Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Da Butt

Da Butt

This personal trainer has quite a booty on him. I mean like the kind of tooshie that makes every pair of jeans I wear so tight that even Ricky Martin’s publicist would say it’s too much. Luckily, I’m in the fitness business where the majority of my day is spent in sweat pants or basketball shorts, but it’s gotten to the point where even a baggy wardrobe can’t hide the junk all up in my trunk. Lately, my shirt is getting caught on the little shelf back there and let me tell you, the ladies are a-looking, and they're a-likin’.

 Men’s Health just listed the butt as one of the top ten muscles women love on men, and I have to tell you from personal experience, I couldn’t agree more. Surprisingly, lots of guys don’t place their butt very high on the list of priorities for their physique enhancements. If that’s the case, it’s very possible that you’re one of those “upper body only” gym rats who has reduced his leg training to some quad extensions, a few sets of leg press, and some variation of calf raises for 12 sets of 20 reps- you make me sick! Just because you can’t see your butt doesn’t mean everybody else can’t, and if your backside has similar dimensions to a crepe with a crease down the middle, it’s time you start worrying about your gluteal fullness pronto.

And I don’t think any stinking magazine needs to publish a list for us to all pretty much agree that men also put the booty on their list of most “appreciated” muscles on the female physique. Every female client I have ever had is at least somewhat concerned with the way her butt looks in a pair of tight workout pants or shorty-shorts. Because of this, I won’t spend a lot of time trying to convince the ladies out there to keep reading.  

With that said, even if you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what the other gender thinks about your body, if you’re reading this it’s because you’re trying to get into better shape. Maybe you’re working out to look better, or maybe you want to have more energy and feel better. Perhaps your doctor finally stopped scribbling prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis for the 30 seconds it took to tell you that you might be able to reduce or even eliminate your symptoms by getting a revolutionary new therapy called “physical activity”. Regardless of your motivation, keep reading! “Why,” you ask; because not only is a nice booty adored by all, but the glutes, in my opinion, are the most important muscles in the entire body regardless of the goal.  

The first reason for that is because the Gluteus Maximus is the biggest muscle in the human body. For most people, that’s a real shocker.  The Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus are much smaller in size, but rank very high on my list of importance, especially in injury prevention due to their importance in keeping your hips stable. Due to the size of the gluteal muscles, it stands to reason that our bodies rely on them pretty heavily. I’ll go into that in a bit, but right now, I just want to focus on the people out there trying to lose weight. There is one way to lose weight: burn more calories than you consume. That would be good enough for me if so many people weren’t struggling to keep weight off once they lost it.

The reason why lots of people are struggling to keep weight off is because they don’t have enough muscles on their bodies. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories it takes to move your body. Muscles, as I’ve said before, are the engine of your body. If the engine is big (i.e. you have lots of muscles) it will take a lot of fuel to keep you moving. Fuel = calories, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll be burning throughout the day no matter what!

 Because we understand that the glutes are comprised of more muscle mass than any other group in your body, it makes sense to me that adding size and strength to your Bootius Maximus will have a big impact in your weight loss and long term weight maintenance.

