Targeting specific muscles during a workout is usually a concept applied by bodybuilders or physique competitors in hopes of isolating that muscle group. The goal is to “balance” their physique or exaggerate a certain weak point in their figure. Most gym goers are not bodybuilders but many go to the gym in hopes of isolating and growing their glute muscles. Isolation exercises are generally unnecessary but the glutes are a rare exception. Unlike other muscle groups, the glutes are responsible for an incredible number of movement functions and, therefore, need special attention. They help with hip extension, posture, rotation, abduction, adduction, balance, and the list goes on. The issue with most traditional workouts is their inability to sufficiently activate the glute muscles and strengthen them for one of their many functions. Dr. Bret Contreras has spent the last 10+ years scrutinizing the methods of glute activation and developing workouts to target those outcomes. The research done by Dr. Contreras suggests specific exercises can help target your posterior greater than or equivalent to traditional workouts and improve overall performance.
Your butt is essentially made up of three muscles in the posterior region. The gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus are primarily slow twitch muscle fibers suggesting a slow contraction time and resistance to fatigue. The fibers have an interesting attribute which allows them to contract like a fast twitch fiber but without the sudden enervation.1 This allows the glutes to contribute to almost every sport specific function including running, sprinting, throwing, swinging, standing, etc. without being the limiting factor.1,2 Building the glute muscles has been shown to improve any number of these functions but not all exercises sufficiently stimulate that region.2 Though results may vary from person to person, the average glute contractility during a body weight squat is only about 10%.2 Similar results have been shown when examining workouts under an electromyograph (EMG). A barbell squat activates the glute maximus 59.0, 29.4, and 71.1 in the upper, mid, and lower regions of the glute maximus respectively.2 Comparatively, the barbell deadlift activates the same relative regions at 81.5, 37.0, 85.6.2 Other movements can target these muscles to a greater degree and do so without the level of skill needed to perform the lift. You might not have realized that your workout wasn’t adequately stimulating your glute muscles and unfortunately for many of us, if you don’t use your glutes you lose them.
There are two general methods to stimulate the glute muscles. The first is through the tradition weight bearing vertical movements. The usual suspects include squats, deadlifts, straight leg deadlifts, and back extensions. These lifts rely on the glutes to fire but activating them sufficiently isn’t always an innate function of the movement. This is anecdotally evident when you squat once or many times per week without any soreness in your posterior. The second method to glute stimulation is through horizontal glute stimulation. This method has been shown to activate the glute muscles much more effectively and safely. Movements such as hip thrusts, glute bridges, and quadruped hip extensions activate the glute muscles without the need for a heavy load. Weighted hip thrusts, for example, can stimulate the glute maximus upper, mid, and lower sections at 134.0, 62.6, and 72.9 using the EMG test mentioned previously.2 Hip thrusts are safer than a heavy loaded squat or deadlift but with a greater stimulation in some areas of the glute muscle. Below are some listed exercises that target the glutes and can be included into your workout regimen so that you can maximize your posterior growth reliably.
1. Contreras, Bret (2010). Top Five Glute Exercises. CW Training Systems, LLC and Charlie Weingroff. http://charlieweingroff.com/pdf/TheTopFiveGluteExercises.pdf
2. Contreras, Bret. Davis, Kellie (2013). Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building A Better Body. Victory Belt Publishing Inc. Las Vegas.