Baby Got Back: Increase Glute Activation in Training

Baby Got Back: Increase Glute Activation in Training

This guest post was written by Abbie Elsner.

Whether you’re a CrossFit junkie, a figure competitor or seeking general fitness, I’m sure you’ve noticed that in the weight lifting world we’re all about that bass! From Satcie Tovar’s “Booty is Strength” to the glorious buns on Dana Linn Bailey, we like big butts and we cannot lie.

While sculpting a great pair of glutes to fill out your favorite lulu's is a worthy pursuit in itself, training your buns can have a noticeable impact on your general strength and athletic performance as well.

According to the fitness industry’s “Glute Guy” Bret Contreras, CSCS, “strong glutes are especially important if you play explosive sports or lift heavy weights.”

So how do we get rounder, perkier, more powerful glutes? My favorite exercises aren’t the booty isolating movements but rather the old classics. By making small tweaks in the exercise technique you can increase glute activation to create great growth and development.


Many bodybuilders may lump the deadlift in with back exercise but when performing the movement properly you have an incredible glute exercise. The first step is to set up your hips at an optimal height; ideally, your hips should be lower than your shoulders and higher than your knees. Don’t allow your back to round or overarch, and don’t shoot your hips up as you begin to lift. Try to lift your hips and knees extending at the same speed. Pull the bar in close so it slides up your legs, and when the bar passes the knees pull the bar into the body and squeeze your glutes to push your hips forward to lockout.

· For even greater glute activation in the deadlift, try the sumo variation! Take a stance that is 2-2.5 times wider than your conventional stance. Turn your toes out slightly (think ballerina) and then deadlift as usual.



Whether you prefer back squats, front squats or kettlebell variations, there are a few things to keep in mind to better activate your glutes. The first is depth; you’ll want to squat as deep as you can without a posterior pelvic tilt, or “butt wink.” [This looks like a sad puppy tucking his tail between his legs.] We want to avoid this while squatting deeply. Second, just as in the deadlift, you don’t want to shoot your hips up as you begin to stand the weight up. Try to keep your torso vertical and push your knees out so they track over your toes. Finally, keep the weight shifted to the heels of your feet through the duration of the movement. It helps to think of pushing the floor away from you with your heels as you stand up out of the hole.


In lunging or other unilateral movements (like step-ups or split squats), stride lengths is important; ideal strides are long enough so the shins remain perpendicular to the ground (knees shouldn’t track beyond the toes). This can be achieved by pushing your weight into the heel of the forward stepping foot, rather than rocking forward onto the toes. A slight forward lean of the torso will allow for great glute activation. Descend as deep as possible without crashing your knee into the ground, and maintain your torso angle as you rise.

Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust

Before lifting, set up your feet at an appropriate distance from your glutes so your shins are perpendicular to the floor at the top of the movement. Then push through your heels and lift your hips as high as you can without arching your lower back. [Your torso should be flat at the top of the movement; your belly should not arch upward.] At the top, pause and squeeze your glutes before descending.

If you are elevating your shoulders, around 12-15 inches seems to be ideal for most ladies. [At the top, I prefer to have my shoulders and knees about parallel to each other.]

Explosive Hip-Dominate Movements

This category includes jumping [box jumps, jump lunges, etc] and explosive movements like cleans and snatches. Explosive movements often get neglected in the pursuit of glutes that just won’t quit, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a flat butt on the volleyball court or a weightlifting platform. The key to maximal glute recruitment in explosive movements is achieving full hip extension in every repetition rather than relying on your quads [in jumping] or upper body [in oly movements] to generate the majority of the power.

Bonus: Booty Bun-anza!

This bun-centric workout should be performed with weights appropriate for your abilities at the recommended rep range. If the prescribed range is 8-10 repetitions but you can perform 15 reps without racking the weights, grab something a little heavier. On the other hand, if you can only perform 5 repetitions before resting, decrease the weight.


Though she's small in stature, Abbie has a big heart, a big personality, a big laugh and an even bigger passion for all things fitness. She wants nothing more than to help people discover the happiest and strongest versions of their lives.

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