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Want to look great in your favourite pair of jeans? A well-developed set of glutes is the key to achieving this goal. Enter “glute training” in a Google search and you will find just about 1.5 million related links. That’s an awful lot to digest and, more often than not, leads to what I like to call paralysis by analysis (i.e. doing nothing while you try to find the perfect program).

The gluteus maximus is the strongest muscle in the body. It helps raise us from a seated position, sprint, lift heavy loads, and transfer high forces from our legs to our upper body for sport skills such as swinging a bat or a tennis racket. Being comprised of a high percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers, the gluteus maximus responds best to heavy loading while the hip is extended through a full range of motion beginning in a deep flexion. A recent study, which looked at gluteus activation during three common exercises, concluded that a single leg squat caused the highest level of activation in the gluteus maximus followed by the lunge in second and step ups in third (Boudreau et al. 2009).

Knowing this, we can give priority in a glute program to the exercise that works the glutes most. So, if you can do a single leg squat, it goes first in your program. Feel free to use a stability ball against a wall if a free-standing single leg squat is something you are still working towards. If even with the ball you are not able to perform the movement, move on to the lunge as your first exercise and come back to the single leg squat in a few weeks.

While the gluteus maximus is the work horse, a lot of our hip stability comes from our gluteus medius and minimus; both act to externally rotate and abduct the hip. While they do receive some training effect from the gluteus maximus exercises, the range of motion is limited, so some abduction is needed. The best exercise choice here is a simple one: perform hip abduction, often called side leg raises, while in a side plank position (Boren et al, 2011). For the beginner, lift your top leg away from your supporting leg in a slow and controlled manner to the fullest range of motion you can achieve. If you are a little more advanced, you can do the same exercise in reverse. Here you simply, or not so simply, abduct with your supporting leg,pushing your lower leg into the floor, and raising your hips away.

The biggest mistake most trainees make with their glutes is simple: they do not really train them. Much like calves and abs, they end up being a part of another workout. If you have great glute genes, this may or may not work for you. However, if you really want great glutes in your jeans, why leave it to chance? Write out the glute portion of your training! For optimal results, train your glutes twice weekly: once with your leg day, and the other with any other part about 3-4 days later.

Try this simple, BUTT effective program for 3-4 weeks. Everyone walking behind you will thank you.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Tempo
Single leg squat 4 6-8 / leg 60 seconds 3110
Lunges 3 6-8 / leg 90 seconds 3110
Step ups 3 6-8 / leg 0 1130
Lying hip abduction 3 8-10 60 1130

* Compound set the step ups and lying hip abduction exercises.

** If you cannot do a single leg squat, start with lunges and add one set to each other exercise.


Mike Samson Msc CSCS®


Boren et al. (2011) Electromyographic analysis of gluteus medias and gluteus maximus during rehabilitation exercises. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Sept; 6(3): 206-23.

Boudreau et al. (2009) Hip muscle activation during the lunge, single leg squat, and step up and over exercises. Journal of sport rehabilitation. Feb; 18(1): 91-103.

About the columnist:

Mike Samson is a strength and conditioning coach and university instructor who lives in St John’s, Newfoundland. Mike holds a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Mike is available for consultation in the St John’s area and also provides services online. Mike is also a competitive athlete in Judo and BJJ.

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Editor-In-Chief Lisa-Marie Assenza is a Kinesiology student, former competitive gymnast, and fitness enthusiast. An avid reader and writer, Lisa-Marie's high language proficiency coupled with her passion for health and wellness provide her with a unique and impressive skill set that has made her a cornerstone to the Training & Fitness team.

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