Firm, rounded glutes are a goal many people aspire to these days and you don’t get them by sitting on the couch! In fact, it takes a little sweat labor to mold and round those glutes. It also takes good nutrition, including enough protein and enough calories to ensure your body is in an anabolic state. Muscles won’t hypertrophy, including your glutes, unless you feed them properly. So, you know you need to train, but what’s the best way to challenge those glutes to grow? Is low repetition and high weights or high repetition and lighter weights a better approach to glute hypertrophy?
You need both high reps and low reps in your training and there’s room for medium reps too. Advocates of only using heavy weights and lower reps mistakenly assume the muscle fibers in the glutes are mainly fast-twitch muscle fibers. If that’s the case, they should respond best to heavy weights and low repetitions. However, research suggests otherwise. Studies show that muscle fibers in the glutes are between 52 and 68% slow-twitch fibers and 48 to 52% fast-twitch fibers. So, at least half of the muscle fibers in your gluteal region are slow-twitch in composition. As such, they should respond best to high reps and lighter weights. Of course, you don’t want to neglect the fast-twitch fibers. You can best target these fibers with heavier weights and lower reps. So, how should you structure your training?
You might argue that heavy weights maximize muscle fiber recruitment, and that’s what you need to get your glutes to hypertrophy. However, you can also hammer the muscles in your glutes using lighter weights and high reps, as long as you work the muscle to fatigue. In fact, research shows that slow-twitch muscle fibers are more responsive and hypertrophy slightly more with lighter weights and high reps. Since over half of the muscle fibers in your glutes are slow twitch, doing some higher rep training makes sense. Plus, it works your muscles in a different way too.
Low Repetition Training for the Glutes
Some exercises are better suited for heavy weights and low reps than others. For example, back extensions and hip thrusts work best with lighter weights and higher reps. Therefore, low rep training for the glutes would consist of lower body compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. However, squats are more of a hamstring focused exercise than one that targets the glutes. However, you can increase the challenge on your glutes by doing back squats, single-leg squats, and squatting deeply. Also, widen your stance. A study carried out by researchers at the Scottish Institute of Sport found a wider stance when squatting activates the glutes more. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart with toes turned slightly outward when you squat.
For deadlifts, research suggests that conventional and sumo deadlifts both activate the gluteus maximus to a similar degree but aren’t as effective as hip thrusts. You can also isolate your glutes more by doing single-leg deadlifts and squats.
High Repetition Training
Exercises best suited to higher reps include hip thrusts, back extensions, quadruped hip extensions, and lunges. These exercises directly target the glutes with less activation of the muscles in the thighs. The risk of injury is lower than with squats and deadlifts too. The reality is squats and deadlifts alone fall short in terms of developing the glutes and it’s hard to do them with good form. Don’t give them up, but don’t make them your only glute exercises.
Make room for the hip thrust in your routine! According to Brett Contreras, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., the Glute Guy, hip thrusts are the king of glute exercises as they work both the upper and lower glutes more than other common exercises people do for glute development. Make sure you’re including this exercise in your glute routine.
The Bottom Line
Your glutes are composed of slightly more slow-twitch muscle fibers than fast-twitch. So, include high and low repetition training in your routine. For low rep training, squats and deadlifts using heavy weights hit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Target the gluteus maximus even more by widening your stance and going deeper. But don’t neglect your slow-twitch muscle fibers. Include slow-twitch training with higher reps and lighter weights. Exercises that work well with higher reps include hip thrusts, back extensions, quadruped hip extension, and lunges. Don’t forget to advance your training by using progressive overload. You can do this by increasing the number of repetitions you do over time. You can also boost resistance. For example, once you can do 20 hip thrusts, place a light barbell across your hips for more of a challenge.
Although some exercises target the glutes harder than others, your glutes will respond best to a variety of exercises. As Brett Contreras, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., the Glute Guy, points out, you’ll get more benefits if you load the glutes horizontally, laterally, and vertically. For example, hip thrusts load the glutes horizontally. Deadlifts involve vertical loading of the glutes, and clamshells load them laterally. Also, focus on your form and doing each repetition through its full range-of-motion. Keep momentum out of the equation to force your glutes to work harder. Don’t sacrifice form for weight. For exercises like quadruped hip extensions, squeeze and hold at the top to maximize the glute burn. Focus on good nutrition, too. If you have a thick layer of body fat covering your glutes, they won’t appear as firm. Exercise works best when you combine it with a nutrient-dense diet and avoid excessive calorie restriction.
· FitnessRX. “Fiber Type Training” June 2015.
· MensHealth.com. “The 25 Best Workout Moves To Build Your Butt”
· ACE Fitness. “Glutes to the Max: Exclusive ACE Research Gets to the Bottom of the Most Effective Glutes Exercises”
· Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Sep;33(9):1552-66.
· BarBend.com. “EMG Differences Between the Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift, and Barbell Hip Thrust”
· The Glute Guy. “Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity
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