Forewarning: I’m going to be talking about butt pumps in this post, but it’s not what you think!
When you train (or write, for that matter), you almost always do so from your own point-of-view. Trainers that powerlift gravitate toward the powerlifts as the foundation of their programming for clients. A trainer that has a background in physical therapy might pay more attention to assessment and corrective exercise. Bodybuilders will train clients like bodybuilders and athletes will train clients like athletes.
And I am guilty of this as well, as I often focus on performance or long-term health before aesthetics because these things are the focus of my own training.
But this series of posts won’t be like that!
No. In this post, we’re going to focus on the glutes. I’ll even give you a nice list of reasons for why you should want to build your butt. And if you’re in any doubt, I will point you to Bret Contreras’ website/blog so that he can convince you.
Why Should You Want A Butt?
We’ll dive right into this with a quick little list.
- Being powerful hip extensors,the glutes keep you standing upright and assist in walking and running.
- As external rotators, the glutes help resist things like knee valgus during exercises and can prevent unnecessary knee pain.
- When your glutes are firing on all cylinders, other muscles like the hamstrings, low back, hip flexors, and lats don’t need to pick up the slack.
- Having strong glutes will make you stronger at pretty much every lower body lift.
- Male or female, having better glutes will undoubtedly make you more attractive to the opposite sex.
- In the event of a zombie apocalypse, those with the strongers glutes will probably be able to sprint faster and jump higher, thus avoiding becoming a tasty snack.
The glutes are one of the most important muscle groups in the body. To reinforce my point, you don’t see any trainers popping up as The Lat Guy. I’m not sure there’s any other muscle group that has such a profound effect on performance, health, and aesthetics all at the same time.
But like I mentioned, this post will not be focused on performance! This is all about the looks! We tend to focus so much on the “mirror muscles,” those which we can see in the mirror easily. Arms, shoulders, chest, abs, quads. But why not develop a strong backside? That way, you don’t even have to turn around for somebody to be blown away by your physique.
How To Do It
First, we must acknowledge that in order to have a better butt, it needs to be built out of muscle and not cheesecake and poor posture. (You should tweet that.) And along with progressive overload, there are three big components to building muscle.
First, we must apply sufficient tension to the muscle in order to stimulate growth.
Second is damage. We must do sufficient damage to a muscle so that it can be rebuilt.
Third is metabolic stress. An example of this is the pump you get from doing 10 rounds of pushups before you go to the bar. Put simply, the pump creates tension within our cells, thus leading to growth.
If you want more detail about the scientific reasons behind muscle growth, go here.
So what can we conclude from knowing these three things? Well, obviously we need to put some tension on the muscle. That includes throughout the joint’s full range of motion. We also know that we need to use enough time-under-tension (TUT) to induce damage to the muscle. This could be accomplished through more reps, more sets, or a different tempo. And lastly, chasing that pump at the end of your workout might not be such a bad thing if you’re looking for maximum muscle gain!
A Tense Situation
Muscle tension is highest when fully contracted or stretched, but tension throughout the entire range of motion is what seems to build muscle.
With this in mind, I recommend hip thrusts and single-leg squatting variations as the best exercises for developing tension in the glutes (hip thrusts because of the tension at the top of the movement and single-leg variations like pistols or bulgarians because of the tension near the bottom).
Of course, bilateral squats are great too, but the lower back is the limiting factor and I believe this limits the tension you can place on the glutes, as compared with single-leg movements.
“We’re Going To Pump *clap* You Up!”
As I mentioned above, we can achieve the pump in one major way: increasing the time that the muscle is under tension. We can do this through increased volume in terms of sets and reps or a literal increase in time via isometric contractions and different tempos.
Taking it a step further, we can increase volume by increasing our number of exercises or our days per week in the gym.
But you don’t have 7 days a week to be in the gym because you’re a busy person, so we’ll stick to two lower body/leg days. Two days for legs/lower body is fairly common in bodybuilding circles and even moreso in powerlifting.
The Quick Start Guide
Here’s some example recommendations in terms of programming for glute building! Like I said, I’d stick with two days per week. Each day will start with our “max effort” work. This could be our 2a exercise, our main assistance work for the day, or our 1a, our legitimate max effort work. It all depends on whether you have an interest in squatting or deadlifting. (For the record, you do, even if you don’t know it yet.)
Here’s day 1:
1a. Barbell hip thrust – work up to a heavy set of 5 (I like pyramiding back down as well.)
2a. Band single-leg hip thrusts – 4×10/leg
2b. Lateral band walks – 4 x 15
And here’s day 2:
1a. Bulgarian split squats – work up to a heavy set of 5 (You can pyramid here, too, just like in Day 1.)
2a. Barbell hip thrust with isometric – 4×10/20s iso (Perform the iso-hold at the end of the last rep of each set.)
2b. Side-lying clamshells – 4 x 15
A few notes about the examples above. if you were going to include squats and deadlifts together on one day, do them before Day 1. This will prevent you from having to coordinate yourself through heavy bulgarians after you’re performed multiple sets of squats and deads. Don’t worry so much if you’re doing squats and deads on separate days, although I’d probably do my squats on Day 1 and my deads on Day 2.
Also, I didn’t include any high-rep squatting or single-leg work because you’d probably see a lot of quad and hamstring growth from such programming and we’re looking to build the glutes!
Lastly, you’ll notice that I didn’t isolate the glutes in extension. You should include various rotation/abduction exercises (e.g. band walks and clamshells) as well to get the glutes in all three planes of movement!
The conclusion is simple. If you want to build the glutes, you need to isolate the glutes beyond just squatting and deadlifting.
Single-leg and glute bridge variations help us take the core out of the equation and place large amounts of tension throughout our entire range-of-motion.
Abduction and external rotation work helps us ensure that we’re hitting all of our glute fibers!
And finally, if you don’t achieve a butt pump, you’re probably not doing it right!