If you’re a woman, one of the best ways to promote peak fitness and athleticism is to train the muscles on the back side of your body: your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
Besides the fact that lean and nicely shaped glutes can do wonders for your physique, training these muscles will promote strength and function, while boosting confidence.
Unfortunately, the average exercise advice given to women for getting leaner, stronger glutes is generally incomplete. It might get the exercises right, but doesn’t account for the need to use weights to overload the muscles so they grow bigger to provide shape. Or, they don’t give you the simple technique tips that can make your body change and strengthen so much faster.
Worst of all, they don’t tell you how to lose body fat in the hips and thighs in the most efficient way. This article will correct those errors and give you 6 great tips to get a stronger, leaner booty.
#1: Wake your glutes up with a dynamic warm-up.
You know that static stretching before workouts is passé, but doing dynamic movements to wake your muscles up is particularly important because the glutes are a “sleepy” muscle group. When you spend long hours sitting, suffer low back pain, or simply don’t work your glutes sufficiently, they can become inhibited.
The first step to waking your glutes up is to do a warm-up using exercises that have high glute activity—that is, they require your butt to get to work.
Exercises to try: Glute or hip raises in which you lie on your back with your knees bent and raise up into a bridge is a great glute “activator.” To increase difficulty, do single-leg glute bridges.
Do body weight lunges, squats, donkey kicks, and Monster walks (with an elastic band around the ankles) to wake up the glutes. According to a 2006 study these exercises produce the greatest glute activity—donkey kicks (also known as quadruped hip extensions) got the glutes working the most.
#2: Use the classic lifts (deadlifts, squats, lunges) to create a strong, balanced body.
The best glute building exercises are multi-joint lifts that activate the glutes and require them to do a lot of work, thereby training and growing the largest number of muscle fibers. They also have the added benefit of producing a lot of metabolic stress, which helps you lose body fat.
The reason all women should start building their glutes by training the classic lifts is that it allows you to teach your body to move in a coordinated manner—as a system.
Exercises to try:
Deadlifts are your best bet to get great glutes because you can use a lot of weight, and some variations such as the hex bar deadlift are useful because you can train them in a fatigued state failure, which helps you get lean. Try sumo deadlifts with a side foot placement to increase glute activation.
Deep squats in which you go all the way down past parallel are essential because they activate the glutes much more than partial squats. They also help you strengthen the hamstrings and quads of your thighs in a systematic manner for greater athleticism in the lower body. Two ways to increase glute activation are with sumo squats in which you use a very wide foot placement (double hip width), or place the barbell lower on your back.
Power exercises such as power cleans and snatches require a huge contribution from the glutes. Power moves are great for growing shapely glutes because they require you to generate a lot of force quickly, which activates the highest threshold parts of your muscles that are hardest to train.
#3: Include single-leg multi-joint exercises to target the posterior chain.
Single-leg training with exercises such as lunges, step-ups, and single-leg deadlifts allow you to specifically target the glutes, which is beneficial for three interrelated reasons:
* It leads to greater glute muscle activity so you overcome a weak connection from the brain to the muscle.
* It equalizes strength levels in the glutes between the right and left side of the body.
* It allows for greater muscle growth for lovely, rounded glutes.
For example, we know from a study of college track athletes that single-leg squat training produced higher glute muscle activity compared to bilateral squats. A second study found that the step-ups, lunges, and donkey kicks worked the two muscles that make up the glute (the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus) and the hamstrings more effectively than the bilateral lifts.
Exercises to try:
The Donkey Kick/Step Up Superset: Pairing donkey kicks and step-ups in a superset is a great way to target your posterior and get a nice fat burning, muscle building response. Plus if you want to grow your glutes and improve “definition” of your hamstrings without getting bigger quads, these exercises are the way to grow.
Donkey kicks are done on all fours. Lift one leg up, keeping the knee bent at 90 degrees. Lift the leg until the bottom of the foot is pointing toward the ceiling and the leg is lined up with the body. Return the leg to the ground under control and repeat on the other side. Avoid hyperextending the back! Donkey kicks are notorious for eliciting poor form, leading to diminishing returns.
Once you master the technique, progress to cable-resisted donkey kicks and dumbbell step-ups, progressively adding weight as you get stronger.
Lunges & Split Squats: Split squats are key for novices and any ladies who are tight through the hips and ankle joints because they allow you to develop flexibility, while equalizing strength levels between both sides of the body.
Do both split squats and lunges over a full-range of motion because this requires a greater contribution from the glutes than when motion is restricted. Don’t be afraid of having the knee come slightly forward over the toe—this won’t hurt your knees and will actually improve connective tissue in the joint for stronger knees and favorably hit the posterior chain.
