The 3D Booty: Training the Glutes for Form & Function

Written by: Derrick Price (Courtesy of IDEA Fitness Journal, Sept. 2013)

Booties, butts, glutes and rumps.

Our fascination with enhancing our posterior spans the training spectrum, from the aesthetic-focused client to the performance driven athlete. Yes, we want our backsides to look better, but we also need them to function more effectively, judging from the increasing number of knee and low-back injuries (Hoy et al. 2012).

Our current approach to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex—emphasizing concentric muscle activation and linear movement patterns—provides an incomplete picture of how the hip joint and surrounding myofascia receive and transmit a variety of forces.

This article will explore some unique kinesiological and biomechanical principles to widen our perspective on how the glutes function in many of our favorite exercises. After that, you’ll find exercise strategies to give your clients the butts they’ve always wanted and the hip function they require to move optimally.

The Need to Move Multidirectionally

As we peel back the layers of the buttocks, we find an abundance of myofascia running multi-directionally around  the pelvis, sacrum and femur, allowing the hip to be one of the body’s most stable and mobile joints. The short distances between the origin and insertion points of the various gluteal and hip rotator muscles also provide good leverage and power for hip propulsion and stabilization. The multi-directional orientation of these muscles allows us to absorb and transmit force in a variety of directions, but only if we train the body accordingly.

Traditional squats, lunges and deadlifts transmit a predominantly large and unidirectional force, typically in the sagittal plane through the hip-glute complex, allowing us to greatly load the body in that direction. The toning and hyper- trophy benefits gained here, however, may come at a cost to the surrounding connective tissue as it becomes less resilient at handling multi-directional force (Price 2012).

Luckily, there is more than one way to promote hypertrophy of a muscle. It’s been shown that multiplanar movements recruit more muscle fibers to be stimulated for mechanical stress at intensities as low as 30% of a one-repetition maxi- mum, so long as the movement is done to failure (Burd 2012; Schoenfeld 2010).
Promoting multi-directional movements in our squat and lunge type patterns can;

• stimulate more glute fibers to be exposed to mechanical stress (think muscle tone)
• promote connective-tissue tolerance of multi-directional movement;
• enhance the nervous system’s responsiveness to multi-directional movement;
• maintain or even improve the integrity of the hip, knee and spine; and
• progressively add more intensity and volume (mechanical stress) to multi-directional movements for hypertrophic gains.

Back to Kinesiology School

Conventionally, we think the glutes’ primary function is to create hip extension, external rotation and abduction. As a result, we select popular exercises such as floor bridges and hip thrusts, side-lying clams, prone leg raises and cable hip extensions because of their high muscle-activation potential during these motions. While this conventional approach is still warranted, it considers only how the glutes and hips function in the presence of gravity, with femur-on-pelvis motion in a horizontal position relative to gravity.

When we expose the upright body to the forces of gravity and ground reaction, and then couple them with pelvis-on-femur motion, we find the glutes will actually turn “on” during their eccentric phase and, relatively speaking, turn “off” during the concentric phase, using the concept of “load to unload” (Lorenz 2011; Komi 2000).

For example, the glutes will turn on during the deceleration of an anterior walking lunge but turn off as we stand up and propel ourselves forward onto the other leg.

Coupling eccentric muscle contraction with loading/lengthening of the fascial web helps us maximize our energy potential, following the principle of energy conservation (Komi 2000). Thus, the glute complex receives the energy of gravity and ground reaction as the hip moves into flexion, relative internal rotation and relative adduction—motions opposite to those we usually associate with glute activation (Wolf 2011).

The interplay of the neuromyofascial systems and their timing in promoting optimal hip, knee and lumbar motion are vital for maintaining the integrity of our joints and for enhancing performance (IOM 2012).

This perspective increases our understanding of why squats, deadlifts and lunges are great glute exercises, and it provides a path to helping clients improve the appearance of their butts. How so? Well, performing these exercises multi-directionally allows us to truly take advantage of the glutes’ responsibility to stabilize and create multiplanar motion at the hip, while also sending more mechanical stress into the gluteal complex.

