Why Your Glutes Aren't Growing
I hear this ALL the time. "I'm doing hip thrusts, squats, sumo deadlifts, and I haven't seen any growth in my butt. Why?"
While you definitely do not have to focus on growing your glutes specifically, many women are attempting to achieve the aesthetic look of bigger glutes since that's what has been popular since the Kardashians.
The glutes consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, and the main functions are:
hip extension - going from a seated to a standing position
abduction - bringing the thigh away from the midline of the body
external rotation - rotating the femur away from midline of the body
internal rotation - rotating the femur toward the midline of the body
Strengthening your glutes can also have a lot of benefits, including decreased knee and back pain. Most office workers who sit all day have very weak glutes and could benefit from glute-focused activities. However, it is possible to create an imbalance by overtraining your glutes and not training your other leg muscles. For more on the benefits of strong glutes, check out this article from LiveStrong.
So whether you don't have any idea how to grow your glutes or you've been focusing on them for a while and haven't seen progress, here's what's you should change!
1. Figure out what movements work for you
Many women have been pushing the idea that hip thrusts are the best way to grow the glutes, especially the gluteus maximus, the largest glute muscle. I have nothing against hip thrusts and there is some research that they recruit the glutes more than squats and deadlifts. However, it's important to remember that every body is different. Your body is not the same as my body. While I still utilize hip thrusts, I've found that by far, I've seen the most growth and feel the most activation in my glutes by doing consistent Bulgarian split squats. Even if you're doing the right movements, you might not be optimally recruiting your glutes. Some tricks to help with recruiting your glutes are to do glute activation before your workout and use the mind muscle connection (which is where you actively think about recruiting your glutes). You should work with a personal trainer to figure out what works for you and learn proper form for recruiting the glutes! Experimenting on your own can also work as well.
2. Train for hypertrophy
There are multiple ways to train the muscles for different outcomes. The main three are muscular endurance, strength, and hypertrophy (or muscle size growth). To train for hypertrophy, the ideal range is to use around 70-80% your 1RM (if you know what it is - if not don't worry!). It should be a weight that you can do 6-12 reps of with good form. The last few reps should be challenging but not so difficult that you lose form. For each exercise, do 3-6 sets and take between 30-60 seconds between sets. This is different from training for muscular endurance, where you would do more than 12 reps with a lighter weight, and muscular strength, where you would do less than 6 reps with a heavier weight. If you're not focusing your training for hypertrophy goals, you're not going to achieve ideal muscle growth.
3. Progressive overload
Overload is KEY for muscle growth. Our bodies are amazing in that they can adapt quickly to stimulus, but it's important to keep challenging our muscles. There are multiple ways to overload the muscles by increasing intensity. The easiest method to follow is a double progressive training model. If you're training for hypertrophy, your ideal rep range is between 6-12 reps. Find the ideal starting weight where you can do 8 reps comfortably. Work your way up to do 12 reps per set. Once you've accomplished that, increase the weight by 5% and decrease your reps (probably down to 6). Work your way back up to 12 and once you've accomplished that, increase your weight by 5%. If you're not challenging your glute muscles, they aren't going to grow!
4. Eat in a surplus
This is usually what I tell people when they ask me what they're doing wrong. If they're training their legs 2-3 times a week, practicing progressive overload, and basically doing everything physically that they should be doing and aren't seeing results, then it's time to take a look at nutrition. While I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian, it's simple that in order to build muscle mass, you need to eat more. This gives your muscles the energy and nutrients they need to grow. It is possible to build muscle in a caloric deficit, but it is DIFFICULT. When building muscle mass, protein is key! Take a look at how much protein you're getting in and where you're getting it from. Lean protein is best, but I personally like to get my protein from different sources: beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and occasionally tofu.
If you don't give your muscles adequate time to recover, they won't grow. If you train your glutes one day, you should take one or two days off from your glutes depending on how intense your workout was. This is why it's beneficial to train different muscles groups on different days. If you train quads and glutes one day, then next day you could train chest and you will hardly use your legs. During strength training workouts, the muscles experience microtrauma that results in muscle growth. If you work out before the microtrauma heals, you're putting yourself more at risk for injury, and you won't be able to workout as intensely as you could if your muscles were healed.