The Ass Craze

Adding slabs of muscle onto the body or at least certain body parts is most competitive and amateur bodybuilders dream. Whether it be shoulders that look like pumpkins, hanging hams, poppin pecs or full round glutes, all of these muscles must be trained in a manner that builds them via compound lifts and isolation lifts. Some people will be blessed with great genetics and possess amazing insertions and/or full dense muscles seemingly before they ever even lifted weights. These people are as I like to say “assholes” and you probably aren’t one of them because you’d be on the Arnold and Olympia stage right now. Just kidding. They have combined great genetics with hard work and deserve every bit of their success.

Targeting certain body parts in a variety of different ways can stimulate muscle growth for frustratingly slow body parts. Concepts such as prioritizing them, increasing their frequency, using a variety of different compound and isolation exercises with different intensities and angles all work. The applications for these concepts are endless. Where I do see some confusion lately is with the “ass craze” that has taken this country by storm. Thanks to the surge in the NPC bikini division glutes, delts and hamstrings are all the rage. And thanks to an increase in educated and passionate coaches that also work in the scientific field like Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras, the amount of information on building hypertrophy programs based off of sound principles is much higher than in years past. Especially when it comes to the glutes. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for contributing to this field and education of many gym rats and mice across the country and teaching them the ropes.

Where I see these principles begin to fall apart is when people become obsessed with building only one body part. Glutes is the ‘it’ thing in the culture right now. Trust me I LOVE a great ass and have the pleasure of getting to squeeze a nice one every day. Mine and Laurins’. But not every single exercise is created and intended to target the glutes. We do call this sport bodybuilding after all and I would rather not re-name it just for the sake of you newcomers who just want a J Lo booty. Build the ass, train it. Train it two to three times per week for most people and that is plenty if programmed properly. Sometimes adding in smaller body weight exercises daily can help as well since motor patterns are developed via high amounts of intent repetition.

Failing to build the low back and erectors, abs and legs is simply asking for trouble. I know the pendulum has swung to the far right because years ago it was “build a squat booty” which many believed was the best and only way to develop such a full round shape in the glutes. We now know that’s not the only way and is not even the best way. Does that mean we simply skip movements if the main goal does not target the glutes? No that’s stupid and short sited. Besides that, almost all lower body exercises do develop the glutes in some capacity except for isolated knee extension/flexion exercises. The glutes are still receiving volume from squats, unilateral leg work, and hip hinges. Directly building the low back will aid in injury prevention and help to build a solid core in order to absorb and transmit force via limiting spinal flexion.

A lot of people hear these concepts but don’t actually listen and apply. They try their hardest to feel something in the glutes when the intention wasn’t to do that in the first place! Squats primarily develop the quads and glutes, strict RDLs primarily target the hamstrings, they aren’t meant to be bastardized and manipulated to ONLY develop the glutes. By excessively contracting your glutes and squeezing them at the top of a squat you’re walking on the edge of going from a neutral spine to a flexed spine. Then upon the descent possibly not being able to recover from this position and causing spinal flexion at the bottom of the squat as well.  By over flexing the pelvis, sacrum, and lumbar spine while being vertically loaded under compressive and possibly shear forces you’re asking for a spinal injury. For what? A little bullshit isometric glute squeeze in a position where the glutes are barely even working? The intention is good, don’t over arch, don’t under arch, but when you don’t have the proper motor patterns to know where neutral is, both can be potentially dangerous. I believe the lesser of the two evils for learning and longevity purposes is slight spinal extension over slight spinal flexion when squatting and deadlifting.  Squeezing the glutes and getting some posterior pelvic tilt is great for safety of the spine and hypertrophy of the glutes during glute bridges and hip thrusts and is actually encouraged! But forcing excessive pelvic movement in a squat doesn’t sound like a great risk vs reward scenario to me when we could do something far less technically challenging like glute bridges or kickbacks and other isolation exercises receiving more glute activation with reduced injury potential.

If you would like to alter the style of squat being executed in the safest manner to help increase glute activation then choosing a wider stance is the ticket. Caveat to this wider stance is that it fits within the active range of motion of your hips, adductors and hamstrings. Any knee valgus and excessive internal rotation of the femur on one or both legs to compensate for lack of mobility is a contraindicator for that stance width. Choose a wide stance for your body type that you are currently capable of moving through the entire range of motion without any of the aforementioned technical breakdowns.

Using exercise like the 45-degree hyper and hyperextension only for glute development with the specific posture of chin tucked and little to no spinal erector activation is absurd for year-round development of any athlete or person. These exercises are prime examples of isolation exercises that when done properly can help build a bulletproof back that will aide in the persons ability to squat weight under load and maintain a proper pelvic position via isometric back strength and resist spinal flexion when picking up loads from the ground whether it be a deadlift or a grandchild. Skipping out on this advantage and using it just for glute development is only leaving you open for injury in the future. Again, this exercise still develops the glutes even when used in a strict hip hinge, neutral head, slightly extended spinal posture.

I don’t hate the attention the glutes have gained. I’m happy we have learned more about proper application of anatomy from hours in the field of in personal training and lab work. But bypassing total body development is only leaving the person open for potential issues down the road inside and outside the gym. Granted the glutes are one of the main muscle groups that need as much time and attention as an underdeveloped muscle group in general population and new training clients. By all means give them the workload they need. Just don’t forget about all the other important muscle groups that make the human body so unique and beautiful in their presentation and utility and please don’t try to fit a square peg into the round and triangular holes all the time. It’s really not necessary.

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