strong glutes will help you cut faster from side to side • Strong glutes will help you rotate faster, which means throwing faster and farther, swinging faster, and striking faster • Strong glutes will help you lift heavier loads in the gym

Physique enhancement • Possessing a nice butt separates you from the pack. It’s actually quite rare to find someone with an amazing butt, and both sexes will agree that when they’re in the presence of such a booty, it’s hard to look away! Our primal urges kick in and our hormones go into overdrive. • If you want to look “athletic,” then you need glutes. The Men’s Health and Women’s Health look is all the rage these days for the general public, and you can’t achieve this look by just jogging and doing push ups and sit ups. • Figure competitors typically lose their glutes when they diet down. They need extra glute mass to counteract this phenomenon.

General health and injury prevention • Strong glutes encourage good lifting mechanics and less low-back rounding, which spares the spine and decreases low back pain and injury • Strong glutes prevent knee caving (Valgus collapse) which decreases the likelihood of knee (patellofemoral) pain and knee injury such as ACL tears. Strong glutes also spare the knee joint by encouraging proper lifting form and having the hips share the load when lifting rather than having the knee joint take on the brunt of the load • Strong glutes are one of the keys to overall structural health, as they set the stage for proper mechanics. Failing to use the glutes results in postural distortions (Lower-cross syndrome) which goes hand in hand with upper cross syndrome and can lead to groin strains, shoulder issues, spinal issues, Sciatica, and hip pain (anterior femoral glide syndrome) • Sound lifting mechanics involves using the glutes, which is a large, active muscle group, and good form is actually more costly from a metabolic perspective in comparison to lifting in ways that don’t involve the glutes, so strong glutes burn more calories during everyday movement which will help get you leaner"

I would also like to add myself that glute strength aids in injury risk reduction of the hamstrings.  How many of you know someone that has been through a hamstring pull/strain/tear?  My guess is the great majority.  One of the leading contributing factors to hamstring injuries is poor glute function!

Both the hamstrings and glutes function extend the hip in sprinting.  However, when the glutes aren't doing their full job, the hamstrings will try to "take over" the movement and bear the brunt of the force production.  The physiological term for this is "synergistic dominance."  This usually results in some sort of hamstring injury and one point or another.

I'd say this is plenty reason to begin glute training!  If you walk into SAPT,  you're likely to see many athletes - as well as adults - performing some variation of glute bridging.  Many of our high school guys are Barbell Bridging 300lbs+, and we've had quite a few females hit the 135lb mark.

Now (and I'll end with this), glute variations are no substitute for proper squatting, deadlift variations, and single-leg work when it comes to effective strength training.  However, when combined with the staple lifts, this creates an outstanding synergistic effect in enhancing athletic performance.

Now go start training those glutes.

Torch Your Hammies with The Band-Assisted Sissy Ham

Confession: I have weak hamstrings. Very weak hamstrings. As such, I’ve needed to ensure that my training includes exercises that will bring up the strength of those stubborn muscles on the back of my legs. In the process of solving this dilemma, I came up with an exercise that will also help athletes improve their performance via stronger hamstrings. Now, one of the last exercises we would have one of our (healthy) athletes perform to increase their hamstring strength is the leg curl.


For most, they’re a terrible waste of time (yes, they certainly have a place in rehab settings  and with older/deconditioned individuals, and bodybuilders could make an argument for them). While the majority of people understand that hamstrings function to flex the knee - which is what the leg curl trains - they often neglect that the hamstrings play a CRITICAL role in hip extension. The hamstrings are the body’s second most powerful hip extensor – just behind the glute max! (pun fully intended) For athletes, strong hamstrings can be invaluable as they play crucial role: resisting (eccentrically) knee flexion during sprinting. Take home point: stronger hamstrings make you faster!

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Enter the Band-Assisted Sissy Ham (or “Russian Leg Curl”). I came up with this exercise as I was helping some of our athletes perform pullups with band assistance. I had an “ah-ha” moment and decided to find a way to give myself (and others) band assistance during the sissy ham. In the video below, the first half will show me performing the sissy ham without the band. Then, I perform it with the aid of a band (attached above me). Notice there is now no arm push needed to help on the concentric (the “up”) portion of the lift.

(Note: Yes, upon looking at this video in retrospect, my pelvis is slightly tilted anteriorly and there's a bit of excessive low back arch. If I could travel back in time a year I'd go kick my own arse. Comon' Stevo! Get it right. Geez....)

This is such a fantastic exercise as it trains, simultaneously, both functions of the hamstrings: knee flexion and hip extension (which is how our hamstrings are utilized in athletics, anyway). It also makes for a more tangible progression than the regular sissy ham/russian leg curl. As you get stronger, you can lessen the band tension (as opposed to subjectively measuring "how fast you fall" during the regular sissy ham).

If you don't have a power rack that makes it easy to set up something like this, you could either just have someone manually hold your ankles, or latch your ankles under the pads of a lat pulldown apparatus (your knees would be resting where your butt normally goes). Then all you need is a sturdy 1/2" or 1/4" resistance band, which can be purchased through companies like Iron Woody, Perform Better, or EliteFTS.

As strength coaches, our mission (behind keeping people healthy) is to improve movement quality, performance, and strength and power. We also have only, roughly, 150 minutes a week to do this. This being the case, you won't find us filling 10 of those 150 minutes wasting time on an isolated leg curl. I could think of a million things athletes would be better off spending their time doing (placing their hand on a heated frying pan being one of them). Even if you're not an athlete, this exercise will still be wayy more beneficial for developing your hamstrings than the leg curl. It will also work well for the long-distance runners in the crowd!

This exercise isn't appropriate for everyone, as it's EXTREMELY difficult, even though it may not appear so if you haven't tried it. I definitely recommend a healthy dose of glute walks, slider hamstring curl eccentrics, and hip thrusts before attempting something like this.