Last week, in part one of my three-part series on glute training, I taught you about the internal anatomy of the gluteal muscles, and I hared the four biggest mistakes people make in training their glutes.
Today, in part two, I’m going to share eight advanced techniques that I use to supercharge my clients’ glute training programs. After that, I’ll tell you how to optimize the programming fundamentals for your glutes- how heavy of a weight to lift, how often to train your glutes, and how many sets to do.
Eight Advanced Glute Training Techniques
Now that you’ve learned to avoid some of the biggest mistakes people make in glute training, there are a lot of other techniques you can use to improve the training stimulus applied to your glutes. Here are eight of them- that’s probably more than you need, so consider this a toolbox of things you can use rather than a list of things you must do.
Technique #1: Cluster Sets
A cluster set is a set that is divided into two or more (typically no more than four) sub-sets, with short rests between them. The advantage of cluster sets is that they allow you to perform more reps per set at a given intensity, producing superior gains in strength and power while also allowing you to get through your workout faster.
Here’s one example of how a cluster set might look in practice. Let’s say you’re squatting at 85% of your one-rep max- a weight you can normally lift for about five or six reps. You perform three reps, then re-rack the weight and rest for ten seconds. Then you unrack the weight and do three more reps, re-rack and rest again. Finally you unrack the barbell and do three more reps. You’ve just completed nine reps at a weight you could normally only do five reps with.
Since total training volume is the main driver of growth, cluster sets are a great tool for doing more work without having to spend hours in the gym.
Cluster sets are only useful when you’re working at high intensities, like 80-90% of your one-rep max. That means you can’t use them for every exercise, and you’ll mostly use them for compound movements. They have some use with isolation movements- particularly unilateral ones where you can work one side of the body while the other side rests- but only isolation movements that target fast-twitch dominant muscles like the hamstrings.
Cluster sets also seem to mainly be beneficial for strength and power, and have only a marginal direct benefit on size. We’re mainly concerned with size here, so that means we won’t rely too heavily on cluster sets. But they’re useful for three reasons.
First, gaining strength in a muscle means it can do more work and therefore build more mass down the road. In the long run, more strength means more mass.
Second, cluster sets can be used to thoroughly pre-exhaust antagonistic muscles- a technique I’ll cover in a few pages.
Third, using cluster sets with exercises like squats helps you to maintain a full range of motion. See Mistake #2 above- the tiny bit of rest takes away much of the impetus to subconsciously avoid the bottom of the movement.
Technique #2: Autoregulatory Volume Training
The typical approach to doing sets is to have a target number of reps you’ll perform, and raise the weight when you’re able to do all of your planned sets for the given number of reps.
Autoregulated volume training works a little differently- instead of counting reps on every set, you count reps on the first set only. That first set is your “benchmark set.” On subsequent sets, you don’t count reps; instead, you stop the set when you reach the same proximity to failure as you did on the benchmark set.
AVT increases force production throughout each set after the first, for a couple of reasons. First, not counting reps allows you to focus on your technique. Second, counting reps can cause you to subconsciously hold back on the early reps in a set in order to conserve your energy for later and thus reducing muscle activation; AVT prevents this.
AVT can be used with any exercise at any intensity. The main caveat is that you need to be motivated to push yourself. If you’ll use not counting reps as an excuse to slack off, you should stick with the traditional approach of having rep targets for every set.
In workouts, AVT is notated as “X number of sets at Y% of 1RM,” i.e. “4 sets at 80% 1RM.” You should record how many reps you perform on the first set- when that number goes up by 20-30%, it’s time to raise the weight. You should also re-calibrate every month or two by re-testing your 1RM.
Technique #3: Post-Activation Potentiation
From the NSCA website: Postactivation Potentiation (PAP) is the phenomenon by which the contractile history of muscles directly affects their subsequent rate of force development (RFD) or the ability to generate force in a rapid manner. In plain English: after you perform a strength exercise with a given muscle or group of muscles, there’s a brief window in which those same muscles actually generate more power than they could have before you did the strength set.
The distinction between strength and power is crucial here. Strength means lifting heavy- in practical terms, usually around 80-90% of 1RM. Power means lifting fast. Power exercises typically use the heaviest weight you can use without compromising on speed, which is generally very light, around 30-60% of 1RM.
