Congratulations on taking the first step towards growing your glutes! Some of the most common questions I get from clients and followers are about glute growth. I absolutely love glute growth as a fitness goal! Growing the glutes takes the emphasis of your workouts and nutrition off of shrinking your body and onto growth. Growing the glutes also involves lifting heavy weights, which can feel super empowering!
Now for the big question: where do you start and how do you get results? The good news is that growing the glutes is really no different from building muscle on any other body part. You need to eat and train in a way that encourages muscle growth. The process is relatively simple and straightforward. The bad news is that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Growing your glutes requires consistency, dedication, and progression. You will need to follow the protocols and steps below for months (not days or weeks) to see real results.
This is one of the most important and often overlooked areas when it comes to building the glutes, or really any muscle! You cannot build muscle out of nothing. In order to grow your glutes, you will need to be in at least a slight caloric surplus. Beginners or those who have not consistently trained in a while will be able to get away with eating at caloric maintenance and still build some muscle. But to optimize this process, aim to eat more calories than you burn in a day.
You can figure out how many calories you need to put yourself in a surplus by experimenting on yourself. Track your food intake for at least one week. Weigh yourself at the beginning of the week and at the end of the week. Ideally, weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you have eaten and after you have used the restroom. At the end of the week, average out the number of calories you ate each day. If your weight stayed the same, you know that you were eating at maintenance and you’ll need to slightly increase your calories. If you gained weight, you were already in a surplus and can keep your calories where they are. Lastly, if you lost weight, you were eating in a deficit and will need to increase your calories until you are in a surplus. You may need to repeat this process a few times to arrive at the correct number of calories and continue adjusting as you build more muscle.
Arguably as important as caloric intake is protein intake. The protein we consume is broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. Protein serves many other functions, but we’ll focus on its role in muscle building here. Without enough protein in your diet, it doesn’t matter how many squats or hip thrusts you do. You won’t build very much muscle. You will also likely feel more sore and less satiated with a low protein diet. I recommend consuming .8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. (If you are obese, you can base this off of lean mass instead of total bodyweight.) For a 150 lb person, for example, this would mean 120-150g of protein/day. This might be quite a bit more than you are currently consuming! I would not recommend jumping right up to this range if you are currently eating, say, 50g of protein per day. Start by increasing your protein intake by 10g per day and slowly increase this amount each week until you are in the right range.
There are four types of movements that should be in your routine if your goal is glute growth:
Each of these movement patterns serves a slightly different purpose, so if you’re leaving out any of these, you’re missing out on some major gains!
You might think of squats as a quad-dominant exercise. While squats will certainly develop your quads, squats can also be great glute builders! The key to feeling your glutes in squat/knee dominant movements is to get through a full range of motion and lean slightly forward. When we think of squats, we often think of barbell back squats or goblet squats. While those are great, they’re not your only options! There are tons of different variations and single leg movements that can be a great alternative if you have limited equipment or find barbell squats to be uncomfortable. Here are some great squat pattern movements:
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- High Step Ups
- Walking Lunges
- Front Lunges
- Reverse Lunges
- Sumo Squats
- Hack Squats
- Pistol Squats
- Back Squats
This is far from an exhaustive list! Play around with different squat variations to figure out which ones work best for you and keep your glutes most engaged. Experience level, equipment availability, biomechanics, and more will factor into which variations work best for you.
Hinge variations might be the most neglected type of glute exercise. If you’re afraid of deadlifts, you’re not alone! Deadlifts can be intimidating. Many of my clients are concerned about hurting their backs while deadlifting. While a deadlift performed with improper form can certainly lead to injury, deadlifting with proper form can actually help to prevent injury. In addition to contributing to glute growth, deadlifts help to strengthen the back. If deadlifts sound intimidating to you, the good news is that you don’t need to barbell deadlift off of the ground to see progress. There are many hinge variations that can work in replacement of a conventional deadlift. If you’re nervous about incorporating this movement into your routine, I recommend hiring a personal trainer or an online coach who will accept form videos. (I do both, if you’re interested!) Here are a few hinge movements to get you started:
- Kettlebell Deadlift
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- B-Stance Romanian Deadlift
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Sumo Deadlift
- Conventional Deadlift
Again, this is not an exhaustive list and there are many variations you can try if you are light on equipment or need to modify. Try starting off with a reduced range of motion and increasing as you become more comfortable.
If you are not doing some sort of weighted glute bridge or hip thrust, you are missing out on glute gains! Heavy hip thrusts and glute bridges can look intimidating and be complicated to set up, but trust me. They are worth it. You don’t have to do barbell hip thrusts if you find them uncomfortable or just aren’t quite at that level yet. I love setting up hip thrusts on the smith machine! These are much simpler to set up and don’t require as much stability. Here are some great bridge variations to add into your training:
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Smith Machine Hip Thrust
- Dumbbell Hip Thrust
- Banded Hip Thrust
- Barbell Glute Bridge
- Banded Dumbbell Glute Bridge
- Dumbbell Frog Pump
- Landmine Single Leg Hip Thrusts
Once again, there are many other variations! Play around with tempo, pauses, and squeezes. Be sure to fully extend your hips at the top of each rep. Don’t be afraid to go heavy – you can likely lift more than you think!
