This article outlines the anatomy of the gluteal muscle group and its biomechanical role in the skeletal muscle system. It also covers training the gluteal muscles from a bodybuilding perspective and offers a sample routine that can be used to effectively target, build and develop the muscle complex.
Anatomy of the Glutes
The Gluteals are a group of muscles located in the posterior (back) and proximal (top) part of the leg. They make up the part of the body known as the buttocks. Like the hamstrings and quadriceps muscle complexes, the gluteals are composed of more than one muscle. The gluteal muscle complex is made up of three main muscles. These three muscles are named in accordance to their size. The first of these muscles, starting from the smallest, is named Gluteus Minimus. This muscle is located deep to the other two gluteal muscles. The second muscle is Gluteus Medius. This is the medium sized muscle as the name suggests and is located in the middle, between the gluteus minimus muscle and the Gluteus Maximus muscle, the largest and most superficial muscle of the gluteal complex. The gluteus maximus muscle is one of the largest and strongest muscles in the entire skeletal muscle system. The origins and attachments of the gluteal muscles are quite complex. Suffice to say that the gluteals have an effect on the functioning of the hip joint as well as the trunk. The gluteal muscles are innervated by two nerves; the Superior and Inferior Gluteal Nerves.
Role of the Glutes
Like the majority of muscles of the lower limb, the proper functioning of the gluteal muscles is vital to gait as well as a number of other body movements. As the gluteal muscles cross the hip joint, they therefore are able to have an effect on its function. The gluteals, when activated, cause extension, abduction and lateral (external) rotation of the hip joint. The gluteals also have an effect on the trunk, causing the trunk to extend when activated. The gluteals are responsible for a number of bodily actions and movements. They play a large role in walking, running, jumping, squatting and climbing ladders and stairs as well as many other movements. They also have a major role in stability of the trunk and general posture and stance. Weakness in the gluteal muscles can result in major gait changes.
Gluteal Training for Bodybuilders
Like so many of the muscles of the lower limb, the gluteal muscles, in addition to the calves and hamstrings, are a neglected muscle group. The reason for this may be due to the fact that many exercises indirectly activate and work the gluteals. People therefore get in the mindset that the glutes don’t need to be directly isolated and worked. While this is true to some extent for the average weight lifter, for those individuals looking to take their physique to the extra level, all muscles, including the glutes, need to be isolated to maximise their hypertrophic potential. The glutes need to be given as much attention as any other muscle group and they need to be trained with the same intensity, persistence and dedication. Thankfully as the glutes are indirectly hit by a number of exercises, they do not need to be excessively targeted and isolated.
Exercises for the Glutes
The gluteal muscles are fortunately worked indirectly by a lot of different lower body exercises as well as in day to day life. However, for those wanting to improve and develop their physique, the gluteals should be targeted and isolated in order to obtain maximum muscular hypertrophy. Some of the more effective exercises that work the gluteals, not necessarily in isolation, include:
- Deadlifts (many different variations)
- Barbell squats (many different variations)
- Lunges (many different variations)
- Leg Press (seated, lying, 45°)
- Bodyweight / Gravity Exercises (Step ups / Hip Extensions / Glute Kickback / Sprinting / Running)
The gluteal muscle complex, like the hamstrings muscle complex, has a large influence on the functioning of the lower back. Therefore it is very important that these exercises are done with perfect form, starting with light weight and a good pre-workout warm-up to avoid injury. Making sure you really contract the muscles at the end of the exercise movement is also beneficial for hypertrophy.
Reps and Sets for Glute Training
Many people believe that the gluteal muscles respond best to moderate to high rep schemes. The main reasoning behind this is that the other exercises that are undertaken that indirectly work the glutes (i.e. squats, deadlifts) are usually undertaken with heavy weight and low-moderate reps. Therefore you are essentially hitting the glutes using both schemes i.e. heavy weight low rep and moderate weight, moderate-high rep. This can vary between individuals though and what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Eventually, and based on your own training schedule and methods, you will identify your ideal rep range to use for your goals. In regards to the number of sets, anything from three to four sets per exercise is adequate, especially if you consider that other compound exercises have been completed earlier (possibly in the same workout) that activated and worked the gluteal muscles to some extent.
Sample Glute Training Routine
Gluteal training can be undertaken whenever fits your schedule really, provided you are not working them excessively over two consecutive days. A good schedule usually sees glutes being trained on, or as many days away as possible from (so that they are fully rested and healed), quadriceps day. Often glutes are trained with calves and hamstrings. Training your gluteals does not need to and should not take you hours to do. As with training most muscles you need to be careful though. Like the hamstrings the gluteal muscles have a major impact on lower back functioning. Therefore extra care needs to be taken when training the gluteal muscles to avoid injury. This is especially the case when training glutes and hamstrings on the same day as whichever group you train first will be fatigued to some extent when doing the remaining muscles’ exercises. It is important to really concentrate on form to avoid compensation with the lower back muscles. Slow controlled movements, both in the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise, is what should be utilised. This method works best for muscular hypertrophy due to the fact that it places continuous tension and stress on the muscle fibers. Furthermore, and most importantly, it decreases the risk of injury to the lower back.
The following is a sample gluteal routine:
- 45° leg press (3-4 sets, 15-30 reps)
- Lunges (3 sets, 10-15 reps)
- Step Ups (4 sets, 10-20 reps – can hold onto a dumbbell or weight plate while doing this)
If you are doing other compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts especially, then this sample routine should be more than enough to target your glutes. Adjust this routine and try different exercises and experiment with sets, rep ranges and weight and you will soon find what works best for you. Also make sure you start with light weight and slowly work your way up, it is very easy to injure your lower back when undertaking glute exercises. Training your glutes is just as important as any other muscle group. However they are very often neglected by the average weight trainer. Thankfully the glutes are targeted indirectly by a number of other lower limb exercises. However, for those individuals that want to really maximise their development and size, isolation glute training should be undertaken just like you would any other muscle group. Developing your glutes will add to your overall physique and if you plan on competing in bodybuilding it will give your lower body that extra edge over your competitors. Give your legs, including your glutes, the same attention you would give any other muscle group and eventually you will see results.