Before starting any kind of training regimen the first thing you must do is determine what you want to get out of the program. When I have asked this question to every single gal I have ever trained the answer has been “I want to grow my butt.” An honorable goal if I do say so myself. Unfortunately it’s rare for most exercisers who have this goal to have a training program that will be best for them to actually reach it. If you want to grow your butt then you need to be attacking the problem with a structured approach and specific plan of action. The closer you are to your genetic potential, the more important this becomes. Take in the remainder of this article and apply the principles to your own training and you will surely be on the road to success.
The single most important principle for consideration in training is the principle of specificity. The principle of specificity states that in order to improve or progress towards a certain goal, you need to train in a way that supports that goal. For example, in our case we are wanting to grow the muscles in our butts. When muscle growth is the goal, applying tension to the target muscles in a way that promotes growth over time is a requirement. To grow your butt you wouldn’t want to be spending your workout time jogging on the treadmill. As silly as this seems so many people get this wrong. In the age of Instagram any dolt can post their workouts and as long as they have a nice butt, it doesn’t matter if they are useful or not, people will inevitably follow the exercises. Herein lies the problem. You must be specific with your training.
I want to make one thing clear, I truly don’t give a shit how you choose to train. That needs to be said before I go any farther because anytime I speak on this topic I get told I shouldn’t tell women how to exercise or that I am in the wrong for saying certain forms of exercises are worse than others. That is not what I am saying at all.
Don’t take offense if I say your favorite exercise or style of training isn’t what I think is best for glute growth. I am simply answering the question of how to grow your glutes using my knowledge as an exercise professional, a consumer of the latest findings in sports science, experience training individuals with this goal, and all of the time I’ve spent in the gym.
In my experience as a trainer and evaluator of exercise programs a common theme I come back to is “Do you want to make progress or do you want to go through the motions?” This can be applied to so many different parts of a person’s training. Are they doing the correct exercises with inadequate intensity? Are they doing the completely wrong exercises and just showing up to the gym for an hour? Specificity. Make your training work for you, not against you. If the goal is to actually grow muscle then you should design your training to focus on exercises, volume, and rep ranges to lead to hypertrophy. Ask yourself what you truly want out of your training. If you are not willing to do the work that is required to see the results you desire then you shouldn’t expect to see a difference.
Structuring your training program for glute growth (or anything for that matter) should be a function of total volume, recovery ability, timing considerations, your training age, intensity, and rep ranges to name a few. Once you have decided it is time to grow your glutes the next step is to take into consideration scheduling.
The term for scheduling your training is known as Periodization. Periodizing your training assists you in breaking down your training into different units in order to maximize your progress, manage fatigue, and to stave off plateaus. I prefer to break down my training into 5-8 week mesocycles where the exercises stay constant but I increase intensity week over week until it is ultimately time for a deload. In the first week of a mesocycle I would program my exercises to have 5 reps in reserve and then over the course of the meso that number would decrease week after week until I reached a week where the exercises were to be performed to 0 reps in reserve. Training in this way allows you to progressively overload while at the same time managing fatigue.
Keeping the same exercises in your training is important for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is that it allows you to easily measure and track your progress to ensure you are progressively overloading. If you do squats for 8 weeks during a mesocycle and on Week 1 do 225lbs for 6 reps and on Week 8 you do it for 10 reps you have tangible evidence that you are creating a stimulus that is progressively getting more difficult. Secondly, performing the same exercises each week gives you practice with each of the movements. This allows you the opportunity to dial in technique and improve on the mind muscle connection which does play a role in muscular growth. Thirdly, better technique and the ability to use heavier loads will lead to more motor unit recruitment to grow muscle.
I wrote more about why it is important to have a training program back in January. Here is a link to that if you are interested.
Sports scientists have identified three primary mechanisms of hypertrophy: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. Mechanical tension is believed to be the most important of the mechanisms. Your muscle fibers are able to detect tension from mechanical loading and force and create signaling cascades to activate the muscle growing pathways in your body. Tension is felt by the individual muscle fibers, not the muscle as a whole. This is an important distinction to make because it is the hypertrophy of individual fibers that lead to most of the muscle growth seen in humans. Just because you “feel it in your butt” doesn’t necessarily mean the exercise is doing what you want it to be doing, see the section on glute bands later.