An example of PAP training in action would be to perform a set of heavy barbell squats, then rack the weight and immediately do a set of jump squats. PAP training improves power production by causing neural adaptations- meaning it doesn’t directly do very much to build mass. It also produces a lot of neural fatigue. Since neural fatigue takes around 20 minutes to recover from, a PAP superset should be the last thing you do for a given muscle in a given workout.
Technique #4: Antagonist Pre-Exhaustion
I said earlier that pre-exhausting a muscle before working it even more- as in doing hip thrusts before squats- was a bad idea. That would be agonist pre-exhaustion. Antagonist pre-exhaustion would be fatiguing one muscle before doing a set with the opposing muscle.
Antagonist pre-exhaustion has been validated in many studies, but there seem to be certain circumstances in which it works best. One study found that pre-exhausting the hamstrings with leg curls before working the quads with leg extensions worked better than doing the leg extensions first. It seems that this technique works best when the more fast-twitch dominant muscle is pre-exhausted before the more slow-twitch dominant muscle, probably because slow-twitch fibers recover so quickly that it’s hard to effectively pre-exhaust them.
For glute training, the application of antagonist pre-exhaustion would be to fatigue the (very fast-twitch dominant) hamstrings before training the glutes. For this to work, you need to superset the two exercises, taking as little rest as possible between the first and second exercise.
Technique #5: Daily Undulating Periodization
Daily undulating periodization is a progression scheme in which a given exercise is performed at two different intensities on different days. For instance, if you have hip thrusts in one workout, you might alternate between training that movement at 80% 1RM and 70% 1RM each time you do that workout.
Daily undulating periodization has generally been shown to produce superior strength gains in experienced trainees, as compared to both linear and no periodization. It seems to have less of a benefit for hypertrophy, but again, in the long run more strength means more mass.
That’s for experienced trainees- in novice trainees, DUP may actually be harmful, since it produces more muscle damage that slows recovery. Therefore, it should only be used by intermediate to advanced trainees.
Technique #6: Reactive De-Loading
The traditional approach to deloading is to take a deload week every X number of weeks, usually every 4-6 weeks. The degree of deloading varies, from not working out at all, to doing light weight power workouts, to doing the same workouts with fewer sets. But in any case, this approach is arbitrary and one-size-fits-all.
Reactive de-loading accomplishes the same thing in a way that is totally customized to you and your ability to recover from your workouts, and applied on a per-muscle rather than a whole-body basis. Instead of scheduling deloads ahead of time, you take a brief deload whenever you can tell that a given muscle hasn’t recovered sufficiently from your last workout.
This deload is applied by lowering the weight by 20-40% and performing your remaining sets for that exercise as power sets. As an example, supposed your workout calls for 4 sets of squats at 85% of 1RM. You’re using the same weight you did on your last workout- 195 pounds- and on the last workout you were able to do 5 reps on the first set.
On your first set of this workout you are only able to perform 4 reps, so you know you haven’t recovered very well from the last workout. You lower that weight from 195 pounds to 135. You then complete the remaining three sets as planned, but with the lighter weight, and at high speed.
The use of a lower weight minimizes muscle damage so you can recover better from this workout, while the higher speed maintains high levels of muscle activation despite the lower weight. That’s why power work is often used as a form of active recovery.
The advantage of reactive deloading- particularly in combination with AVT- is that it allows you to push yourself hard while regulating the training volume so that you avoid inflicting more fatigue on yourself than you’re able to recover from. Using this method, you hardly ever need to take planned, traditional deloads. I find most intermediate to advanced trainees using these methods only need to take a 3-4 day full deload every 2-4 months.
Note that reactive deloading can be used with AVT, but can only be applied following the first set, since the first set is the only one where you’re counting reps.
Technique #7: Iso-Lateral Movements
Net time you’re at the gym, try a little experiment. Find your one-rep max for leg extensions. Then rest a few minutes, and then find your one-rep max for iso-lateral leg extensions.
If you can lift 100 pounds with both legs, you’d think that you would only be able to lift 50 pounds with one leg, right? But what you’ll find is that in fact, you can lift more like 60 or 70 pounds with one leg. Your strength with one limb is more than half of your strength with two limbs.
