Conjugate Glute Training: The Missing Link In Your Program

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The rise of glute training has been made popular for the most part by women. If you follow the “glute guy” Bret Contreras on IG you’ve likely seen scores of before & after photos with ladies going from zero glutes to competing on stage as a figure athletes.

In terms of aesthetics, glute development tends to be something that is more important to the ladies, but what about the dudes out there? We too can benefit from regular direct glute work.

I’ll admit I absolutely hated the glute bridge and glute hip thrust for a LONG period of time mainly because it was a pain in the ass to set-up and because I’ve never been one to actually “feel” like I was getting the intended benefits.

After nearly a year of being force-fed direct glute training while training with my wife, I’ve been able to notice a few things:

  • My lower back feels better: I’ve had lower-back issues – mainly left SI joint for years and heavy conventional deadlifts irritate the F out of it.
  • My lifts have gone up: My Front & Back Squat as well as my pulls have increased.
  • Gains in Lean body mass: This past year I’ve put on 5lbs. Now, is that mainly because of more direct glute work? Probably not solely, but my wife has noticed that my glutes are bigger which is win. I often refer back to something I heard Louie say at Westside a few years ago and it was “I’ve never seen a strong person with a small ass.” That same day he told me I had a weak ass which got my wheels turning.

Needless to say, glute training has become a cornerstone piece in my own programming as well as the individual programming I write for my clients.

Glute Training Benefits

Most are probably aware of the role of the gluteals plate in hip-extension, but the gluteals are also responsible for hip-external rotation, hip-abduction, and posterior pelvic tilt. Some of the benefits include:

  • Knee-health: Strong glutes help keep the knees in a stable position by preventing knee valgus (inward knee collapse.)
  • Lower-back health: If the glutes are weak you’ll rely more on your lower-back to perform hip-extension based movements adding to the stress of spinal discs, ligaments and likely increase the incidence of injury.
  • Increase your squat & deadlift: We know that the glute complex is the largest muscle in the human body and plays a key role in hip-extension so it’s not unlikely to think this will correlate to improve the squat & deadlift.
  • Look better naked: If you don’t care about aesthetics great, but I’m fine with thousands of people reading this article knowing that I care what my ass looks like.

Furthermore, based on my own personal experience as well as training clients over the last 15 years, I’ve yet to encounter someone that has a strong set of glutes naturally. Heck, my glutes were quite weak even though I’ve been “training” them for the last 20 years. This is certainly low-hanging fruit and something as coaches we’re always looking for.

The Movements & Programming

I’m going to keep this list relatively simple and short – it won’t require any special equipment with the exception of the one “bonus exercise.” These are movements that you can include in your programming right away to be used in a number of settings – I’ll include information on this as well.

One caveat though, just because you can pull & squat a metric fuckton doesn’t mean you’re going to be moving a ton of weight with these movements. At the moment, I’ll admit I train with nearly the same loads my wife uses despite having a squat/deadlift 3x hers.

Remove your ego and work on getting a full range of motion so you can actually feel the glutes working – the glute bridge & hip thrust work best when terminal end range of motion is achieved on each repetition.

Additionally, for some, their hamstrings tend to predominate these movements. If that’s the case you’ll need to adjust the load further (make sure your full-foot is planted.)

Lastly, enclosed are two movements that are intended to be used in your warm-up NOT as main movements. For some, these are a great place to start though to start to improve the mind-muscle connection with the gluteals.

Glute Warm-up

The banded glute bridge & X-Band Walk + Goodmorning are my go-to activation drills to be used in your warm-up. I prefer to use both variations each week – one on a ME Lower Day the other on DE Lower day, but I tend to include these on conditioning days as well regularly.

The goal with these drills is to stimulate not annihilate so don’t go crazy with these – a little bit goes a long way.

Banded Glute Bridge: 4 x 5 – 1 count squeeze at top. Rest 60s between sets.

X-Band Walk + Goodmornings: 3 x 5 right + 5 left + 5 Goodmornings. Rest 60s between sets.

#1 The Glute Bridge

This variation probably doesn’t come as a shock, but many typically opt for the glute hip thrust simply because the ROM is greater, BUT I’d urge you to consider keeping its baby brother the glute bridge in your programming.

Why? Put simply, it’s a regression to the Glute Hip Thrust and actually may suit many people much BETTER than the glute hip thrust based on individual anthropometrics – this is a good example of bio-individuality and opting for the “harder” variation isn’t always the best option.

Programming

4-5 x 8-15

#2 The Glute Hip Thrust

The Glute Hip Thrust has made quite a name for itself thanks guys like Dr. Bret Contreras. The Glute Hip Thrusts utilizes all four actions of the glutes – hip external rotation, hip abduction, hip extension/posterior pelvic tilt.

There are few caveats when using the variation though to really reap the benefits. The first is, your set-up can make or break the effectiveness, and as you can see we’ve elevated the plates in this video to keep constant tension through the entire ROM.

If you’re lucky enough to have a glute thruster bench from Bret then you won’t have to worry about elevating the plates. The height of that bench is 12″ vs. standard 16″ bench.

The second thing is don’t sacrifice load for ROM. I often see people missing 10-15% of terminal end ROM just to use heavier loading.