Movement is generated as a result of muscles contracting to move our skeleton. Muscles are made up of numerous motor units consisting of hundreds to thousands of muscle fibers. A motor unit is a bundle of muscle fibers that are innervated by a single neuron. Signals from our nervous system are sent down the neurons to the motor unit and tell all of the muscle fibers within that motor unit to contract and generate force as quickly as possible. We have both low threshold and high threshold motor units that are recruited in order of size at different levels of force. Low threshold motor units are usually recruited at lower force levels, consist of slow twitch fibers, and only govern a small number of muscle fibers. High threshold motor units contain a larger number of fibers, fast twitch fibers, and are recruited later in sequence at higher levels of force.
High threshold motor units contain not only a greater number of muscle fibers within a muscle but also the fibers that are more prone to growth following resistance training. Because the fibers of low threshold motor units are recruited at lower levels of force, it is possible that they have already reached their size potential as they are recruited more often in everyday life. This means that if you want to grow muscle, you must stimulate the fibers of the high threshold motor units. The more force that is required to perform a movement, the more (and bigger) motor units and therefore muscle fibers will be recruited to perform that movement. Because the motor units are recruited at different levels of force and high threshold motor units require higher levels of force to be activated, they are more responsive to heavier loads.
You can see how this applies to glute training by comparing a body weight glute bridge with a weighted hip thrust. The body weight glute bridge is extremely easy for most of you to perform. You could probably do more than 100 of them without any issues. If you were to do a set of 8-12 glute bridges and not add any kind of load you will almost certainly not reach the recruitment threshold to activate the high threshold motor units that are most responsible for growth. If you were to load a barbell with 225lbs and do 8-12 reps of hip thrusts there is an extremely good chance that you are activating the high threshold motor units and applying tension to the fibers inside of them to stimulate growth. The moral of this story is that if you want to see growth, you have to activate those high threshold motor units and oftentimes that means you need to lift some heavy weights. That goes for all muscles.
Volume for hypertrophy training is commonly measured as the total number of hard sets per week. In order to see growth, your training needs to be challenging enough to cross a stimulus threshold that serves as the point where the combination of volume, load, and frequency is enough to lead to muscle growth. Your individual stimulus threshold is likely going to be different than the Fitspo you follow or even your training partners which is why it is so critical to personalize your training to your own body. Your training age and proximity of the muscle to its genetic potential are two factors that will play a large role in where this threshold lies. As your muscles get bigger, the stimulus threshold shifts higher. Beginners can get by with much less volume in order to reach this stimulus threshold whereas more advanced trainers will need more volume.
In my experience, total weekly volume thresholds for the glutes tend to skew a bit higher than other muscles. For a beginner, 10-20 hard sets per week is likely sufficient to see some glute growth. That probably doesn’t seem like that many when you think about it. Growth for beginners is quite easy to achieve, it doesn’t take much especially with a good diet. For intermediate lifters, a bit more volume is probably necessary to achieve an adequate stimulus and see growth. 15-25 hard sets per week is a good landmark to shoot for. As the number of sets increases, it is possible you will need to cut back on the volume of some of your other muscle groups for time’s sake as well as managing fatigue. This is one of the purposes for periodizing your training, you can focus on growing certain body parts at different points of the year. Advanced lifters may need even more volume in order to see growth. 20-35 hard sets per muscle group per week is a ballpark estimate but as an advanced lifter you should have a general idea of where you stand. These are not perfect values, they are estimates to give you an idea of where to shoot. The amount of volume one can perform is highly individual. There is no theoretical optimal for everyone. If you are not getting results with 15 hard sets each week and are eating, sleeping, and recovering well then upping your weekly volume is a good idea. Finding what works for your personal abilities and goals will always be better than some cookie cutter advice. Using volume as a tool to progressively overload instead of as a must hit target will allow you to better mold your training to your own body.
The principle of overload states that to make progress from training it needs to be difficult enough to warrant changes. Simply put, training has to be hard. Recall from the previous section about mechanical tension that motor units are recruited in order of size and the high threshold motor units that are the most responsive to training are only recruited when the level of force requires them to be recruited. When you reach true muscular failure nearly all of the muscle’s motor units will have been recruited to assist with completing the task. Going to failure on every set probably will create a better stimulus to grow muscle in the short term but fatigue accumulation grows exponentially as you approach failure. The amount of fatigue caused by training to failure will make future training sessions nearly impossible to complete which is why it is not recommended to take every set to failure.