If you're not trying to lose weight, but you still want to look better, glute development should still stay just as high on your list of priorities as the people who are trying to lose weight. Skinny with a flat butt is out there … AND IT AIN’T CUTE. It’s scary how often I see a guy or gal who has either lost a fair amount of weight or has never struggled with their weight, stuff his/her pancake bottom into the abomination called “skinny” or “pencil” jeans as if to proudly proclaim to the world, “I’m going to have two saggy flaps of skin back there in 20 years! Anybody wanna call dibs before it’s too late?”
In either scenario, glute development cannot be neglected. Now, there are two more reason why strong, full glutes are important, so pay attention; athletes especially: First, all athletes require strength, stamina, and explosiveness from the hips to excel in any sport. Second, if you're always fighting injury (especially in the knee and lower back) you’re not going to be very good at anything. The common thread between performance and injury prevention for approximately 75 percent of my clients, I kid you not, is glute function. Especially for those reading this who participate in strength sports like powerlifting or strongman, I can absolutely guarantee that if you stay diligent on glute development, you will do better in your next competition and reduce your risk of injury. Even if you have no inkling whatsoever to compete in a strength sport, you’ll perform better at every single physical task by strengthening and growing the glutes.
**Editor’s note: Chad even began to perform better at mental tasks once we started training his glutes more regularly, which gives me some indication that there is a strong link between his head and his butt. See, it appeared that his head was lodged into his anus, and despite all of his best efforts, it was impossible to pull it out. Once we began strengthening the surrounding musculature, it became obvious that we needed to push his head out of his butt through intense gluteal contractions. After several weeks of targeted training, we’re beginning to see the dysfunction correcting! The body is a wonderful and adaptive organism…
So, to fully understand why I feel confident making such a bold statement about glute function and athletic performance/injury prevention, we need to develop a better understanding of how the glutes function in the body. The Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus function somewhat differently, although what they have in common is their role in stabilizing the pelvis. The maximus primarily extends the hips and externally rotates the femur (thigh bone) and when fully contracted even posteriorly rotates the pelvis. The medius and minimus work together to abduct the femur (spread your legs apart- be an adult). I throw in the scientific terminology mostly just for the lingo junkies, but if you’re looking for the punch line, all you need to remember is that if your hips need to be moved or stabilized, your glutes are involved.

Now, try to think of one single exercise that doesn’t involve hip stability or movement. If you listed any, you're working out incorrectly. There are certainly exercises that emphasis hip extension and external rotation (changing your hips from bent to straight and rotating your knees out like in a deadlift or squat), and there are ways to increase the hip-stability demands of an exercise like standing instead of sitting, or standing on one leg instead of two, but even the exercises that seem unrelated to the glutes would be more effective if you got your glutes involved. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re doing an arm curl, squeeze your butt cheeks as hard as you can and see if it doesn’t change how effectively you can move the weight.

 Furthermore, on the injury prevention side of the comment above, think about what would if your hips didn’t stay stable when you're tried to produce force. Or if your femurs rotated inward instead of outward during a sprint or jump. Worse yet, what if you couldn’t get your hips to flex and extend properly while maintaining an arch at the lumbar spine during a squat? All of these would cause some kind of a dysfunctional movement that would lead to knees-falling-in, low-back-rounding, spine-twisting, knees-extending-over-the-toe INJURY!! And, all of these described dysfunctions are the result of weak (relative to the surrounding musculature) glutes. I’m already sick of it. That goes for non-athletes, too. Every exerciser out there needs to hear this whether they're working out for physique enhancement performance enhancement, or general lifestyle enhancement. If you’re not directly training your glutes, you're not getting the most out of your time in the gym- period.

Now that we got the “why” you should train your glutes piece out of the way, let’s get into the “how” you should train your glutes. Getting the glutes engaged for most of the population is as simple as performing lower body exercises correctly. One of the best ways to improve your form is simply by getting a spotter who doesn’t stare at his abs in the mirror during your sets or consider it appropriate to continue to ask you questions about the latest Cosmo article while you're in the middle of your workout. If your workout partner is a tool, ask him/her to pay close attention to your technique while you're exercising. If he/she still doesn’t pay attention, you might consider making the relationship a cardio-only kind of thing. Regardless if your partner is a flake, or even if you don’t have one at all, the best way to know if your glutes are working is to feel them. If you don’t feel them, they're not working. It is that simple.

When I say “correctly” you might be wondering what that form looks like. In the video, we’re showing the squat, deadlift, and leg press and we’re showing the correct form first then the most common incorrect form. Notice that in the videos displaying correct technique, the exerciser's knees are tracking over his toes; they're not falling in. Second, his shins are staying perpendicular to the ground (or the weight platform in the case of the leg press). His knees don’t extend over the top of his feet. If you drew a line from his knee to the floor, it would look like you cut through the middle of his foot. It would not extend past his foot like in the video demonstrating improper technique.

