Glutes to the MAX!

By Bill Dobbins

Founding Editor, Flex Magazine

[Photographer: Wings of Strength]

You can see the development of glutes and hamstrings on the physique of Ms. Olympia Wellness Francielle Mattos.


“I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you walking away.”  The rear end can be one of the most attractive parts of the female body.  Especially since her wider hips, the more acute angle at which her thigh bones attach to the pelvis,create that particular way of walking that singer Tennessee Ernie Ford referred to as having “quite a hitch in her get-along.”

But some butts are better shaped than others – either primarily by genetic inheritance or a combination of nature and nurture (exercise, activity, and diet).  For example, fitter women tend to have much harder and better-shaped glutes and less “padding” from covering layers of fat.

So, while you are born with certain physical qualities and proportions, several decades of female muscle competitors and hardbody women athletes have demonstrated there is a lot you can to do bring out your best qualities and to make up for inherent natural deficiencies.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Pro female bodybuilders train and diet for maximum muscularity and striations.


The key to shaping and building any part of the body is to subject the muscle involved to the proper program of resistance training.  And the most effective and efficient type of resistance exercise ever invented is the modern program of bodybuilding-type weight training.  That is, not what serious competition bodybuilders do but the principles that underlie this training and which can be used by anybody to build, shape, and develop their own bodies.

[Photographer: Wings of Strength]

Competitors in categories like Fitness, Figure, Bikini, and Wellness do not have the muscularity and striations of Women Bodybuilders.

To build and shape the body, glutes included, you need to do the basic exercises, with sufficient intensity, over a long enough period of time.  Regardless of what your ultimate goal might be.


There are two basic kinds of leg training exercises:

*Two-joint movements: involving both the knee and hip joints

*One-joint isolation movements: where only the knee joint is involved

Two-joint, compound movements are some kind of press – such as squats, leg presses, or hack squats.  These are power movements that combine the efforts of a lot of big muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes and allow you to generate a great deal of force.

These are the movements that most effectively target the back of the leg – the hamstrings and glutes.


Everybody knows what a deep-knee bend is.  Well, that is the basic leg press movement done as a callisthenic exercise, using just your own bodyweight for resistance.  Both the hip and knee joints are involved and, depending on exactly how this movement is done, almost all the major leg muscles can be involved.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

There are all sorts of machines that let you do leg presses. The position of your feet largely determines whether you are primarily hitting the front or the back of the leg.

Barbell Squat – This is the primary exercise for building the lower body.  You balance a barbell across the back of your shoulders, squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the floor, and press back up.  A variation of this is squatting while holding two dumbbells at arm’s length by your side.

Machine Leg Press – There are a variety of machines that let you do a leg press movement without having to control a free weight.  There are standing machines, incline machines, and vertical machines (where you lie on your back).  You gain from using these devices because you don’t have to balance weight and there is little chance of losing control during the movement.  But the muscles tend to respond less to exercises in which “difficult” replaces the feeling of “heavy,” so it’s best to include both free weight and machine exercises in your routine.

Hack Squats – This is the primary exercise for specifically targeting the glutes and hamstrings – the absolute best one.  It is essentially a leg press movement where your feet are placed way out in front instead of underneath you.  This throws the effort back from your quadriceps toward the back of the leg – glutes, and hamstrings.  You obviously can’t do hack squats with free weights.  You’d fall over backward.  Instead, position your feet high up and forward on an incline press machine or well in front of you on a Smith machine (with the bar that does up and down in a track).  Lower your body as far as you can only come up about three-quartersof the way – or else the quads will be working instead of the glutes and hamstrings.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

The further forward (up) your feet and the deeper you lower down, the more you target the muscles at the back of the leg.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Muscle training produces a shapely rear end and back of the leg.  Extreme muscularity and striations are achieved by an extreme diet.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Figure and Fit Bikini competitors work for full and shapely glutes, without the muscularity of the female bodybuilders. But the exercises they use are the same.

Training legs is very demanding and if you train intensely, you only need to work them in the gym about once a week, or twice in ten days.  


Exercising the muscles sends a signal through the nervous system telling the body it needs to grow and adapt. You don’t actually change the muscles directly unless you damage or over-stress them.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Iris Kyle is 10 times Ms. Olympia.  The fantastic shape and muscularity of her legs is one reason why.

The target amount of resistance is about 75% of your one-rep maximum.  In practical terms, this means a weight that allows you to do about 10 to 12 reps to failure for the upper body muscles, and about 12 to 16 reps to failure for the legs.  The reason for the difference is that blood and oxygen delivery are more efficient to the leg muscles, so they have somewhat more endurance duringexercise.


It should be remembered that the human body is a homeostatic organism.  That is, it tries to stay the same no matter the environment or how it is treated.  This is why you can diet or overeat substantially, and it takes days or weeks before you see any changes in your body.  In the same regard, you can pursue a bodybuilding-type program for long periods of time before the changes in your physique become obvious.

This is all the more reason why you need to follow a bodybuilding-type program even if your goal is not to be a competitivebodybuilder.  Bodybuilders have figured out the most effective and efficient way of developing the muscles of the body in all of history.  Since few of us are “genetic geniuses” that build a lot of muscle just by looking at a weight, and everyone eventually runs into a situation of diminishing returns, the best way to achieve your goals and get the maximum you can out of your genetic inheritance is to learn to deliver the most stimulation to your muscles that is possible.  And that is why training like a bodybuilder is your best strategy.