There exists a theory among certain sport scientists that the last 5 reps of a set taken to failure are defined as “effective reps” or “stimulative reps”. The idea behind this theory is that the mechanical stimulus placed upon the muscle fibers at times there is a high level of motor unit recruitment and slow contraction speeds are the ones that matter most for muscle growth so those reps are the ones that should be measured. Note: In the interest of keeping this article at a length that is at least somewhat digestible I’m not going to delve into why contraction speed matters but I did write about it in a previous article that you can read here. In addition, repetitions that are closer to failure lead to a greater accumulation of metabolites and cause more damage which are two of the mechanisms that are thought to promote hypertrophy. In the volume section I mentioned hard sets. A hard set in my opinion would be any set that reaches into these stimulative reps.
With this theory, a set of your 10 rep max will have 5 stimulating reps. The first 5 reps of the set will be less stimulative with the purpose of fatiguing your muscle enough to recruit the high threshold motor units in order to reach the final 5 stimulating reps. As we will discuss in the Rep Ranges section a bit later, this has been shown in the research to work using rep ranges between 5-30 reps. So if you took your 30 rep max, the first 25 reps are less stimulative and the final 5 reps of the set would be the stimulating reps. Imagine you took the weight of your 30 rep max and performed a set with 20 reps. You would never reach the point where you fatigued the muscle enough to recruit the high threshold motor units or to involuntarily achieve a contraction speed slow enough to promote muscle growth. In my opinion, people’s inability to get this one thing correct is the number 1 reason why they struggle to see any progress in the gym.
In summary you want to make sure that you are training with the correct intensity no matter what your goal is. With the goal of growing your glutes (or any muscle) you want all of your sets to be sufficient enough to promote growth. This means that you should choose a weight and rep scheme that leaves you with 0-5 reps left in the tank before you reach task failure. With a proper training structure you can build across the course of your mesocycles from the low end (5 reps in reserve) to the high end (0 reps in reserve). This allows you to get the most out of your training sessions while managing fatigue and promoting as much growth as possible.
The primary function of the gluteus maximus is to extend the hip. It also assists a bit in external rotation, transverse abduction, and adduction. The gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, as well as a couple smaller muscles also make up your butt, however the trio of the gluteal muscles, primarily the maximus contribute most to having a huge ass. The hip thrust, deadlift, squat, and lunge are the 4 gold standard movements of glute training in my eyes. These 4 movements as well as variations of them should make up the majority of your glute training. Accessory movements to include abduction and rotation are important as well but the focus should be on the big 4.
It is generally a good idea to start each of your training sessions with the big compound movements and then progress towards the movements of isolation. Compound movements often provide a greater stimulus than isolation movements and are more taxing on the muscle for most exercisers. In addition they work other muscles at the same time in order to complete a movement. A squat to full depth can be sufficiently taxing on both your quads and glutes in the same set giving you more bang for your buck.
Variation in your exercises will help you to work all of the different biomechanical actions to effectively target the full muscle. The gluteus maximus primarily works to extend the hip but it also assists in other movements. Choosing exercises in different planes of motion will help to activate as many of the different motor units as possible. The glutes can be loaded vertically in the sagittal plane (squats), horizontally in the frontal plane (abductions) or rotationally in the transverse plane (many of the banded movements). Some of the fibers in your targeted muscle can be activated when performing certain movements or ranges of motions and be utilized less for others. For example, the hip thrust may work a portion of your glutes to a greater degree than a full range of motion squat does but it is possible that the range of motion required in the squat targets a slightly different combination of fibers so having a combination of movements in your program is important to be well rounded.
For glute growth my recommendations are to hit all of the biomechanical actions of the glutes and load them vertically, horizontally, and rotationally but with a focus on hip extension as it is the primary action of the biggest glute muscle. I like to choose one main lift from the big four per each mesocycle to do first in your workouts and to go fairly heavy on. So that can be the squat, deadlift, hip thrust or lunge. The goal across the mesocycle should be to gain strength and proficiency in technique with the movement as this will allow for you to load the muscle even greater in the future. The rest of your weekly volume can be made up of exercises that are more moderately loaded and aim to hit each of the biomechanical actions, again with a focus on hip extension. I believe it is generally a good idea to stick with variations of the big 4 movements to make up the majority of your programming.
