While in Charlotte this most recent Thanksgiving holiday, my family visited a local pizza place and happened to get in line behind Greg Olson, the pro-bowl tight end (and charitable human being (click here for article) for the Carolina Panthers, and his family. I must give credit to my wife (who will unlikely even read this) as she actually recognized him before I did. After we returned back to my in-laws’ house, my wife also so kindly pointed out that he has a nicer butt than me and that I should do “whatever exercises he does.” Thanks, Babe!
The problem is that I have Flat Butt Syndrome. It is something I have dealt with my entire life. I honestly have a middle school memory of my girlfriend telling me I needed butt implants. I thought it would get better with puberty and growing, but not so much. It didn’t help that while in college and physical therapy school, my weight training was geared towards upper body (beach body muscles!) and that running alone was “enough” for my lower body. It wasn’t until I got into CrossFit in 2011 that I started to routinely incorporate squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. into my regular programming. It may have helped my predicament some, but only marginally.
So, where am I going with this? What is the point? Well, some people simply have “nicer” glutes than others. Part of it is genetics and muscle fiber composition. For example, my parents blessed me with more slow-twitch oxidative muscle fibers that allow me to better perform in cardiovascular endurance activities but make it more difficult to increase muscle mass, strength, and power. Professional football players like Greg Olson most likely have more fast-twitch muscle fibers better suited for strength, power, and explosiveness which allows them to be better at their sport. The other contributing component is training and programming, which I will touch on later.
First, what are the “glutes” and why are they so important. The glutes are, well, obviously, your rear end, butt cheeks, rump, booty, money maker, or whatever else you want to call it. Each glute is composed of three muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus) that originate on the pelvis and attach to the proximal upper femur (thigh). When you look through an anatomy book, it will tell you the function of each muscle as if they work independently from one another; however, they actually work together to move the hip with each muscle’s contribution changing based on the movement. The gluteus maximus is the largest and most powerful muscle of the group and contributes greatly with hip extension (moving the leg rearward) but does aid in hip abduction (moving the leg outward) and hip external rotation (rotating the leg outward). The gluteus medius and minimus primarily contribute to hip abduction and external rotation but assist the gluteus maximus with hip extension. Why are the glutes important? There are plenty of scholarly research articles and expert opinion pieces that dive into how strong, healthy glutes translate to better performance, decrease back/hip/knee pain, and reduced injury risk. Don’t believe me? Google search it and you will have plenty of reading to occupy you for days. To simplify it when talking to patients and athletes, I like comparing the human body to a car where the body’s spine and trunk is the car’s chassis or frame, the hips and shoulders are the car’s axles, and the arms and legs are the car’s wheels. The hip is similar to an axle because 1) it is located between the strongest, most stable component and the most the maneuverable, and 2) it assists in power transfer from the inside out. If a car has a busted axle, it will negatively impact the wheels downstream and the chassis upstream. The same is true with the hip. A poorly functioning glute complex will not only impact a person at the hip but will influence their back and leg health.
The glutes are no different than any other muscle group in terms of strength and conditioning programming to meet the individual’s gluteal goals. Want to “tone” the glutes and focus on muscle definition? You have better success focusing on higher reps (more than 12 per set), working multiple sets (3-5), with only short rest breaks of 30-60 seconds. Want more power from your backside? Focus on significantly heavy loads (90%+ of 1RM) and give yourself plenty of rest between sets (3-5 minutes, if not longer). How about increased muscle size? Stay in the 8-12 reps per set range and perform 2-4 sets with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets.
As for exercises, there are a ton of them out there targeting the glutes. All hip exercises that involve any combination of hip extension, abduction, and/or external rotation will hit the glute complex. When targeting the glute max, remember that the hamstrings can also perform hip extension. One way to minimize the hamstring’s contribution is by performing exercises with the knees bent. Since the hamstrings primarily flex the knees, performing hip extension exercises with knees flexed limit the hamstrings ability to perform hip extension. This is known as active insufficiency. Basically, the hamstrings are “too busy” with knee flexion to assist with hip extension. For example, a prone straight leg raise will have more hamstring contributions versus a prone knee bent leg raise, which will have higher glute max activation. The same concept also applies with more functional, multi-joint movements (i.e. stiff-legged deadlifts versus traditional deadlifts).
Like I previously mentioned, there is a plethora of exercises targeting the glutes. However, below are some of my favorites:
Lateral Band Walks
Heavy Sled Push
Lateral Sled Drags
To wrap this up, the final takeaways of this article are 1) the glutes are instrumental in overall health and performance, 2) your programming should reflect your gluteal goals (toning versus size versus power), and 3) there are tons of exercises and additional resources available to help. Based on my wife’s comments, I guess I should be incorporating more of the above exercises into my regular programming with a focus on increasing muscle mass (hypertrophy!). I should also probably thank her, too, for being the motivation behind this article (thanks!).
And in case you were wondering, the answer is “yes” in that I did speak to Greg Olson. Our families were leaving the place at the same time, his ahead of mine, and he continued to hold the door for us. As I reached for the door he asked if I had it, and I replied with a “Yep. Thanks.” And that was the end of our conversation. We really hit it off, and we are practically BFFs now…
Thanks for reading!
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.