Single-Leg Deadlift: A worthwhile lift for novices or trainees who are developing coordination and strength through the lower back, glutes, abs, and hamstrings.
#4: Train glute builders.
Now, we’re ready to get down to business and directly target your glutes with top booty builders.
Here are a few exercises that directly build the glutes:
Glute-Ham Raises: A lesser known but valuable glute builder for women, the glute-ham raise allows you to work the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and even the abs a little bit.
For best results, adjust the footplate so that when your feet are secured, your upper thighs are resting on the center of the bench and you can hang your upper body over the edge. Start with hands on hips and back straight throughout the motion. Progress to hands across your chest and then behind your head to increase difficulty. Eventually, add weight with a medicine ball or weight plate against the chest.
Barbell Glute Bridges: Glute bridges, which we discussed in the warm-up section, are the quintessential glute builder when you load them with a barbell. Some people consider them unsightly, but they are highly effective at isolating the glutes to build shape and strength.
Plus, glute bridges are useful when you don’t want to grow your quads and hamstrings as much as you want your glutes to pop. Squatting, deadlifting, and lunging will grow all the muscles in your legs and backside, which is great for athleticism and a must for novices, but if you’re already strong and just want to target your glutes for a training phase, try glute bridges.
Progress from having your body on the ground to elevating the upper back on a bench. Load them heavy and train them with a fairly high volume.
Good Mornings: A powerhouse lift for the posterior chain, it hits the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, making it an excellent “core” exercise.
Reverse Hypers: An often overlooked glute exercise that puts minimal compressive forces on the spine but strengthens the lower back and hamstring muscles along with the glutes for a strong and balanced posterior.
#5: Do sprints or strongman to lose body fat in the hips and thighs.
Sprint training will help women lose body fat in the hips and thighs. For instance, a study of 45 young women found that bike sprints done 3 days a week produced an impressive average loss of 2.5 kg of body fat and increase in lean muscle of 0.6 kg.
Most of the fat was lost from the thighs and trunk—an area that is often considered “tricky” for women. They also lost 0.15 kg of belly fat, which looks like a small amount but is significant due to its dangerous location around the organs.
Protocols to try:
The workout done in the study mentioned above used 8-second resisted sprints followed by 12 seconds of low-intensity cycling, repeated 60 times for a total of 20 minutes. Be sure to use resistance because researchers think this was the catalyst that allowed the women to get such good results without modifying diet.
Try running sprints on a track or self-propelled treadmill such as the Woodway brand (it’s sort of like pushing a weighted sled because you’re propelling the treadmill with your feet). A new study found that normal-weight women who did 4 to 6 sprints of 30 seconds on a treadmill lost an average 1.4 kg of fat, reduced body fat by 8 percent, and decreased waist circumference by 3.5 percent.
#6: Optimize fat intake for leanness around the hips and thighs.
Great glutes can’t have fat covering them up. By understanding how women’s metabolism function differently from men’s you can optimize your diet to reach body composition goals.
At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat. In addition, women tend to have greater fat storage after eating, which contributes to their higher body fat percentage.
From an evolutionary perspective, it’s favorable for women to have more body fat because these fat stores will be used during pregnancy and lactation. Once young women become able to reproduce, their bodies will begin storing fat around the hips and thighs “locking it away” in preparation for having a baby.
The fat around the hips and thighs (called gluteofemoral fat) has a particularly high concentration of DHA, one of the three omega-3 fats. The theory is that gluteofemoral DHA fat is used to make breast milk, and that it is for the development of a baby’s brain.
Research suggests that U.S. women tend to have a low percentage of DHA in their gluteofemoral fat due to low intake of omega-3s. This typically leads to significant weight gain during pregnancy, because the woman’s brain is thought to monitor nutrient status throughout the body, sensing the low DHA stores.
This leads to excessive hunger cues, causing women to eat more, in the quest to store as much DHA as possible for nurturing an infant brain. In contrast, Japanese women have a much higher percentage of DHA in their fat due to high fish intake and are correspondingly leaner.
How to do it: Regardless of whether you’re planning on having a baby, get adequate DHA fat in your diet. Shoot for a balanced ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats by limiting your intake of vegetable fats and oils.
Make your body metabolically flexible so that it is capable of burning fat for energy. Do this by limiting carbohydrates in your diet at certain times so that your body is forced to burn fat.
For example, try eating lower carb on a day when you aren’t training but higher carb on workout days. Doing anaerobic-style exercise such as weight lifting and sprints also improves the body’s metabolic flexibility.