The exact reasons for this are a bit murky, but appear to be central nervous system mediated. In other words, using one limb at a time allows your brain to focus more fully on that one limb. It’s also worth noting that most natural movements that we perform are not symetrical in the way that many weight lifting movements are. When you jump, or pass a basketball, you usually have one foot forward, for instance.
This phenomenon is called bi-lateral deficit. All other things being equal, iso-lateral movements will produce greater gains than their bi-lateral equivalent, so we’ll use iso-lateral movements whenever possible.
Technique #8: Work the Butt First
If you have one body part that you want to focus on, you should train that body part towards the beginning of your workouts.
The first reason for this is widely agreed upon: fatigue. You get more tried as a workout goes on, so the exercises performed earlier in the workout are, on average, more productive than later exercises.
The second reason is controversial: working a muscle early in the workout boosts blood flow to that region. The workout will then preferentially burn fat in that region. That’s right, I’m talking about spot reduction. Or more specifically, spot lipolysis.
When you train a muscle, you acutely raise lipolysis (fat burning) in the tissue around that muscle. But does this translate into spot reduction in the long run? Yes, but mainly if you’re losing fat overall. Several studies have demonstrated spot reduction- a 2017 study found that upper body training burned more fat in the upper body and lower body training burned more fat in the lower body.
Other studies have mostly failed to find spot reduction in subjects who didn’t lose fat overall. So if you’re losing fat, you can lose fat faster in one part of your body, but it’s hard (though still possible) to lose fat from only one body part.
This could work in reverse too though- if you’re in a calorie surplus, you’ll probably gain more fat in the body parts you train more. So this can be used to add or subtract fat from your buttocks, depending on preference.
If you want to lose more fat from your butt to build better muscle definition, you need to be in a calorie deficit when you work out. Your pre-workout nutrition should consist of 20-40 grams of protein within an hour before the workout, and very little else. If you want to add more cushion for the pushin’, you should instead have a large pre-workout meal. Bear in mind that this is based on whether your body is in a surplus or deficit at the time you’re working out, not overall.
Either way, training your glutes early in your workouts will produce greater glute hypertrophy, so you should do that regardless of whether you want to gain, lose, or maintain fat mass in that region.
Optimal Glute Training Intensity, Volume & Frequency
Optimal glute training volume and frequency depend on how well-developed your glutes are. To determine that, test your strength-endurance on the barbell hip thrust.
Novice glutes: Bodyweight x 10-20 reps
Intermediate glutes: 45-105 lbs x 8-15 reps
Advanced glutes: 115-185 lbs x 8-15 reps
Elite glutes: 195+ lbs x 8-15 reps
Optimal Glute Training Intensity
As mentioned earlier, all of the muscles in your butt are slightly slow-twitch dominant, which means they should be worked at a slightly lower weight and higher rep range. However, “higher” is a relative term- studies have shown that lifting heavier weights- over 65% of your one-rep max, and probably even heavier- is generally better than lifting lighter weights.
It’s common to err in either direction- too heavy or too light. Most commonly I see men going too heavy and women going too light. Some people also don’t seem to realize that, for practical purposes, isolation movements need to be done at lower intensities than compound movements.
The optimal intensity for most people is around 75-90% of one-rep max for compound movements, and 60-75% of one-rep max for isolation movements. Because women are more slow-twitch dominant than men, they tend to get the best results at slightly lower intensities than men. Now add in the fact that the glutes are slightly slow-twitch dominant and the use of DUP, and most women training their glutes should be a little towards the lower ends of those ranges.
I should add that there is substantial inter-individual variation in optimal training intensity. While most people will fall into the range I just gave, some will do better at intensities as high as 90% for compound movements, while others may see the best results at intensities as low as 60%.
Determining your optimal intensity range is a complicated subject however- I do that with my personal training clients, but it’s beyond the scope of this guide. Suffice to say, the range given will work for you, even if you’re in the minority of people for whom it’s not entirely optimal.
Optimal Glute Training Volume
Total training volume should be calculated on a per-muscle-per-week basis. Optimal training volume for all muscles goes up as you get more advanced, so advanced trainees should train a lot more than novice trainees.
