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I get asked this all the time and I totally get it. We’re all on a quest to build a peachy booty and maintain long slender legs. But then you say, “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to bulk up or get too manly” or, “I build muscle really fast so I can only do light weights”. Girl, if you build muscle that frickin’ easy, then pray-tell, what is your secret?? Because I’ve been doing this 'heavy lifting' thing for a long time and let me tell you, this booty didn’t morph over night. I mean, do I look like the incredible hulk to you?! face palm Let’s just get one thing clear:
Lifting weights (the right way) will make you lean, toned and curvy in all the right places. That ‘bulking’ business has more to do with what you put in your mouth, than what you lift in the gym. Speaking of which, check out my other blog post on how a low carb high fat diet is the missing link in your efforts to get lean and toned. Ok, so now that we’ve got that cleared up. Let’s move along shall we?
First off, a little disclaimer: all lower body exercises will grow your thigh muscles to some extent. Some more than others. Your lower body is made up of four muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Even the booty favourite hip thrust will activate your quads to some degree.The problem is, you may be quad dominant. If you’ve been squatting, lunging and leg pressing like a beast, (and become strong through these movements), then you’re probably quad dominant. And that has an effect on your glutes’ ability to be activated and targeted in these exercises instead.
The glutes are the largest muscle in the body but also notoriously, the laziest. Meaning; if they can let any other muscle do the work for them, then by-golly, they will. The result: a pancake butt with quadzilla thighs. Ok, I exaggerate, but seriously, that’s how you feel, right?
I’m not saying squats are the devil. They are a great compound movement that work a whole heap of muscles and as a beginner lifter, it’s one of the most important basic moves that you should absolutely learn to master before moving onto the fancy stuff. So how do you grow glutes without growing your thighs? Avoid this common booty building mistake:
I’m going to assume that by ‘bulking up your thighs’, you actually mean the quads/front of your legs and not the hamstrings/back of your legs, because honestly, no one has ever said to me, “Damn, Shelley, I just hate how big and shapely my hamstrings are. I wish I could shrink them.” Shapely hamstrings compliment a well-developed and perky bum IMO. Jus' sayin'. These exercises are the biggest thigh-stressors, so if your goal is to grow those glutes, you should limit or avoid:
You might be thinking, "what’s left??". Admittedly, not a whole lot, but here is what you can do to grow glutes without growing your thighs:
Keeping the weight light is crucial at first. Don't be tempted to add the resistance. Less really is more when you're trying to wake up your lazy butt muscles. If you go too heavy off the bat, you can bet your bottom dollar that those killer quads will take over. So grab a booty band (grab your set of Strong Curves Booty Bands here) and start focusing on your mind-muscle connection. This is key to start developing those buns!
Remember how I said the glutes are lazy sons-a-b*tches? Well, you’ve got to coax them into firing up. There are a ton of activation exercises you can do like butt squeezes, lying leg abductions, seated abductions, butt planks and clams. Check out my video 'Why Your Glutes Won't Grow' for all the best booty activation exercises. Just start with a 10 minute drill and don’t forget to squeeeeeeze the bejesus out of those buns!
If you don’t know how to butt squeeze, you better learn! Because this little maneuver is the key to maximum glute contraction - and the more you can contract a muscle, the more it will grow. You’d be amazed how many ladies I’ve worked with who don’t know how to effectively squeeze their tushies. It’s super easy and you can literally practice absolutely anywhere.
The key is to master the posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) and clench your butt cheeks as hard as you can. Imagine you have a belt around your waist. Next, tilt or scoop your pelvis by pushing the hips forward as if you're drawing the belt buckle up towards you. Then, imagine someone is poking you up the bum with a hot rod, making sure you squeeze the glutes hard #visuals.
Check out this quick glute squeeze tutorial video. Just make sure you use the glutes to push your hips forward and avoid crunching into your lower spine. You can do the PPT butt squeeze anywhere and any time - in the queue at the post office, in line at the supermarket or even when you’re brushing your teeth and you’ll have rock hard glutes in no time.
If your goal is to grow glutes without growing thighs, then your training routine needs to be tailored accordingly. That means less squatting and more thrusting. Your lower body workouts should be setting your peach on fire! But we’re all built differently. We have different bone structures and different muscle development. So what works really well for some girls, won’t necessarily work of you.
For example, I prefer the hip thrust to the glute bridge because in the bridge position I feel it more through my hamstrings rather than my tush. Remember, you want to pick exercises that make your booty burn like all heck. So if you don’t feel it, ditch it. It’s best to work with a smaller toolbox, rather than doing every trick in the book, just because you saw some fitness chick on Instagram doing it.
Try out some of these glute-focused exercises below and play around with foot positioning, banded or weighted, feet elevated, stance width and single leg variations. Find the ones that give you the most bang for your buck and stick with them:
Progress with more weight slowly because going too heavy off the bat (especially if your glutes are particularly weak). The stronger you can get through these booty-focused moves, the more your butt will grow. But don’t go too heavy too fast or your quads will take over again. You really want to find that balance between getting some awesome glute burn under a load but without the other muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves) taking over.
Now you know how to activate the glutes, how to get maximum contraction out of your lifts and exactly which exercises to get really strong at - next: you need to isolate and target every square inch of your booty muscle fibres for epic gains! The glutes are actually made up of three muscles… yes, three!
You need to target all three of these gluteal muscles if you want a round and full peachy butt. There are a bazillion exercises to choose from so booty workouts never get boring! Here are just a few of my favourites:
That’s how you grow glutes without growing thighs! But before you get all giddy and start planning some crazy booty workouts, just remember: there’s no point in doing these fancy isolation variations unless you master the first three steps first.
Some of these moves require a certain level of mind-muscle connection and training maturity. If you feel these exercises anywhere but the butt, stick to band or body weight only, or hold off entirely until you feel the glutes doing the work rather than the quads. Baby steps. Get the basics right and your tush will reap the rewards later down the track
If you found this article helpful, please tell me so! I’d love to know what you struggle with most in your glute training. Let me know in the comments below. If you're ready to take your training to the next level and want to learn everything there is to know about glute training, check out my Strong Curves Ultimate Guide here.
Founder of Strong Curves
With a no BS approach, I teach women how to sculpt strong curves and build confidence through my digital books, e-courses and app.
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Teaching women all over the world how to sculpt strong curves and gain confidence with my digital books, courses and app.