The Era of the Booty! How to get a strong and shapely behind.

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Anything that improves physical performance interests me. Over my many years as a trainer I have come to notice a trend with 90% of the people I have trained, they all seem to improve / develop excellent glutes while working with me. It seems I may have accidentally stumbled upon a niche.

What I love most about targeting these muscles is that not only do they have huge potential for developing incredible force which is obviously crucial for any athlete / sports person but a shapely behind is also aesthetically pleasing to the masses, so much so that many people are even investing in butt implants! Most women want a nice bum, so do most men (although their less likely to admit it)

The question for a woman however becomes, “How do I get a nice bum?” The answer is, “It depends on your body.”

One problem that turns some women off strength training is that many of the great glute exercises are also extremely good quad exercises. Dr Contreras (A leading expert on glute training) tells us that a simple bodyweight squat typically activates 70% MVC (maximum voluntary contraction) for the quads and only 20% MVC for the glutes in women.  This is why most women feel squats only in their quads. Women are predominately quad dominant, I believe this could be caused by the increased Q angle of a females femur (I could be mistaken on this)

I have trained women from all shapes and sizes. Some need to lose fat. Many need to gain muscle all over. Some need to gain muscle in certain areas and avoid muscle gain in others. Every woman / person is unique in this regard.

With regard to the “skinnier types.” I have noticed that the stronger you get these types of women, the better they look. Once they are strong at squats and lunges their bottom and thighs keep looking better.I’ve also trained a whole lot of “heavier types.” No matter how hard these women worked, their thighs always appeared a little bit bulky.

This is where I believe that educating our clients is crucial. A knowledgeable trainer should know that over time getting a woman strong at the most basic of movements such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench press, bent over rows, chin ups, dips, military press and some form of rotation (largely forgotten) will serve her body extremely well. However, the worst thing you can do to an already insecure female client who may be self conscious about how large her thighs are is prescribe a load of exercises that the she feels working her quads. The minute her jeans start fitting more snug in the thighs she may panic and want to quit training.

A typical client may have experienced severe gluteal atrophy (muscle wastage) due to inactivity over the years. Their rear ends will probably  appear large because they are loaded with excess adipose tissue, but underneath all that fat there isn’t a whole lot of muscle. We need to whittle away the fat, which decreases hip width, while building muscular shape, which increases hip depth. That is the secret to developing a nice posterior!

However, getting back to what I mentioned earlier, women don’t want to develop a shapely behind at the expense of simultaneously developing huge thighs. So what can we do?

Can a typical woman’s thighs get too big from regular strength training? This depends on the trainer / training. Some woman don’t  receive a lot of glute activation from squatting and lunging. Even though they exhibit what appears to be great form, they’re using mostly quads. For this reason we need to search for exercises that are more “hip dominant” and less “quad dominant.”

So, are deadlifts the solution? Unfortunately deadlifts may lead to a similar problem, but in a different area. Deadlifts could lead to overdeveloped traps, depending on the shape of the woman. Deadlifts work the glutes very well, but any strength athlete will tell you they are also the best all around back exercise and will lead to muscular growth from the neck down to the feet. So if squats and lunges can cause overdeveloped thighs and the deadlift could cause an increase in trapezius and back musculature Is there an exercise that is more specific to “what women want?” Enter the hip thrust.

I want to begin by saying that squats, deadlifts, and lunges are amazing exercises. I’m not stating that anyone should avoid these effective movements. I employ all of these lifts both with my own training and my clients (body permitting) I’m simply saying that there comes a point where a women may become “too strong” at these exercises and their strength will start to negatively impact their physiques.

In comparison, a women can develop all the strength in the world at hip thrusts and it will only benefit her physique. The stronger she gets, the better her bum will look. A simple bodyweight hip thrust typically activates 40% MVC for the glutes in women while offering less quadricep activity and virtually no upper back activity. While squats and lunges may make the thighs too big and deadlifts may make the back too big, hip thrusts focus in on the butt region.

Obviously training needs to be very specific to the individual. Overweight women as with anyone need to simply move around a lot more using basic movement patterns so they can lose weight and eventually incorporate barbell movements into their arsenals including hip thrusts. Since overweight people weigh more, bodyweight hip thrusts are an excellent strength and conditioning exercise. Weak, tight women need to increase their hip mobility, core stability, and glute activation before attempting barbell hip thrusts or they could simply use their low back and hamstring muscles to move the weight and will end up doing more harm than good.

I believe if you start incorporating thrusts into your routine you can have huge success. Just make sure you start off with bodyweight and move up slowly over time. After you get used to bodyweight, and can perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions in good form move up to the barbell. Make sure you place a pad around the bar to minimise the pressure on the hips. I have had many a client with unsightly bruises on their hips due to inadequate padding. As with any exercise learn to develop an intense mind muscle connection by contracting the glutes as hard as physically possible on each repetition. Always make sure you “feel” the glutes doing the work.

There are also many other great glute isolation exercises that can be employed that won’t work the quads or upper back, such as single leg hip thrusts, band walks, single leg back extensions, reverse hypers, and pull throughs.

If you are a woman, I recommend continuing with squats, lunges, and deadlifts, but keep an eye on the size of your quads and upper back. If muscle mass starts negatively impacting your physique, then stop going heavy on these exercises.

Start incorporating hip thrusts into your routine and some other targeted glute exercises for optimal glute development. You will soon develop the butt you’ve always wanted, be consistent and enjoy the journey.

Happy Training…

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Strength & Conditioning Research

 

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