Next, and this is a little harder to see, he is keeping the pressure on the outside edge of his heel. The pressure does not belong on the ball of the foot, and even if the heels don’t look like they're coming up, he could be faking us out. It can be hard to spot this one if you’re not accustomed to looking for it, but I should be able to run my hand under the ball of his foot, and feel no pressure. Even if he was pushing hard with the heel, he may not be on the outside edge. This is the hardest one to correct because to get on the outside edge of his heel, Chad has to rotate his femurs (thigh bone) out. He can’t just push his knees out; he also has to rotate them out.  Finally, see how he keeps the natural arch of his back? It doesn’t round forward or arch too much back. That’s critical in keeping his back healthy and keeping his pelvis in the right position to allow his glutes to bear the load of the exercise.

“But I'm trying and I still don’t feel my glutes,” you say. The problem is that you're mobility sucks. Watch a 3 year old squat down to play or pick something up. That’s what you used to look like.

The reason you don’t look like this anymore is because your flexibility starts to diminish as you age partially because you're supposed to, but mostly because of inactivity and/or a lack of necessity. Well, for a strong, healthy, beautiful behind, it is a complete necessity.

There are 8 common muscles that get too tight and prevent you from being able to conform to the required body position for optimal glute activation: the psoas (hip flexor), adductors (inner thigh), hamstrings, quads, piriformis, calves, IT band, and erectors of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Which one is the root of the problem depends on where your form is breaking down. Excessive anterior pelvic tilt, i.e. too much arch in the lower back, means the psoas and erectors of the lumbar spine are too tight. Knees falling in means the adductors and IT band need mobilization. If your back is rounding it means your hamstrings and the erectors of the thoracic spine are immobile (if you think that the muscles all the way in the middle of your back couldn’t have an impact in your glute function, you're wrong). If your knees shoot out over your toes, your quads are too tight. Along with this one is usually heels that come up off the ground, and ankle flexibility/calf tightness is probably an issue in this case as well. If you can’t keep your toes straight ahead, you waddle like a platypus when you walk and your piriformis is to blame.

Figuring out where the problem lies can be a challenge and your options are to video yourself and try to make your own diagnosis or have a fitness professional or knowledgeable workout partner take a look. Once you’ve figured out where the inflexibility is, you need to address it with something called myofascial release and stretching. The videos below can serve as a guide. Here, we use tennis balls taped together for the myofascial release, but many gyms have a foam roller or PVC pipe that works well also. The objective is to “massage” the tight area and allow flexibility and blood flow back to the area, so pretty much anything will do.

Once you’ve gotten the inflexibility out of the way, it is very possible that you will still have trouble getting your glutes to fire. The problem now is the neuromuscular connection to your glutes. After the glutes have been inactive for a prolonged period, your brain will stop trying to send signals there. That’s true of any unused muscle, and the cure is to run through an activation circuit before leg exercises or as a part of a general warm-up. Which exercises you choose will depend on which exercises you feel the best and which exercise best addresses the dysfunction that was causing your glute inactivity in the first place. Pick 2 or 3 from the list below that really get your glutes firing and perform a few sets of each before getting into a workout.

Glute bridge/single leg glute bridge/physioball glute bridge

Single leg squat (box)

Abduction machine

Side lunge

Reverse lunge (with rotation)

Split squat (with rotation)

Sumo deadlift

Step up

Single leg press

Hip thrusts/physioball hip thrusts

Hip extension machine

While performing all of these exercises, remember the rules about how to get your glutes to activate: knees aligned with your toes, femurs externally rotated, shins perpendicular to the ground or weight platform, back maintaining a natural arch, pressure on the outside edge of your heel.

After a pre-workout glute activation circuit, go about your workout as planned and notice how much stronger and more stable you feel (even in things that are seemingly unrelated to your glutes). After several weeks of this, you may notice that your pants aren’t falling off your backside, that you're getting more looks from the opposite sex, and that you're performing better on the field and in life in general. You’re welcome.


  1. The author of this article is my son. I am here to tell you that he came from a VERY long line of what we used to call in Texas, "Pencil Ass" people. We now know this as pancake ass. The point is, he developed his glutes by strengthening it...he was NOT born with this booty.