There’s nothing more frustrating than mastering your squats, hip thrusts and Bulgarian split squats, but still seeing no signs of a bigger booty. Zero. Zilch. Nadda. A couple of years ago this was me and I just couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was. I was eating well and training hard lifting heavy weights, why were my glutes still not getting with the programme? It wasn’t until my coach at the time pointed out that I had been making a key mistake during my training and, since sorting this, I've seen some serious glute gains.
The mistake – and I know there will be loads of you who are guilty of doing this – was that I was doing absolutely no glute activation exercises prior to training. “When we talk about glute activation, we’re referring to the process of awakening the gluteus maximus muscles and priming them for exercise,” says Aroosha Nekonam, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance. “Failing to activate the glutes correctly can impede your progress in building strong glutes and, worse, other parts of your body will act as over-compensators during your lifts – most notably the lower back – which can lead to injuries and back pain.”
As someone who works at a desk, my glutes are rarely in use for most of the day, which makes it even more important to prioritise activating them before training. Otherwise, it’s like trying to make an electrical appliance work without turning it on, it just won’t work, no matter how hard you try. Of course, you also need to make sure you're doing plenty of strength training exercises, aiming for progressive overload and eating correctly. But if your glutes haven't even been activated properly, you'll struggle with that mind-muscle connection and they won't be engaged during your exercises.
As soon as I started actually spending five minutes incorporating these exercises into my warm-ups, not only could I actually feel my glutes working during my hip thrusts (instead of my lower back) but, over time, my booty finally got perkier too and my lifts became heavier. Probably because I was now recruiting the correct muscles needed for my exercises rather than other areas, like my lower back, trying to compensate. Grab a resistance band and add these simple exercises into your next lower body warm-up and get ready to feel the difference and get those glute gains.
Glute activation exercises
1. Side plank clamshell
- Lie on your side with your elbow placed underneath your shoulder and your knees bent at a 90 degree angle
- Engage your core and place your other hand on your hip for balance
- Driving the bottom knee into the floor, lift your hips up and, as you do, open your legs like a clamshell
- Hold here for five seconds and squeeze your glutes, before slowly lowering back down
- Do 10 reps on each side, twice
If you need an even greater glute contraction, put a booty band around your knees.
2. Double leg bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your head a few centimetres away from the wall
- Push your hands behind you into the wall and push your weight down into your toes
- Raise your hips off of the ground and squeeze your glutes tight as if you're trying to hold something between your butt cheeks (your hips, shoulders and knees should be in a straight line)
- Hold for five seconds, lower and repeat for 12 to 15 reps, twice
Again, to progress this you can add a resistance band around your shins.