Hip abductions are different from the other types of movements on this list, but they’re still important! Squats, hinges, and bridges all primarily target the gluteus maximus. That’s the lower and larger portion of the glutes. Abductions target the gluteus medius. This is a smaller muscle on the upper portion of the glutes. This muscle is small, but you won’t achieve the round, full look you’re looking for if you don’t develop these muscles. Here are some options for abductions:
- Seated Abduction Machine
- Seated Band Abduction
- Cable Abduction
- Lateral Band Walks
For abductions, you’ll want to use lighter weight and a higher rep count. Experiment with pauses and pulses. These are great at the beginning of your workout as a warm up or the end as a finisher.
What about glute kickbacks?
Ah, glute kickbacks. Donkey kicks. Fire hydrants. Where do those fit in? The truth is that you don’t have to do a single glute kickback to build your glutes. Glute kickbacks work well as an accessory movement. This means that after you do all of your big lifts, if there’s still gas in the tank, go nuts with the glute kickbacks. Glute kickbacks are a great way to add volume into your routine, but you just aren’t going to build as much muscle with glute kickbacks as you would with heavy hip thrusts. We’ll get into programming these movements later, but generally speaking, the primary focus of your program should be heavy compound lifts. That means squats, lunges, deadlifts, and heavy hip thrusts. As discussed above, abductions are important too. If you have the time and capacity to add on some accessory movements like glute kickbacks once you’ve covered the essentials, go for it. Just please don’t replace squats or deadlifts with glute kickbacks.
Okay, now that we have the exercises down, how do we program them? There are a few things to consider here.
Frequency, Duration, and Intensity
The first is the frequency, intensity, and duration of your workouts. That is: how many times per week will you workout and how long and difficult will these workouts be? These three factors are all related to each other. If you only plan on completing one glute/leg workout per week, for example, that workout can (and probably should) be long and intense. You’ll have a full week to recover. If you plan on completing three leg/glute workouts per week, your workouts should be shorter and less intense. Since you will be working your glutes nearly every other day, you want to ensure that you will be able to recover from your workouts. If you plan on completing two workouts per week, the time commitment and intensity should be somewhere in the middle.
How many times per week you should work your glutes will depend on your preference, schedule, ability to recover, and level of commitment. For most people who want to focus on building their glutes, two to three times per week is ideal. But remember: if you’ll be working your glutes multiple times per week, the workouts cannot be as long or intense as they would be if you were only working your glutes once per week. Your total weekly training volume (the number of sets x reps you perform each week) should remain the same.
Does the order of your exercises matter? Yes, it does! That being said, there is no definitively right way to structure a workout. There are a lot of different reasons you might choose to start with one exercise over another. Generally speaking, however, the first exercise you perform (after your warm up) should be the most challenging exercise or the one you want to focus on the most. As your workout continues, you’ll have less and less energy to give to each set. This is why you generally want to start your workout with the exercises that will be most taxing on your body or the exercises that you stand to benefit the most from.
If you will be performing multiple glute workouts per week, you might consider giving each workout a different focus. For example, if you will be training glutes three times per week, you might start Monday’s workout with squats, Wednesday’s workout with deadlifts, and Friday’s workout with hip thrusts. Consider choosing a lower rep range and heavier weights for your first exercise. As you get further into the workout, lighten the load and increase the number of reps.
As discussed above, perform all of your heavy compound lifts before moving on to lighter accessory exercises. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
- Barbell Back Squats 4×8
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts 3×10
- Smith Machine Hip Thrusts 3×12
- Seated Band Abductions 2×20
- Cable Glute Kickbacks 2x15e
That’s just one way to write an effective glute workout, but here are a few important notes. Notice that we’re only performing five exercises. More is not always better. The more exercises you add on, the less effort you can give to each movement. Aim for around 5-7 exercises, but really give each set and rep as much effort as you can. We’re also starting this workout with the heaviest, most taxing exercises. The movements get easier as we fatigue throughout the workout.
In your glute training, you should aim to use all rep ranges from 3 reps to about 30 reps. Yes, the most effective rep range for hypertrophy is somewhere between 6-15 reps, but there is a ton of value in going higher and lower than that range. Most of your training should fall in that 6-15 rep range, but if you don’t do any training lower than 6 or higher than 15 reps, you’re missing out on gains. Hypertrophy can happen in many rep ranges. The most important thing for hypertrophy is to make sure that your sets are taken close to failure. (1 to 2 reps shy of failure most of the time.) As long as you’re taking your sets close to failure and getting in enough training volume, you’ll see muscle growth regardless of rep range.
If you’re going into the gym and squatting the same amount of weight for the same number of reps and sets at the same range of motion week after week, don’t expect to see any progress. Why would you expect to see your body progress if your training isn’t progressing? You should be trying to make something about every workout better than the last one. This could mean adding five pounds to the bar or doing one more rep. This could also mean adding on another set, increasing your range of motion, perfecting your form, or slowing down the tempo. There are so many ways to progress your workouts. While you should try to make progress each week, remember that progress isn’t always linear. There may be some days or weeks where your strength stays the same or even declines a bit. Do not let this discourage you. The most important thing is that you are pushing yourself during each workout. However, if weeks go by and you find that you are not making progress, consider taking a look at your nutrition, sleep, stress, and hydration. You also might want to consider trying a new exercise variation.
While this post may be long, the concept is not difficult. To grow your glutes, you need to eat appropriately and train effectively. Focus on eating adequate protein and calories. When training, prioritize compound lifts and progressive overload. Make sure you are getting the essentials in before throwing in accessory work. And most importantly: stay consistent. Stick to your routine for a few months and I promise, you will not be disappointed.
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