Build Strong & Sexy Glutes Without Wrecking Your Lower Back

By Dr. John Rusin


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Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

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Glutes, The Cornerstone of Functional Sexiness

Aside from a show stopping set of chiseled six-pack abs, strutting around with a well developed, devastatingly strong pair of glutes is something both men and women alike aspire to achieve in our current ass centric society. Yes, that’s right gentleman, I’m not just talking about the ladies!

If you’ve been fooled into thinking that the presence of a big muscular booty is something that is primarily based on genetic inheritance, you may be watching too much of the Kardasian’s, and not paying attention to the latest trend in the fitness industry which include the intelligent programming and training emphasis focused around the most important functional unit of musculature in the body.

It’s clear that well developed glutes are aesthetically pleasing, but they are also the cornerstone of hip and pelvic stability and creating a bulletproof body that fends off like likelihood of chronic lower back pain and dysfunction.

But even with the latest glute training trends, why do so many serious lifters fail to build a strong and functional posterior chain with direct glute work? The problem lies in a lack of diversity in simple loaded strength programming for this muscle group. When it comes to the glutes, training them effectively and efficiently needs to involve more than just the barbell hip thrust.

The Problem With The Barbell Hip Thrust

The king of all glute focused loaded movements, the barbell hip thrust, provides a very effective way to target the glutes for many people, but it’s simply not a one exercise fits all movement that will provide a safe and effective targeted training effect. The sometimes-awkward setups on the bench, barbell on the lap, and stabilization pattern at the core can also very limiting, especially in busy commercial gyms and for novice lifters who lack the focus to devote to proper setup and movement execution.

The setup is often times the Achilles heel of the hip thrust, but I’d by lying to you in saying that certain hip, pelvic and spinal structures may not tolerate this movement all together. For the lucky few, the hip thrust, which is considered a spinal deloaded movement can actually lead to increased spinal flexion and extension based stress and lead to chronic and traumatic injuries. Not exactly what you had planned when you got under the bar and started thrusting away, was it?

Whether the setups are too difficult to pull off in a big box gym, or the very sight of a few key glute building exercises being executed may give the AARP members heart attacks up on the cardio deck, glute training needs to remain a priority. And if the barbell glute bridge is crushing your lower back even after fixing your setup and form, there are tons of intelligently modified variations to hammer your glutes while also sparing your spine.

Here’s how to add some smart variety to your glute training in an efficient and effective manor that is as easy to implement as they are to easily add into any type of focused training program. And it’s safe to say that these movements are truly spine friendly for the vast majority of people.

Here are my four favorite direct glute training exercises that are extremely well tolerated even with my athletes and clients battling through lower back pain. And of course, I’ve added videos, coaching notes and common mistakes for better pain-free glute training.

Quadruped Banded Hip Extension

The Quadruped Banded Hip Extension has the ability to create some of the most intense gluteal contractions and activations of any exercise. And guess what, because of the use of the all-fours position and accommodating band resistance as opposed to external weighted loading, this movement provides all the training stimulus for the glutes with a fraction of the joint and non-contractile tissue stresses.

 COACHING NOTES: The quadruped setup is pivotal to not only master statically, but to maintain during any dynamic movement you complete out of this developmental position. Locking down your shoulders using torque into external rotation and doing the same screw home mechanism at the hips to generate tension through the glutes and core before you even begin the motion is a requirement if you want to maximize this motion. Once you are set, you will be violently driving one leg back behind you, straightening your knee and moving your hip into extension in a perfect smooth synergy. If you proved the ability to compete this action without compensation from the upper extremities, core or weight shift at the hips, progress to the banded variation where a band will be placed around the arch of your moving foot to provide a heavy contraction like no other.

COMMON MISTAKES: Don’t mistake this movement for the old school donkey kick that has been bastardized for decades. This is a high concentration, high effort movement that not only targets the glutes with a huge training stimulus and amount of internal tension, but also requires the pillar which is made up of the shoulders, hips and abdominals to function and stabilize. While reaching end range hip extension, it is very easy to compensate through the spine and arch your back. This will cause us to lose tension in the glutes, and put undue stress on the spine. Stay stable, and again, earn the right to progress from bodyweight to loaded variations.

Double Banded Bodyweight Hip Thrust

The Double-Banded Bodyweight Hip Thrust provides some of the very best of the popular hip thrust exercise, but with the convenience and concentration of hitting the glutes and getting them contracting through multiples planes of action. With the use of two bands, generating huge amounts of tension that not only activate gluteal muscle fibers, but also fatigue them quickly is easier than ever.

COACHING NOTES: The full body setup is one of the biggest keys to success on any hip thrust variation. Place your mid back on the bench, right below the shoulder blades. Next, ensure that your core stays active and stiffened through this motion. Finally, when placing the feet onto the ground, I start most lifters at their squat stance in terms of both the width apart and also the amount of toeing out. This is slightly wider than hip width with the toes turned out maybe an inch or so. Once we have that setup, it’s all about getting that accommodating band resistance setup to create the type of training effect we are targeting. The first band will be placed right above the knees, which will cause your knees to drive out during the thrust, activating the glutes working into external rotation of the hip. The second band will be hooked around your heels and placed over your waist to resist the glutes working into hip extension. Check out the video setup for this, as it gets a little tricky. Master this variation, as it requires no external equipment other than an elevated surface and a few bands. No power rack or power platform required. 

COMMON MISTAKES: Like most movements, the ability to create and maintain a strong and stable core to work from is important to not only receive benefit from the movement, but also stay safe and injury-free in the process. This movement requires a stiff core and hip hinge pattern to target the glutes and keep as much tension in the musculature as possible. If you find yourself with an achy back during or after this movement, it’s safe to say you aren’t executing properly. Concentrate on finding your pelvic neutral, so not rotated forward as many people commonly are, and maintaining it throughout the movement. When you get really good, you can accentuate this movement with a slight posterior pelvic tilt, which will target yet another action of the glutes!