Sample Leg Day with a Glute Focus
3×5-8 Hip Thrust (vertical loading)
3×8-12 Romanian Deadlifts (vertical loading)
3×8-12 each leg Bulgarian Split Squats (vertical loading)
3×12-15 Side Lying Hip Abductions (horizontal loading)
3xFailure Banded External Rotations (rotational loading)
Muscle can be grown across a wide variety of rep ranges. The literature shows us that rep ranges between 5 and 30 reps are equivalent when it comes to growing muscle as long as the set was taken close to failure. This means that if you choose a weight that equaled your 5 rep max and did a set to failure you would likely see the same amount of muscle growth than if you were to choose a weight that equaled your 30 rep max and performed a set to failure. Sets of 4 reps or less and 31 reps or higher have been shown not to grow the same amount of muscle to a statistically significant degree. If you believe in the stimulating reps theory where the last 5 reps of working sets taken to failure are the ones that matter then you can see why there is a wide variety of rep ranges that work for growing muscle.
While muscle growth can occur across a wide array of rep ranges, using 8-15 is commonly seen among exercisers and for good reason. Doing sets of 20-30 is hard to do correctly. Many people will give up on the set before they actually reach failure because of psychological factors stemming from the burn caused by metabolite build up. The gym gal idea that doing higher reps with lighter weights will make you tone instead of build muscle is honestly one of the dumbest things I have ever heard when it comes to improving your physique.
What do you think toning even is? Muscle either grows or it shrinks. Being “toned” is a function of the size of your muscle and leanness. So if you want to get toned the fastest way to that is to gain muscle and lose fat. Doing sets around 5 reps is equally difficult because the weight you need to use is taxing on the body and tends to add more fatigue than a set with lower weight and more reps would. I like to use a variety of rep ranges in my training. Not only does it provide variation to keep training from getting stale but it is also a way to change up the stimulus a bit. That being said, sticking around the 8-15 rep range for the majority of training is often recommended.
Glute Activation and Glute Bands
I cannot discuss glute training without bringing up the trend of “glute activation” and glute bands. It is all the rage among Fitspos on social media as it is a way for them to make you believe you have a problem that you don’t actually have so that they can sell you their dumb glute bands. If you can’t see where this is going, it’s not going to be good for your precious glute activation. It has always been confusing to me why so many people seem to be hoodwinked by these glute activation trends when there is no other muscle group in the body that people will tell you that you need to do activation exercises for before training them. That should be red flag number one.
If you have never come across glute activation from fitness influencers on social media, congratulations. You have yet to be corrupted. Many of these influencers tell their followers that in order to see glute growth you need to perform these banded glute exercises before their workouts and of course they have their own personally branded cloth glute band to sell you. I have never seen a single research study showing that low load gluteal warm ups lead to greater hypertrophy in the gluteal muscles. Not one. There are a handful of studies looking into low load gluteal warm ups and their effects on certain performance variables like power or force output. The results of these studies are fairly split on whether it is beneficial or not. Almost all of the low load gluteal warm up procedures used in these studies are just standard dynamic warm ups, never this banded shit you see on social media. I am fairly convinced that any kind of dynamic warm up would fare similarly in these studies.
Until enough research comes out that shows glute activation leads to better muscle growth I wouldn’t waste your time doing it. Now, using a glute band as a warm up is perfectly reasonable to do but don’t expect it to make your glutes more prone to growth. A warm up should serve a few purposes, to raise your core body temperature and to raise the temperature in the muscles that you will be using in the workout. The enzymes that you use to generate energy have an optimal temperature slightly above normal body temperature. Your muscles also have viscoelastic properties in which higher temperatures allow for better functioning. Hot things tend to flow a bit easier. If you like to do “glute activation” as your warm up, that is okay just make sure that you are doing what is necessary to perform the actual training you are about to do. In my eyes, a proper warm up really only needs a bit of dynamic movement and enough movement prep with the actual exercise you are about to be doing to get you ready to go. For example, if I was about to squat I may do 5 minutes or so of leg swings, lunges, RDLs, etc and then I would start warming up my actual squat by progressively building up in weight. If the glute band warm up helps you achieve a better mind muscle connection, use it. I’m not anti glute band. I’m anti using the glute band for things that it shouldn’t be used for.