The way bodybuilding works is by a combination of enough weight (resistance) and enough time (number of reps).  Higher rep training produces some beneficial effects.  Low rep and heavy resistance training createthe most strength gains.  But the way you best develop the size, shape, and strength of your muscles is by lifting a weight that is about 75% of your one-rep maximum for the necessary number of reps. For lower body training, this is generally 12 to 16 reps. These sets should be done to failure: meaning you cannot do any more reps in that set without first stopping to rest.  


It takes a lot of discipline to do every rep of every set with the strictest possible technique.  But the point is to try your best to achieve that, even if you can’t expect 100% results.  What does strict training mean?  The idea is to realize you are weight training, not weightlifting.  The resistance is just a means to an end.  Here are some guidelines:

*Treat each part of your rep – raising the weight, lowering the weight – as a separate movement.

*Stop DEAD at the top and bottom of each movement so that no inertia is involved.  Notice that means you need to use slightly less

*Work through a full range of motion, with the muscles fully contracted at the top, fully stretched at the bottom.

*Try to target just the necessary muscle or muscles as you do the exercise.  Don’t “cheat” by involving extra muscles or by swinging and cheating to help move the weight.

*Take enough rest between sets.  At least a minute, up to two minutes for heavy and demanding sets.  When you rest you recover and rebuild your strength.  Training too quickly simply weakens your muscles and reduces the effect of your training.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Sha-ri Pendleton (“Blaze” on American Gladiators) has some of the most beautifully developed glutes in female bodybuilding.


A lot of lower body exercises have some effect on glute shape and development.  Again, some genetic geniuses just need to do some squats and leg presses and end up with great development of their butts.  But most are not so gifted.  For the rest, the primary exercise is hack squats.

Technically, what hack squats are is a leg press movement in which the feet are moved well forward shifting the center of gravity toward the back – which more specifically targets the glutes and hamstrings.  You need some sort of machine or device to do this.  My recommendation is using a Smith machine – the device in which a bar slides up and down in a fixed track.

To do a hack squat on a Smith machine, position yourself with the bar across the back of your shoulders and move your feet well forward.  You can judge how far by trial and effort experience.  When you are new to this, use very little weight to start with.  Properly done, this movement does not use the strength of the big quadriceps so you will not be a strong as most squatting or leg press movements.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

Squats can be done with a barbell or, in this case, a Smith Machine.  This exercise, with your center of gravity directly beneath you, primarily works the quadriceps or front of the leg.

Bend your knees and come down until your butt just touches but doesn’t rest on the floor.   Pause at the bottom and then back up – but only about ¾ of the way.  Any further and you are engaging the quadriceps, which you don’t want involved in this movement.

Hack squats are the only two-joint, power press exercise that directly targets the glutes and hamstrings.  When you are at the bottom of the movement and first start upward, the glutes are doing almost all the work.  As you come up a little further the hamstrings become involved.  As long as you don’t go up too far, all the effort comes from the back of the leg, not the front of the thighs.


Unless you’ve been doing hack squats like this, you have probably 

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

To work the back of the leg on a leg press of Smith machine, put your feet well out in front, bring your butt right down to the floor, then press back up about 3/4 of the way.  Any further and you are targeting the quadriceps.

never worked that area of the legs intensely.  So, you’re in for a surprise.  Because you’re using a lighter weight than for squats, it doesn’t feel as if you’ve done that much after a few sets of hack squats.  But later in the day, perhaps the next day, you may suddenly find your glutes and hams are extremely tired and sore.  Even cramping.  This is a sign that you’ve subjected these muscles to level of intensity that they are not accustomed to.


A lot of people are concerned that squatting so deeply puts too much pressure on the knees.  But if your feet are far enough forward, you will see that at the bottom of the exercise your knees are only angled at about 90 degrees.


Using a bodybuilding-type approach to losing fat helps to create the definition that show off your muscular development.  In general, bodybuilders get into and stay in a state of negative caloric balance, expending more energy than they consume.  They keep their protein intake high, their fat intake low and adjust how many carb calories they consume depending on their daily caloric intake plan.

One thing to keep in mind is that, like building muscle, losing fat is a slow process.  Competition bodybuilders generally take about 12 weeks of strict dieting to get ripped.  But a large percentage of that change takes place near the end of the diet, not the beginning.  You simply have to set a diet strategy and the stick with it for a long enough period.

[Photographer: Bill Dobbins]

 In a world with so much obesity, with women complaining about too much “junk in the trunk,” more should be aware of the changes possible using the right exercise and diet techniques.


*Train as heavy as you can doing the target number of reps, stopping only at “failure” – when you can’t do any more reps in that set without resting.

*Use strict technique – full range of motion, no cheating, stopping at the top and the bottom of the movement.

*Build mass and strength using two-joint pressing movements.  Shape and refine with one-joint, isolation exercises.

*The primary exercise for building and shaping the glutes and hamstrings is hack squats.  Work primarily at the bottom of the range of motion.  Don’t come up high enough to involve the quadriceps.

*For maximum development, get sufficient rest between sets to allow for enough recuperation and for your strength to return.  Leave the endurance-type exercise for isolation sets or cardio.

*Achieve definition by following a strict bodybuilding-type diet over a long enough period of time.

*Take in the largest percentage of your calories and nutrition within a short time after a workout, while your body is in a maximum state of demand.