Glute Emphasized Banded Back Extension

One of my favorite posterior chain builders that are brutally effective for building strength and mass through the glutes, hamstrings and erector group is the Back Extension. This movement is deceivingly simple, but with strategic setups and executions, this traditional back builder can transform into one of the most effective ways to build your glutes for both muscle hypertrophy and brute strength, all while staying highly functional and transferrable to other lifts and activities.

COACHING NOTES: There’s beginning to be a theme here, as a specific setup of this movement is necessary to place the largest amount of emphasis through the gluteal group opposed to the hamstrings and spinal erectors. First, make sure that the pad is positioned high enough on the front side of your pelvis that you aren’t going in and out of anterior and posterior pelvic tilt. Some movement is ok but too much movement will place an emphasis on the hamstrings. Placing the pad an inch or two above the bony prominences of your hips is a good place to start. Second and most importantly, we are going to use an angled out foot position to externally rotate the hips along with the rest of the leg at approximately 45 degrees. This will emphasize the glutes secondary action of external rotation and create an easier pathway to generate tension and activation. Finally, maintaining constant tension throughout the movement is a must to elicit a devastating pump through the glutes. This is done through slow and precise movements both up and down in this exercise, but also through the addition of accommodating band resistance. Simply wrap a band at the base of the extension setup and place it around your neck.

COMMON MISTAKES: Utilizing a full range of motion is something that is increasingly hard to do, especially when you are experiencing a painfully brutal pump through the glutes as you will if you properly setup for this back extension variation with the notes above. It’s human nature to cheat, so be sure you don’t cut your range of motion, especially in the bottom half of the range as this is a pivotal portion of the exercise which stretches the glutes with your hips placed in a flexion moment. Also, fight the urge to swing and use momentum to take the tension out of your glutes and posterior chain. This is another cheating mechanism, so knowing that you’re most likely going to have to battle it going in will keep you from committing the cardinal sin, butchering exercise and getting hurt.

Heel Elevated Plate Loaded Single Leg Glute Bridge

For those of you stuck in big box gyms that don’t have specific equipment like the roman chair, or access to bands and other resistance training implements, the Heel Elevated Plate Loaded Single Leg Glute Bridge provides you a novel glute training stimulus that only requires a bench and a weight plate. If your gym doesn’t have these, invest in a new gym!

COACHING NOTES: Start lying on your back with your heels resting in the middle of a bench. Note, benches that are sturdy and won’t slip are highly recommended such as a bench press setup. If you don’t have these at your disposal, back up the adjustable utility bench with heavy dumbbells to avoid slippage during your set. Your back should be relatively flat on the ground and knees bent at 90 degrees and approximately hip width apart. From this central setup, bring one knee to your chest and hold it there by wrapping both hands and arms around it. Now, it’s time to thrust! Drive your hips up on your single leg with great speed and acceleration, and pause for a split second before controlling down to the starting position. Once you’ve proven the ability to knock out perfect reps, you can add external resistance with weight plates. Simply place the plate over the knee you are bringing to your chest and hold it tight as you thrust up with the opposite leg. A little loading goes a long way here!

COMMON MISTAKES: One of the most common mistakes I see with this movement is the lack of proper rhythm and activation. It’s not good enough to just go through the motions here and half-ass your ass up in the air. There needs to be an emphasis placed on the violent explosion of your hips up and your top end squeeze to maximize tension and fatigue of the gluteal fibers. Tap into your mind muscle connection with this movement, and volitionally try to squeeze each and every rep as hard as you can. That kind of execution is where the powerful, sexy glutes are built.

About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized sports performance expert, physical therapist, speaker, and writer, whose published over 400 articles in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s FitnessTestosterone, and Muscle and Strength, to name a few.

Along with an impressive laundry list of publications, Dr. John works with some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pro Quarterbacks, MLB All-Star Pitchers, Professional Bodybuilders, Elite level Powerlifters and All-World IronMan Triathletes.

Dr. Rusin’s mission is to offer the same uniquely customized programming to clients of all walks of life in the exact same detail and passion as the Pros! Dr. John’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program is now available to you.

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  1. Kyle November 17, 2016 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Glutes baby! Great exercise selection here. Definitely won’t get bored with any of these. Also, I like how you started the article with stating that strong glutes are crucial for health and longevity. Almost every time I see a patient with LBP, hip, knee, and even foot/ankle pain, their glutes aren’t firing. Gotta get the glute game strong to keep the body strong.

    • John Rusin November 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks Kyle! These work extremely well in the dynamic warm up sequence or as metabolic stress at the end of a training day! Activation all the way, thanks for the comment.

  2. Greg Pfeiffer November 18, 2016 at 5:26 am - Reply
  3. Josh Haroldson April 20, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

    All the band stuff is awesome. I’ll definitely be incorporating this stuff. Plus it’s rare you get a demo on internet of the exact equipment you’ll be using at the Princeton Club!

  4. Mauro February 5, 2018 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    My favourite posterior chain exercise is the dumbell/barbell hip hinge. Is it ok keep doimg them once a week? I usually do 5 sets of 12-20 reps.

  5. Amanda Forstrom February 11, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Nice article and exercises! Quick question… do you still like the barbell hip thrust exercise when used with the “right” patient/client? I’ve found it to be very effective.

  6. Armin May 8, 2018 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Thank u Dr
    As always great article ❤

  7. Colleen May 11, 2019 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Did you mention sets and reps?

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