If you are using a glute band for all of your primary glute training you are surely not training your glutes correctly. The glute band should be used for your accessory lifts, assisting in correcting movement patterns, or as a tool to help you warm up. It should not be and does not need to be placed around your knees for every single exercise. It drives me nuts to see people in the gym put a band around their knees to squat, then to hip thrust, then to deadlift, and even on the stairmaster. Like what are you even trying to do? Placing an elastic band around your knees is going to resist against hip abduction. The muscles that are prime movers in hip abduction are some of the smaller ones that make up your butt. If you were to put a glute band on for your hip thrusts, a movement of hip extension, it is extremely likely that the small muscles that work to abduct the hip will fatigue sooner than the muscles that extend the hip, you know, the ones you are trying to target by doing a hip thrust. It all comes back to stimulating the fibers of the high threshold motor units in order to see growth. If you never fatigue those fibers in the target muscle because you were being silly with a glute band and have to terminate a set before you should have to then you will never see the growth that you could achieve. People will always say “But i feel it so much more when I use a glute band!!!” That’s because you are feeling it in the wrong muscle you clown. Save the glute band for your accessory lifts. Thank you.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention diet at some point during this article. After all it does play a gigantic role in growing muscle. Muscle growth is an energetically expensive process. Putting on mass is nearly impossible to do if you don’t provide your body with enough protein and energy to do so. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and eating it in adequate amounts is a requirement in order to build new muscle. Much of the literature points to shooting for 1g/lb of body weight per day. In addition to protein, eating in a caloric surplus is going to vastly increase your chances at building muscle. Being in a hypercaloric state is muscle sparing and when you pair that with a good stimulus from resistance training and proper nutrition you put yourself in a great place to grow muscle. Many people, myself included, struggle with this concept as it means you will have to likely add some fat mass in the process but you must remember that it is all an investment for your future self. The dieting phase following your massing phase to get back to where you feel comfortable being from a body fat standpoint will be short and quick. Eating in a hypercaloric state makes muscle growth easier because the extra calories are muscle sparing making the minimum effective volume for seeing results lower. The extra calories allow you to train less to make progress and at the same time allow for you to train harder in the gym while still adequately recovering to see even better results.
It is possible for you to gain muscle and lose fat or maintain your current fat mass but this is not an easy process and your quest for muscular growth will certainly be blunted. This can also only be expected to occur in a few cases of people. 1) Beginners to training 2) People who are overfat 3) People who are detrained 4) People who take steroids. I will say, many of you can probably achieve some form of body recomposition by training hard, eating sufficient protein, and eating around maintenance levels but the degree of muscle growth you can achieve will not be nearly the same as if you ate in a hypercaloric state. If you want your ass to be fat, take a few months and invest the time to do it.
I am the poster child for trying to grow muscle without gaining fat. I have attempted it many times and guess what? it never works out well for me. Eating in a caloric surplus is hard for me to do. The sheer amount of food required for me to eat on a daily basis is not an easy task for me and the psychological effects of getting fatter is hard for me to deal with. Of all of the times I have tried to eat in a surplus to gain muscle I have failed but for once. Whenever I see myself start to lose definition in my stomach and chest I back off. I know there are many of you out there just like me. One way you could possibly solve this problem is to start off with a cutting phase. When you begin from a place of leanness you have more wiggle room to add muscle and fat mass without getting bigger than you are comfortable being.
Look if you want to get on the stairmill and do the little fairy kickback with every step to try and grow your glutes because that’s what you like to do then get after it. But let’s stop pretending that your growing to effectively grow muscle in your bum that way, okay? The information I have presented above is the best advice I can give to you to help you in your gluteal journeys. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer to the best of my abilities. Unfortunately I can’t write you a training plan and I don’t do any coaching. Coaching has been ruined for me. Of all of the people I have ever coached I think all but one has refused to follow the plan or tried to tried to change what I programmed because they “liked this better”. Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh. Barf.
Now I refuse to do any coaching for as long as I live. So take the information here and gather knowledge from other people in the biz. Build a training plan that suits exactly what you need, follow it to a T and you will be rocking a derrière that could compete with the best of them in no time.