One of the most recognizable titles of all home exercise programs is Buns of Steel. It was introduced in 1987 by Greg Smithey, a former pole vaulter and owner of a hip-hop aerobics club in Alaska. In the ’90s the exercise program was taken over by fitness instructor Tamilee Webb. Getting people to work their glutes is fine by me, but what concerned me about the original program by Smithey was that it focused on floor-based, isolation movements. While these exercises did technically work the glutes, there are better ways to develop these muscles.
Other training methods that I do not recommend for glute training are the glute machines that were popular in the ’90s. These machines had the trainee in a prone position, and required them to push a pedal backward. EMG research showed that these exercises were more effective for working the lower back and the hamstrings than the glutes, and unfortunately they caused unnatural hyperextension of the lower back.
Now for the types of glute training I do recommend: As you might suspect, the single best exercise for developing the glutes is the full squat – and this is evidenced in the gluteal development of Olympic-style weightlifters. The problem is, most trainees who perform the exercise don’t go down low enough to fully develop these muscles; in contrast, weightlifters not only go all the way down, they actually bounce out of the bottom position in the snatch and clean.
Some will say that lunges and split squats are just as effective as the squat for developing the glutes, and it’s undeniable that these exercises are extremely effective. However, with the squat more weight can be used due to the stability of the exercise; more weight means greater workout intensity, and greater workout intensity means a greater training effect.
Research on muscle activity when squatting to full depth compared with squatting to a partial or parallel depth shows that the full-depth squat requires two times the contribution of the gluteus maximus. Another type of squat that really focuses on the gluteus maximus is the one and one-quarter squat, in which you squat all the way down, come one quarter of the way up, squat all the way down again, and then come to the fully erect position. This type of squat is also great for strengthening the VMO, which is often underdeveloped in athletes and non-athletes alike. Another effective variation is to use a wide foot stance, rather than a hip-width stance, and making sure the load is at least 70 percent of your 1RM if using a program of 3 sets of 10.
As a great finishing exercise for the glutes, I recommend the glute-ham gastrocnemius raise. Because it works the hip and knee extensors together, the glute-ham raise is a more natural movement than the isolation exercises that are often featured in glute-training fitness videos. The glute-ham gastrocnemius raise is best performed on a special bench for this purpose. Rather than having a flat bench on which to rest the upper thighs, a glute-ham bench is curved to facilitate the bending of the knees. I especially like the Atlantis version because it has two pads, separated down the center, making it more comfortable for men. The better units have a footplate that secures the ankles between two roller pads; also, the footplate is adjustable vertically and horizontally to accommodate all body types.
Of course there are many other exercises that work the glutes, but a good place to start is the full squat. Also, if you have the time, include some lunges, split squats and glute-ham raises to supplement your workout. It’s that simple – no video player required.