Level-Based Approach to Progressive Glute Training

The following exercises may be new for you or your clients, so it is imperative to build a foundation for good movement and slowly progress the level of force the body (and specifically the glutes) can tolerate. If you can move a lot of weight with traditional squats, lunges and deadlifts, it’s still important to begin by practicing these new movements unloaded, with small ranges of motion and at speeds that promote rhythmic movement.

As we build a tolerance to novel movements, we can progress to greater mass, bigger ranges of motion and faster speeds. You may be surprised at how sore the hips can become after these exercises, so avoid the mantra that “more is better” and follow this continuum to success.


Threshold 1 Exercises

Level 1 exercises begin with a known movement but may provide a new direction of stress into the body. They typically start with a stationary footprint and can help teach the rhythm that ensures the feet, ankles, knees and hips share the responsibility of a given movement pat- tern. Movement must be pain-free and initially should be kept to small ranges of motion and slow speeds. As a client improves, these exercises can evolve into a great warm-up for Threshold 2 and Threshold 3 exercises.

Movement must be pain-free and initially should be kept to small ranges of motion and slow speeds.

Threshold 2 Exercises

Level 2 exercises are typically loaded and can add complexity to a movement pattern. They require the body to move at various heights, distances and speeds and in various directions. The exercises require greater tissue and neural tolerance than Level 1 moves and are best used as progressions of Level 1 exercises.

Level 2 exercises are typically loaded and can add complexity to a movement pattern.

Threshold 3 Exercises

Level 3 exercises are multidirectional, with faster speeds and/or greater load; they require higher levels of tissue and neural tolerance than Levels 1 and 2. Exercises in Level 3 mimic the neural, mechanical and metabolic demands the client may experience in daily life or sport. The exercises are complex, so you need to establish proper rhythm before progressing.

Exercises in Level 3 mimic the neural, mechanical and metabolic demands the client may experience in daily life or sport.

The following workout uses a superset format to bridge the gap between conventional and progressive approaches to glute strength training.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.11.52 AMPutting It All Together: Hybrid Glute Workout

The following workout uses a superset format to bridge the gap between conventional and progressive approaches to glute strength training. The first exercise in each superset is a Level 1 or Level 2 progressive exercise followed by a heavy, linear conventional exercise. The intent is to mobilize the major joints of the body and increase neuromuscular recruitment, with progressive exercises enabling increased performance in the conventional exercises. To place adequate mechanical stress on the glute area, it would be wise to increase the volume and intensity each week.


Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.12.06 AMWorkout B also uses the superset for mat but places a heavy, linear conventional exercise on the body first before attempting a Level 3 progressive exercise. The heavy stress and multidirectional movements create unique multidirectional mechanical stress into the glutes for optimal neuromuscular recruitment and enhanced connective-tissue tolerance.


Written by:

Derrick Price, MS,
Movement Masterminds Educator
Institute of Motion Programming Officer
Function First Head Fitness Coach



Burd, N.A., et al. 2012. Bigger weights may not beget bigger muscles: Evidence from acute muscle pro- tein synthetic responses after resistance exercise.

Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 37 (3), 551–54. Hoy, D., et al. 2012.

A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 64 (6), 2028–37.

IOM (Institute of Motion). 2012. Mentorship 1.Komi, P. V. 2000.

Stretch-shortening cycle: A powerful model to study normal and fatigued muscle. Journal of Biomechanics, 33 (10), 1197–1206. Lorenz, D., & Reiman, M. 2011.

The role and implementation of eccentric training in athletic reha- bilitation: Tendinopathy, hamstring strains, and ACL reconstruction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6 (1), 27–44.

Price, D. 2012. Whole-body strength training using myofascial lines. IDEA Fitness Journal, 9 (4), 24–30. Schoenfeld, B.J. 2010.

The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24 (10), 2857-72. Wolf, C. 2011.

Three-dimensional joint-by-joint approach to movement: Part 1.; accessed Oct. 10, 2013.