As people who read my blog regularly will know, many things in the mainstream fitness industry irk me- mostly because they are untrue. My main points of irritation are super low calorie diets, exercise classes and sports drinks. However, one fad has started to annoy me recently more so than I ever thought it would-squatting.
Ok, before you start ranting to me about how vitally important the squat is and how your legs would automatically turn to twigs if you stopped squatting- here me out. I have absolutely no problem with squatting; in fact I love it. Squats are a great exercise and, in my opinion, certain variations of the traditional squat are extremely efficient quad builders. My problem lies in the notion that squats are the beginning, middle and end of any leg workout, and anything else is practically void.
This irk of mine has been festering for a while. It began when I saw a twitter post that eventually went viral- “The 40 Day Squat Challenge”. Judging by the background image, it promised that partaking in said challenge would result in a pair of perfectly developed glutes. Here in lies my problem.
The fad of squatting almost exclusively with the idea that this will lead to a “better bum” is ridiculous. Squats are a great quad builder. They are an average hamstring an glute builder. If overall leg development is your goal, squats are an important facet of your training, but not the be all and end all.
Before I begin, this article is aimed more so at females then males. For a guy (and potentially female physique competitors), sporting a pair of huge quads is a priority ALONGSIDE glute and hamstring development. I would argue though, that for your average female trainer, they should prioritise hamstring and glute training to a greater extent than they currently do.
In my opinion- leg training is best split into two sessions- quad day and glute/ham day. I have already written extensively on quad training, so this article is going to focus more on hamstring and glute development- something I urge you to prioritise.
The Glutes- What They Do
The glutes are a multi-functional muscle group if there ever was one. Most of their movement is around the hip joint, through hip extension, hip flexion, hip transverse abduction and hip external rotation. However, its primary function is in hip extension.
There are huge performance-based benefits to having strong glutes. The glutes are arguably the most active muscle group in sprinting (alongside the hamstrings), power in multiple jumping planes and any sort of rotational movement involved in hitting a ball, such as cricket. The glutes are clearly a very important muscle group both functionally and aesthetically.
One thing to bear in mind when training glutes is that it requires at least a reasonable level of hip flexor flexibility in order to really activate the glutes. So, I recommend performing hip-flexor based stretches prior to any glute training with an isometric hold. I recommend:
Glute Bridges- 3 sets of 10 reps with a 3 second hold at the top of the repetition- stretching the hips and squeezing the glutes for the 3 second hold at the top of every rep.
Training the Glutes
The muscle-fibre makeup of the glutes is reasonably split. Hence, it is wise to make use of several different rep ranges when training the glutes. Personally, I have found much more success in using lighter weights and performing high volume sets. This is because I have found that my lower back takes over a lot of the movement when I go to heavy. In order to combat this, I like performing exercises with mixed rep variations. So, a glute workout would look something like this
Barbell Glute Bridge- 2 sets of 25 reps on a lighter weight. Up the weight, and perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Maintain a 2 second isometric hold at the top of every repetition.
Single Leg Hip Thrust- 3 sets of 12 reps.
Hamstrings- What They Do
The hamstrings, like the glutes, have a function in hip extension. Thus, many hamstring exercises also activate the lower glutes on a secondary basis. Various deadlift variations are ideal exercises for the “glute-ham tie in”, and thus should be used efficiently when training hamstrings and glutes together.
The second function of the hamstring is knee flexion. This is essentially bringing your calf upwards to touch your glute- flexing your knee. Hamstring flexion exercises are vastly underrated and vastly underperformed. Everyone from elite athletes to power lifters to models should make use of knee flexion movements for overall leg development.
Rep ranges with hamstrings is an interesting topic. Like the glutes, they are pretty evenly distributed between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres, making choosing a specific rep range tough. I like to mix it up. One week I may do heavy, low rep knee flexion movements with lighter, high volume hip extension movements. And other weeks I will swap it around. Variety is key to training muscle groups like the hamstrings.
There is actually more variation to hamstring training than you think. Great knee flexion exercises are the hamstring curl (machine), the glute ham raise and the standing cable hamstring curl. Some top hip extension movements are the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), Split Stance RDL, Cable Pull-Throughs and Power Cleans. I tend to go for 2 knee flexion exercises and one hip extension exercise, or vice versa. Again, I change it week by week. My favourite hamstring workout is something like this
Barbell RDL- 4 sets of 8 reps.
Seated Hamstring Curl- 3 sets of 20 reps, 2 sets of 8 reps.
Split Stance RDL- 4 sets of 12 reps.
But again, there is so much variety with hamstring training you can easily mix it up. Glute and hamstring training is ABSOLUTELY VITAL for people looking to get their legs in check. Squats are great, and by all means keep them in your quad routines. But, if youre looking to improve your glutes and general the posterior view of your legs- hamstring and glute training should be of an upmost priority.
Sample Glute/Ham Routine
Seated Hamstring Curl- 15 reps, 3 sets. Hold for 2 seconds at the top of every rep, and descend for 3 seconds. 60s rest in between sets.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift- 4 sets of 8 reps. 75s rest in between sets. Take a look at this for how to perform the RDL. http://www.t-nation.com/strength-training-topics/dumbbell-romanian-deadlift
Barbell Glute Bridge- 2 sets of 25 reps with a 3 second hold at the top of every rep. Increase the weight and perform 3 sets of 8 reps. 60s rest in between sets.
Single Leg Hip Thrust- 3 sets of 12 reps on each leg. 45s rest in between sets.