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Booty building 101

More women than ever are lifting weights. Whether it’s for aesthetics, health or enjoyment, or most likely a combination of them all - we’re learning how to be physically strong and mentally disciplined. Amongst women who workout, booty building has become a popular aesthetic trend, on Instagram alone it has over 3 million hashtagged posts. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

As shallow as it may sound, having a good body makes you feel good. Of course what defines a ‘good body’ is case dependent, but it would be erroneous to suggest it’s totally objective; there is an evolutionary argument in favor of the female form that has a smaller waist and wider hips, commonly known as an hourglass shape.

This is not just due to preference, men are evolutionarily geared towards women that have this shape because it’s a sign of fertility. Sounds pretty weird but it’s just our biology! You can read about it here.

This doesn’t mean that this body shape is superior, all women are beautiful in their unique way. But it is a question that routinely comes up in the health and fitness industry: how do I build curves?

The best way to build curves is to lift weights, focusing on the glutes. Round, shapely glutes help a female physique look balanced and more hourglass, if this is what you’re going for. This is likely the reason that ‘#bootybuilding #glutes #bootyworkoutare some of the most popular hashtags on social media, and why ‘how to grow your butt’ is one of the most googled fitness topics.

So how do you do it?

Bret ‘The Glute Guy’ Contreras is at the forefront of the conversation of how you can grow your dream booty. He’s not just a creep with a fascination for butts, he actually has a PhD in booty building - his thesis was literally about the kinetics of electromyography of vertical and horizontal hip extension.

Contreras believes that growing your glutes is a perfect science; they’re the largest muscle in the body, with a tendency to be stubborn and underdeveloped, leading to postural issues, low back pain and tight hip flexors. Optimized glute training, alongside the right diet, recovery and in part genetics, can help you increase strength and size in your glutes.

Growing muscle is referred to in exercise science as the process of hypertrophy. You can do this by lifting weights and adding resistance to your body weight, causing a biochemical and physiological change in your muscle cell tissue.

This is the process of hypertrophy. This was explored in a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, that concluded there were three main mechanisms needed in training to provide a sufficient stimulus for hypertrophy: mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage.

Mechanical tension refers to how much time under tension your muscles receive during an exercise. Remember that your muscles do not know the size of weights you use, they only know how much tension is being created.

Metabolic stress is when there is a buildup of blood and oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) in the muscle, making it looked ‘pumped’. This is achieved by working at a high rep range (15 to 20 plus reps) to pump blood into the muscle making your cardiovascular system work harder, creating metabolic stress.

Muscle damage is achieved by constantly using progressive overload of weights i.e. increasing the weight in increments as you get stronger. This makes sure that your muscles are still getting damaged causing micro-tears in each session to begin the cycle of tear, repair, grow.

Ensuring your glute workout plan covers these three basis of hypertrophy (mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage), and you have an optimal training frequency (we’ll come onto that later), and a proper diet and recovery - you’re going to see progress. This isn’t just coming from me, exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld conducted a study to establish the relationship between the mechanisms of hypertrophy and exercise-induced muscle growth, to understand the optimal protocol for muscle growth.

So we now understand the process of hypertrophy. But within that, what kind of exercises need to be doing on recurring basis to elicit these mechanisms for muscle growth? Bret Contreras found in his research that three types of exercises target each hypertrophy mechanism:

  • Stretchers = deadlifts, squats, bulgarian split squats, lunges

  • Activators = cable kick backs, hip thrusts, standing hip abduction, hyperextensions

  • Pumpers = squat bounces, side lying clam, banded hip abduction, banded lateral walk

Stretcher exercises bring the glutes through a big range of motion (ROM) with an emphasis on the eccentric phase, with peak tension when the glutes are lengthened. This causes muscle breakdown (muscle damage).

Activator exercises have a smaller ROM with peak tension when the glutes are maximally shortened and cause the highest EMG glute activity according to this study. This exercise is optimized with a heavy loaded eccentric phase i.e. when you slowly control the weight going downwards like the lowering in a hip thrust. This causes mechanical tension and muscle damage.

Pumper exercises have a very small ROM with pretty low glute activity, with peak tension when the muscle is shortened. Nonetheless, due to the constant tension, these exercises are very effective at creating metabolic stress. These exercises make the muscles look pumped due to the occlusion of veins and the build up of metabolites.

Each glute workout should contain a combination of stretchers, activator and pumper exercises.

As well as this, it’s important to use a resistance band in glute training. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine that looked at using resistance bands in lower body hypertrophy training found that they increased electromyographic (EMG) activity, particularly in the gluteus maximus, regardless of gender, training experience or muscle mass. This helps to strengthen the mind to muscle connection and increase muscle fiber recruitment.

So how often should you train glutes?

A heavy glute training day requires recovery, particularly if you’re doing more than one stretcher exercise, the type that causes the highest muscle damage and needs the longest recovery.

Your muscles actually grow during the rest and recovery period, assuming they’ve had enough muscle damage to stimulate the need for repair and if your body is in the optimal environment i.e. enough protein, sleep, water etc.

This is referred to as the SRA curve: stimulus, recovery and adaptation. If there is not sufficient time between training sessions, proper recovery can not take place and the muscle does not grow and in fact can decrease in size as explored in a study published by Sports Medicine.

When it comes to knowing the optimal training frequency for muscle growth, there isn’t one conclusive answer.

Elite bodybuilders often claim that training a muscle once per week is the best, as in a Hackett et al, 2013 study. A meta-analysis from 2016 that also examined this question found that working a muscle group twice per week was optimal for hypertrophy.

However, some more recent exercise physiologists like Bret Contreras claim training multiple times per week (up to six times!) at a lesser intensity can yield maximal hypertrophy gains. Similarly, a recent study published this year compared low or high frequency training in a group of participants for 8 weeks that involved the same training volume, but with altered frequencies.

The low training group performed a split body routine similar to typical bodybuilder style while the high frequency group trained full body every session. Despite both groups doing the exact same volume of reps and sets for each body part, the high frequency training group saw significant strength and muscle mass increases.

So training the glutes multiple times a week is the most effective for muscle growth based on the SRA curve. But that being said, you can’t deadlift five times per week and expect to see progress, you’ll burn out before being able to see any real changes.

So breaking your training down into days that include stretchers, activators and pumpers, and days that just include pumpers, will ensure you’re not causing too much muscle damage, requiring long periods of recovery, and thus not elevating muscle protein synthesis regularly enough to optimize hypertrophy.

In fact, choose the stretchers, activators and pumpers that you experience the highest muscle fiber recruitment and activation, and keep doing them consistently for eight weeks to experience growth.

Don’t you need to switch up your training?

Ignore every person who has ever told you that you need to switch up your workout routine every few days to ‘shock’ your muscles. There is literally zero scientific evidence to show this, your muscles are muscles not people, they don’t know what you’re doing they just know how much they are being forced to work.

Research shows that the most effective way to build muscle is to repeatedly to the same movements and exercises, increasing the intensity of the exercises, to keep forcing your muscles to work and adapt. This is the concept of progressive overload. Progressive overload forces your muscles to work harder each time so they continue to tear, repair and grow. You can read more about it here.

What is the optimal glute workout?

If you’re interested in growing your glutes and want to follow this training technique for optimized training and growth, I’ve created a glute plan that includes this scientific knowledge and applies it to a training regime.

I have recently finished this training program myself to check that it works as I thought it would and below is my progress, eight weeks apart. During this time I ensured I was getting enough protein (0.8g per pound of body weight), sleeping adequately and taking time to recover between sessions.

If you want to give it a try, click on this link to purchase your glute plan now.

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