It's a common problem... your thighs take over when you're using exercises that are targeted to working the glutes.
One of the major reasons this happens is that some of the most effective glute-building exercises are also among the most effective thigh-building exercises, e.g. squats, lunges, leg press, etc.
And, quite often, a person who has smaller glutes and whose goal is to build their glutes already has muscle attachments and leverage issues that favor thigh development over glute development. This can set them back right from the start.
If this sounds like you, read on, because the information you get today is going to change the way you approach your glute training forever.
Let me put it this way...if your glutes already have a hard time getting involved in exercises, performing more exercises won't solve the problem! You've got to properly target your training to make sure the glutes get worked more than the thighs or you simply WILL NOT be able to maximize your glute development.
Today, you're going to learn a number of training techniques that can help build those large, round firm glutes you've been looking for! They will help you to overcome any physical and anatomical limitations your glutes may have.
1. Consciously squeeze your glutes HARD while doing your exercises
Are you sitting in a chair? Clench your glutes as hard as you can. Feel the squeeze? This is what you need to strive for while doing glute exercises.
When you do a lunge, squeeze the glute hard while you're pushing up. This will help to activate the glute muscle. It's all about getting your mind into the muscle and forcing it to contract rather than just going through the motions of an exercise. By concentrating on squeezing the glutes hard during your sets (of whatever exercise you're doing), you'll be activating the muscle fibers of the glutes and increasing the amount of work they do.
If you don't believe this technique can work, try this: go for a walk up and down some hills squeezing your glutes hard as you push yourself forward with each step you take. The following day, sitting down will take on a whole new challenge.
2. Push with your heels
The transmission of force and tension from your foot through your leg and glute can be altered by where you put the tension on your foot. If you push with the balls of your feet (the forefoot area), more tension will be placed on the frontal thigh (the quadriceps). If you focus on pushing more with your heels, more tension will go through the back of the thighs and to your glutes.
By pushing with your heels, you can take FULL advantage of this force/tension relationship. For example, when you're doing lunges, try to raise the toes of your front foot off the ground. This removes tension from the front and focuses more on the heel. This will, in turn, send more tension to the glutes, making them work harder.
There are several practical techniques you can use to really force the heel push. For example, on lunges, do them with your heel on the edge of a stair or Step platform. Place ONLY your heel on the surface and do the lunge from there (be careful of your balance on this, however, as your base of support is decreased with this technique).
If you're doing the leg press, you can focus on the glutes by placing your heels on the top edge of the foot plate (the rest of your feet surface will be off the top and not pushing on anything).
When doing squats, simply raise your toes up in your shoes to achieve a similar effect.
3. Visualize "sitting back" when you're doing your glute exercises
This idea is similar to the concept of pushing with your heels above. When you "sit back," more tension will be sent through the back of the thighs and the glutes. If you lean forward (the opposite of the "sitting back"), you will tend to throw more tension on the quadriceps (the front of the thighs).
We can use both the squat and the lunge as examples of this. When doing the lunge, don't let your torso angle forward while you're performing the movement. This will throw more tension on the quads.
Visualize yourself "sitting back" into the movement. Your body won't let you lean back far enough to fall over but this "lean-back" will put more tension on the glutes immediately. This is something you can try at home right now and feel the difference right away.
If, when you're doing squats, you don't normally feel the glutes working very strongly, you could very well be leaning too far forward as you squat. This throws more tension onto the quads and lower back. This problem is often caused by a lack of flexibility in the calves. To fix this, stretch the calves for at least 5 minutes before doing any squat exercise. You will soon find you're able to sit back more and maintain a better body position (more upright torso). This will turn the squat into a great glute-builder for you.
If you do Smith Machine squats, specifically with the feet placed a little forward of the bar while you sit backwards into the bar as you do the movement, beware! This variation of the squat places a TREMENDOUS shearing force on your knees.
Unfortunately, the knee joint simply wasn't designed to push backwards against resistance in this fashion and long-term use of this squat variation can lead to knee injury (basically, every time you do this exercise, you're grinding the connective tissue down a little more - not a good situation).
4. Pre-Exhaust Training
Pre-Exhaust Training is one of the single most effective techniques for FORCING reluctant muscles to respond to training. The idea behind this technique is simple: first, use an exercise that works ONLY the target muscle. Then, immediately follow that with an exercise that works the target muscle AND several other muscles in addition. You essentially exhaust the target muscle first (with an isolation exercise that works only that single muscle) then use an exercise that utilizes other muscles (a compound exercise) to help push that already pre-exhausted target muscle harder.
The two isolation (single-muscle) exercises that I recommend for the glutes are low pulley glute extensions and glute push-ups. Low pulley glute extensions are done by attaching an ankle harness to your leg, standing facing the pulley machine and extending your leg straight back behind you. Glute push-ups are done by laying flat on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. From this position, push your hips up towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes hard. This exercise can also be done one leg at a time (just cross the non-working leg over the other).
Do as many reps of this exercise as it takes to reach muscular fatigue (it could be 8, 15 or even more, depending on the resistance and your strength). The real muscle-building work gets done on the second exercise.
When you've completed your set, immediately (and I mean IMMEDIATELY - no rest periods here) move into the compound exercise for the glutes. Compound exercises for the glutes include squats, lunges, leg press, and (my personal favorite glute-builder) the one-legged bench step squat.
Use a fairly heavy resistance for the compound exercise...as I mentioned above, this is where the muscle-building work gets done. Use a resistance that will allow you get about 8 to 12 reps per set. This is the most effective rep range for muscle building.
In my experience, the best pre-exhaust approach is to focus on one leg at a time rather than doing both. It may take a little longer but the glutes get worked more thoroughly and your results will most likely be better. For example, do One-Legged Glute Push-Ups with your left leg then immediately do Bench Step One-Legged Squats on your left leg. Take a rest then do a set for your right leg.
Regularly using the four training techniques I've described above can have a HUGE impact on your glute-building progress. It's all about properly targeting your training to FORCE the glutes to take the lead in the exercise. With these tips, you will build larger, firmer, rounder glutes.
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