Training age- whether you’re novice, intermediate, or advanced- should be considered on a per-muscle basis. There are a lot of guys who have advanced pecs and novice hamstrings, and a lot of women who have advanced glutes and novice shoulders.
Aside from training age, there are a few other considerations in determining total training volume for a muscle.
Fiber type mix should be taken into consideration- slow-twitch dominant muscles recover faster and can tolerate a little more volume than fast-twitch dominant muscles. Remember, the glutes are slightly slow-twitch dominant, but not all that far off from average.
Gender and genetics make a difference. Women are more slow-twitch dominant than men and can tolerate somewhat higher training volume and frequency. ACE genotype also makes a difference, if you’ve had a DNA test.
But the biggest factor to consider besides training age is stress level. Very high stress levels- and the high cortisol levels that accompany them- will impede your recovery from exercise. The difference between very high and very low stress can be as much as a twofold difference in recovery capacity.
With that said, here are some guidelines:
Low stress: 14-16 sets per week
Medium stress: 12-14 sets per week
High stress: 10-12 sets per week
Low stress: 18-22 sets per week
Medium stress: 16-20 sets per week
High stress: 14-18 sets per week
Low stress: 22-26 sets per week
Medium stress: 20-24 sets per week
High stress: 18-22 sets per week
Low stress: 24-28 sets per week
Medium stress: 22-26 sets per week
High stress: 20-24 sets per week
Beyond considerations of stress and training age, you may need to do some self-experimentation to gauge your work and recovery capacities and figure out which weekly volume works best for you.
One last note about total volume is how to count it. A set of an exercise which focuses on the glutes, like the hip thrust, counts as one set. A set of an exercise which works the glutes for only part of the range of motion or only uses them secondarily, like squats, counts as half a set towards weekly glute volume.
With all of that considered- most people reading this should probably be upping their volume to get maximal results.
Optimal Glute Training Frequency
The optimal training frequency for a muscle mostly depends on the same factors as the optimal total training volume- training age, genetics, stress, etc. A totally untrained muscle takes 3-5 days to recover from a good workout, and should be trained only once or twice a week. On the other end of the spectrum, elite trainees can usually recover in less than 24 hours, and often benefit from twice a day training.
With that said, here are some rough guidelines for glute recovery times and training frequency:
Novice glutes: Low stress: 40-64 hours recovery time, train every 2-3 days.
Medium Stress: 56-80 hours recovery time, train every 3-4 days.
High stress: 72-120 hours recovery time, train every 3-5 days.
Intermediate glutes: Low stress: 24-40 hours recovery time, train every 1-2 days.
Medium Stress: 36-60 hours recovery time, train every 2-3 days.
High stress: 48-80 hours recovery time, train every 2-4 days.
Advanced glutes: Low stress: 16-24 hours recovery time, train every day.
Medium Stress: 20-36 hours recovery time, train every 1-2 days.
High stress: 30-48 hours recovery time, train every 1-2 days.
Elite glutes: Low stress: 12-18 hours recovery time, train once or twice a day.
Medium Stress: 16-24 hours recovery time, train every day, occasionally twice a day.
High stress: 24-36 hours recovery time, train every 1-2 days.
Again, same considerations as with volume. I hope these guidelines will drive home the importance of stress management. As you can see, keeping stress low has the equivalent effect, in terms of recovery capacity, as being one to one and a half levels of advancement higher. An intermediate trainee with low stress will recover a little bit faster than an advanced trainee with high stress.
Given that each “level” of muscular development equates to one to three years of consistent, high-quality training, this is a huge difference.
And that’s how the pros built amazing backsides without living in the gym or having amazing genetics.
Stay tuned next week for the third and final installment of this series, where I’ll show you the exact exercises I use for glute training, along with six glute workouts you can start incorporating into any training program. Or don’t wait, and download the whole article series as a PDF instead.
This is a good high-level overview of how I design glute training programs for my clients- both in my personal training and online training practices. If you want to kick your training into overdrive with a full set of workouts designed using these principles- along with daily check-ins to keep you accountable, and continual monitoring and adjustments to your program as needed- sign up for my customized weight training online coaching program. Or email me if you’re in Los Angeles and would like to train with me.