Additionally, this variation could be programmed for heavier work – 3-6RMs, but I’ve personally found this variation to be more effective in the 8-10 rep range, but have gone as high as 20 rep sets so feel free to experiment.

Programming
4 x 8-10

#3 Safety Bar Back Raises

For many the 45 degree back raise is a common movement pattern and put simply it works. This movement has been proven to have high EMG ratings for gluteal activity.

For this reason, we’ve included it on our list, but we can change the demand of this movement a number of ways by using additional resistance with the Safety Squat Bar.

This variation can also be accomplished on a GHD, but take note that the joint angle is different the level of gluteal activity certainly is not the same.

Programming:
4-5 x 10-15 with Safety Squat Bar
OR
4 x 25 with a light medball against your chest


#4 Cable Pull-Through

The cable pull-through is probably nothing new to most of you, but this variation works quite well in a metabolic-stress situation as a “finisher” for high-volume.

Of course, if you don’t have access to a cable machine the same variation can be done with a band, but keep in mind the effect is different since when you’re using a band tension increases/decreases through range of motion whereas a cable machine there is constant tension.

Either way, the band is a great option too just make sure you’re going with a heavier band – a light to average band works well.

Programming
Accumulate 100 reps at the end of your session resting as little as possible

#5 The Russian Kettlebell Swings

As of recent the Russian Kettlebell Swing done for high-volume has been the end-all-be-all posterior variation for my own training.

Dan John released an article on T-Nation a while back about adding high-volume swings to your plan. And this has been something we’ve done, not necessarily always with the swing to our max effort & dynamic effort training days.

But since re-reading that article I’ve considered upping the volume of heavy swings using them as a finisher at the end of lower-intensive sessions.

The jury is still out, but I will see the level of stimulus on my spinal erectors/glutes supersedes that of the Reverse Hyper – which has always been the end-all-be-all for the posterior chain.

The only catch is you’ll likely be limited not having a heavy enough bell, but another option is added accomodating resistance to your swings.

Here’s how I’ve been using them in my own programming.

Day 1: Monday Max Effort Lower 
Wk.1: Russian Swings: 10 x 15 @106#, every 60s.
Wk 2: Russian Swings: 10 x 20 @106#, every 60s.

Day 5: Friday Dynamic Effort Upper
Wk.1: Single Arm Russian Swing: 10 x 10 each arm, every 60s.
Wk 2: Single Arm Russian Swing: 10 x 12 each arm, every 60s.

*You may have to adjust the volume-based off of your work capacity, but you should be able to complete these sets unbroken and you should have at least 20 seconds to recover before starting the next interval.

*Bonus Reverse Hypers

Another specialty piece that you may not have access to, but if you do consider it a huge win. I often get the question, “what can I place the Reverse Hyper with” and the honest answer is nothing.

Of course, there are comparable movements in terms of training the same musculature but the effect of this piece of equipment is unlike any other.

In this case, we are going to work on controlled repetitions where the pendulum does NOT swing out of control. At the top of each repetition, we are going to squeeze our glutes HARD.

For most that are accustomed to using the Reverse Hyper can use 50% of their Back Squat 1RM for 100 total repetitions, but if you’re new to using the RH start with half of that for both loading and volume.

Programming
Beginner: 3 x 15
Adv: 4 x 25 @50% of Back Squat

Sample Conjugate Training Sessions

Max Effort Lower #1

  1. SSB Box Squat: Build to a 1RM in 10 sets. Rest 2:00
  2. Glute Bridge: 5 x 8-10. Rest 90s.
  3. DB Reverse Lunges: 3 x 8-10 each. Rest 60s.
  4. Cable Pull-Throughs with a wide stance: Accumulate 100 Reps. Rest as needed.

Max Effort Lower #2

  1. Sumo Rack Pull with chains: Build to a 1RM in 10 sets. Rest 3:00
  2. Front Squat to pins: Build to a heavy 4 in 6 sets. Rest 2:00
  3. Glute Hip Thrust: 4 x 8-10. Rest 90s.
  4. SSB Back Raises: 4 x 10-15. Rest 60s.

Dynamic Effort Lower #1

  1. SSB Box Squat: 6 x 4 @50% + 25% of band tension, every 60s.
  2. Sumo Rack Speed Pull: 6 x 2 @50% + 30% of band tension, every 60s.
  3. Glute Ham Raises: 4 x 6-10. Rest 90s.
  4. Dimel Deadlift: 3 x [email protected]% of Deadlift. Rest 90s.

Dynamic Lower #2

  1. Speed Front Squats: 9 x 3 @50% + 25% chain, every 60s.
  2. Conventional Speed Pull Deadlift: 9 x 1 @50% + 30% of band tension, every 30s.
  3. Glute Bridge: Build to a heavy 6 in 5 sets. Rest 90s.
  4. Reverse Hypers: 4 x 25 @50% of Back Squat. Rest 90s.

Closing

Glute training isn’t just for the ladies to gain followers on IG. Direct glute training may be the missing element in your training to catapult your lifts to the next level.

And if you’re part of the staggering number of people that suffer from lower-back disorders, glute training will help remove stress from the lower back when you’re pulling heavy. 

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