#99. Top 4 mistakes for training glutes
Today I want to talk about glute gains: gaining strength and muscle in the glutes. This is something that I’ve heard a lot of you struggle with, and is something I struggle with myself.
Let’s go through the top mistakes people make with glute training, and what I recommend instead.
Mistake #1: Overuse
This is so common, especially if you are taking group fitness classes and not coordinating your muscle groups.
For hypertrophy, or muscle gain, muscles need to be stimulated and overloaded during your workout. Then, they need recovery to grow. If you are not programming your muscle groups, you just cannot expect very good gains. It could mean that you are putting in a lot of time and energy into a workout routine that isn’t doing much for your body.
Not only will you not see proportional gains for the amount of time and energy you put in, but this glute overuse could lead to back pain. Many of my past PT patients who were working glutes constantly suffered from so much back pain. This can happen because many glute exercises, like lunges and squats, are also targeting the lower back.
This isn’t a bad thing and SHOULD happen. Any time you hinge at the hip, you also hinge at the trunk. The paraspinal muscles, or the low back, will have to work isometrically to keep the spine rigid.
But many of my past PT patients would say “If I’m working my glutes and lower back so often, wouldn’t they be strong?”.
The answer isn’t how much you’re working it, but the proportional relationship between work and rest. Because your body doesn’t get stronger during your workout; it gets stronger and adapts after your workout.
So if you endlessly work your glutes day after day, you stress your body over and over before it has a chance to heal. It’s no wonder your back hurts and you aren’t seeing many changes in your body.
I like the example of pruning a plant. You trim the leaves and dead stuff in order for it to bloom again. If you give it enough time, the plant literally regenerates and will grow back with beautiful blooms. But if you’re constantly trimming it everyday and not giving it a second to grow, you’ll just trim it all the way down to the stem and kill the plant.
Sorry for the aggressive analogy, but your body is the same way. You can’t just stress it over and over without recovering and expect it to adapt in good ways.
So instead of using glutes everyday, program your workouts. Work glutes about 2 times per week on non-consecutive days.
This is why people switch from high intensity group fitness classes to Evlo and see better results, even though they don’t feel like they are working as “hard”. Hard work is important, but unless it’s intentional hard work, it’s not going to move the needle as much. And can contribute to you feeling badly.
Mistake #2: Just doing booty-band exercises.
This goes hand-in-hand with exercise selection. Don’t fall into the trap of influencers who claim these exercises “lift the booty”. Often, they are using booty bands and doing a bunch of bridges and donkey lifts that do not load the glutes in a very significant way.
This goes back to an episode I did about how the “burn,” or metabolic stress, is not the key driver for glute growth. Just because it burns, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s changing the muscle much. Check out episode #84 where I explain this further.
We like to add those metabolic stress exercises as a drop set as “icing on the cake”. However, it’s important that you’re doing those early-phase loaded exercises like step-ups, bulgarians, glider lunges, etc. to make sure you’re loading the glutes enough with enough mechanical load.
Mistake #3: Not getting close to failure.
If you feel like you could break for a moment and do 5+ more reps, you either aren’t using enough resistance or you’re doing an exercise that is not loading the glutes enough. This is why I love that step-up variation and bulgarians. I really struggle in the last few reps. Just choose which exercise you prefer and do that until you’re getting close to failure.
Mistake #4: Not “feeling” your glutes engage.
A common question we get is: “I don’t ‘feel’ my glutes engaging. What should I do?”
It turns out, feeling your glutes and connecting to them may increase your gains, so it’s important. Let’s talk about it.
When you can connect to a muscle and contract it harder, you improve the chances of using more motor units within that muscle. This means more of the muscle gets used, fatigued, and stimulated to grow.
This is sometimes why your dominant arm may grow faster than your non-dominant arm. You have a lot of dexterity to your dominant side. Your brain has strong mapping or neural patterns to the side you use more often. This can translate to more muscle mass because you are able to focus and recruit it more during your lifts.
You can improve the neural mapping to any muscle, not just your glutes, and thus improve your gains.
I’ve talked about this in other episodes, but here is a great drill to try. You can try it with me right now.
Glute activation drill
Whatever position you’re in, touch one glute, right or left. Without moving your body, try contracting that muscle with 20% effort (a light contraction). Hold for 5 seconds. Completely relax. Try again, but contract it with 50%. Hold 5 seconds. Completely relax. Now contract with 100% effort (as hard as you possibly can) Hold 5 seconds. Completely relax.
Now try this same thing on the other side. Is one side harder? Are they both hard?
That whole drill takes about 1 minute. If you practice that daily, maybe 2-3x/day, you will find that you can improve the firing to your muscles and thus improve the firing during your workouts. It may take some practice and patience, so if you can’t do it right now, just keep practicing it and focusing. It will get easier as your brain rewires those connections.
Why I discussed “feeling” the glutes last
There is a reason I didn’t talk about this first in the episode.
Because all the other things above need to be in place before this even matters. If you’re overusing the glutes, choosing exercises that aren’t loading them enough or overloading surrounding muscles like the low back, or not using enough resistance, the “activation” may help, but it isn’t going to be the “fix.”
Because if you are overusing your glutes, you won’t have a good connection to them. They are likely inflamed and healing. Just trying to do this drill with overly inflamed glutes may not be the best use of your time.
First, change your routine so you aren’t overusing them. Give it about a week and then come back to this drill and start practicing it.
Many people who come to Evlo from a routine of lots of leg and glute work, can’t “feel” their glutes because of overuse. When we get them into a routine that balances work and rest, they start to “feel” them more. Which is exactly what we want.
- Program your workouts: Just going to group fitness classes that are working glutes everyday will likely leave you with some back pain and not great gains for the glutes for the amount of time and energy you’re spending.
- Just doing booty band exercises
- We need to add more mechanical load than that.
- Not getting close enough to failure
- Your last 3ish reps should feel like a challenge. You don’t have to get all the way to failure, but getting within 3-4 reps is key.
- Not “connecting”
- Try that drill where you are isometrically contracting the glute. You can try it in any position. I actually recommend doing it in different positions like sitting, standing, and lying down. Make sure you are fully relaxing in between reps and not holding onto that gripping for the rest of the day. Constant glute gripping may be causing you issues as well. I’m going to do an entire episode about that soon.
Try an Evlo class for free here. We work glutes in this class so you can see exactly how we avoid these mistakes.