Glute Gains: My Top Exercises and Build-A-Booty Program Design

TAGS: Cable Pull Throughs, pelvic tilt technique, glute gains, glute development, hip hinge movements, sumo deadlift, Alycia Israel, program design, romanian deadlift

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If you read part one of this article series (Mastering the Pelvic Tilt Technique) you should be up to speed! We are now going to transition to exercise choices and program design for glute development. There are a few things to note before we get started.

  1. Even if you are focusing on glute development, you should never ignore hitting quads, or any other body part for that matter, to compensate. A lot of lower body movements will hit your quads no matter way, but do not purposely avoid hitting your quads. Balance is important.
  2. Kick backs, weird fire hydrant exercises, leg lifts, and similar movements are NOT glute builders. Those exercises are meant more so for warm-up purposes, but they do nothing for the growth of your backside. Yes, the fitness magazine you picked up at the grocery store has been lying to you.
  3. I speak on glute gains mainly from my personal experience trying to build this area over the years. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.

My Top Pick Exercise Choices

Hip Hinge Movements

Romanian Deadlift

I feel confident in saying RDL’s are the holy grail of glute development. Hamstrings are hit hard on the down phase, and glutes take the cake at the top. When done correctly, your low back shouldn’t be pitching in much. These are a staple for me.

Sumo Deadlift (any variation)

Sumos are great because when you position yourself in a wider stance, you automatically are hitting the muscles in a way not typical of your day-to-day movement. Hamstrings and glutes get slammed during sumos. You just have to be mindful of your hip health if you do these on a regular basis.

Cable Pull Throughs

Similar to a sumo pull, except for the tension is coming from behind you, not directly below you. Again, hitting the muscle from a different angle and direction. If you have never done these before, start light and work your way up. If you start too heavy you will either fall backwards or pull too much of it in your low back.

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Single Leg Movements

Weighted Walking Lunges

There are a few exercises that force you to leave your ego at the door and suffer through it. Weighted lunges are one of those exercises. Anytime you do a single leg movement, you’re going to hit your glutes more by default, but adding weight to that movement cranks it up another notch. I personally like dumbbell walking lunges (might as well go for trap gains while I’m at it) but any added weight will work.

Split Squats

I love split squats (or Bulgarian style) because not only does it isolate one leg at a time, you can make these super pump driven and get a ton of blood flow in your legs and glutes. I prefer doing these on a machine but you can also do them in a squat rack or with dumbbells.

Honorable Mentions

Squat Variations

You’re probably wondering, "how in the heck did squats wind up in honorable mentions? Don’t squats target the glutes?" Yes, of course! But, that’s not all. The squat, really in any variation, is a highly compound movement, in which a ton of muscle groups are at work to make that squat happen. For most people, squats are very quad-dominant. Squats should definitely be included in almost any regimen, but for glute development specifically I think hip hinging is better. There, I said it.

Barbell Glute Bridges

Oh no…I put glute bridging in honorable mentions. I probably lost a few readers with this one. But hear me out. I am actually not a huge fan of barbell glute bridges for one main reason: this exercise may solely be the biggest pain in the ass to set up and tear down, and fellow gym goers are absolutely going to take snapchats of you fiddling around trying to figure it out. I don’t do these because it is so time consuming and frustrating to put together. Depending on what gym you train at, you have to find a bench or box at the right height for you, or sit on plates. Then, you have to figure out a way to squeeze your legs under the bar, which most people can’t. So you have to put the loaded bar on more plates to elevate it from the ground. By that point, you forgot to grab a pad to put over your hips so you don’t crush your pelvis. Once you’ve done that, you begin your first rep…and then realize your pushing too hard on the bench and the bench is shifting back with each rep you take. The whole process is exhausting! The time it takes someone to set up this exercise, they could have gotten 50 sets of something else in. However, I understand the premise and value of a glute bridge, therefore I do include it in different variations such as dumbbell or band based. Clearly I can’t go as heavy with those variations, so typically I use bridges as a warm-up or finisher. If you have all the time in the world to be at the gym, then get down with your bad self and have at it.

Build-A-Booty Program Design

Program design for glute work depends highly on your goals, but even more so on your genetics. I lump glutes and calves together as the genetic freak muscle groups. You either have 'em or you don’t.

Great Glute Genetics: This means you were born out of the womb with a donk. No effort needed. We all hate you.

Average Glute Genetics: This means you have a solid glute foundation, but nothing to rave about. One leg day a week would do the trick.

Piss Poor Glute Genetics: This is where I fall. Cue the waterworks. This means you were gifted with zero glute development. You, my friend, will have to literally bust your butt (see what I did there?) in order to see any improvement.

Girls UGSS 2015-6278

Program Design Examples

Great Glute Genetic Program Example:

If you fall into this category you could probably walk around the mall eating an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and make progress. Your program will take care of itself.

Average Glute Genetic Program Example:

If you fall into this category I would suggest training legs once a week with a glute emphasis, as well as additional glute clean up work later in the week. For example:

Day 1

5x20-15-12-10-8 Romanian Deadlift

4x6 Glute Ham Raises

4x12 Wide Stance Rope Pull Through

4x12 Goblet Squats superset with 20 Dumbbell Walking Lunges

4x12 Leg Curls supserset with 12 Kettlebell Deadlift

Day 4

Whatever this day may be for you, add the following at the end:

4x12 Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift

4x12 Kettlebell Swings

Piss Poor Glute Genetic Program Example:

If you fall into this category I would suggest training legs twice a week with a glute emphasis, as well as additional glute clean up work later in the week. For example:

Day 1 – Glute/Ham Focus

5x20-15-12-10-8 Sumo Deadlift

4x12 RDL’s

4x12 Split Squats

4x12 Dumbbell Walking Lunges

4x12 Leg Curls ssw/12 Kettlebell Deadlift

Day 3 – Glute/Quad/Calves Focus

5x20-15-12-10-8 Back Squat

4x12 Cable Rope Pull Throughs

4x12 Front Loaded Walking Lunges

4x12 Single Leg Step Ups

4x12 Leg Extension ssw/20 Heavy Calves

Day 5 or 6

Whatever this day may be for you, add the following at the end:

4x12 Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift

4x12 Kettlebell Swings

I hope you found this layout and the examples useful and can apply it to your glute gains. See below for a video I made recently, giving you another example of what a glute dominant day should look like.


Enjoy, and feel free to give any comments or ask questions in the comment section below.

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