So, you’re looking to build the upper glutes and get that ‘Butt shelf’ look – well, you’ve come to the right place. Building the upper glutes is a shared goal amongst many lifters. It’s the upper glutes that give the shelf look that many people desire and completes the overall rounded heart shape look.
If you feel that the upper glutes are lacking, it may be time to pay them a bit more attention. You may already be doing the popular compound glute movements such as squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts, but if we don’t pay particular attention to the upper glutes, you may be missing the final piece of the puzzle for overall glute aesthetics.
Today we’ll look at how best to target the upper glutes, and piece together the best upper glute workout.
|Table of Contents|
|Upper glute anatomy|
|Upper glute shelf exercises|
|Upper glute workout|
|7 Upper glute building tips|
|Upper glute workout FAQ’s|
As you can see from the picture above, the glutes are made up of three muscles – the gluteus maximas, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus medius.
The muscles that make up the upper glutes and therefore are responsible for developing the ‘shelf’ look are the superior portion of the gluteus maximas (upper division) and the gluteus medius.
To understand how to target these muscles, we must learn what their roles are.
Firstly, the gluteus maximas is responsible for hip extension. Ie – increasing the angle between the thigh and the pelvis, think coming out of a squat position or moving the leg behind backwards when you’re stood up.
While any exercise that involves hip extension will effectively target both the upper and lower portions of the gluteus maximas – some exercises are geared up for developing the upper glutes more so than the lower glutes.
These exercises are horizontally loaded hip extension exercises. Exercises such as hip thrusts are horizontally loaded exercises whilst squats can be considered vertically loaded exercises. So these are the exercises we’ll want to incorporate into our routines when building the upper butt is our goal (More on this later).
Secondly, we have the gluteus medius. The primary role of the medius is abduction at the hip joint. What this means is moving the leg out towards the side, away from the centre line of the body.
The second role of the gluteus medius is hip external rotation, this is simply rotating the feet so that they point outwards.
Knowing this, we can understand which exercises will be good for targeting the upper glutes - leaving the lower glutes to be covered in a seperate article.
So, we’ve learned that in order to build the upper glutes we need to focus on two different types of exercises.
Firstly we need horizontally loaded hip extension exercises to build the upper gluteus maximas and secondly, we need to incorporate exercises that focus on hip abduction to build the gluteus medius.
Even though we’re only focusing on half of the gluteus maximas, it’s still the biggest of the 3 glute muscles and has a large say in the way our glutes look.
For that reason, it makes sense that we start our workout focusing on building the upper region of the gluteus maximas when we’re feeling fresh and have the most energy. Once we’ve got some decent sets under our belt – we can then move on to the abduction exercises.
Starting with the horizontally loaded extension exercises we have:
Made famous in 2006 by the Glute guy ‘Bret Contreras’ the barbell hip thrust quickly came a staple exercise for those on the quest to building the size of their butt. With the ability to perform the exercise with the weight acting directly against the target muscle, you can effectively overload the gluteus maximas and build strength and size in the buttocks. A real game changer in the booty-building community!
Similar to the barbell hip thrust, the KAS glute bridge is an awesome exercise to activate the upper glutes. The setup is the same as the Barbell hip thrust, but instead of dropping the hips all the way to the floor, the aim with the KAS glute bridge is to keep the shins perpendicular to the floor and prevent the knees from travelling towards the body. This will mean that the range of motion is a lot smaller, but we can keep constant tension on the glutes helping to achieve the round and sculpted look.
While on the surface this may not seem like a horizontally loaded exercise because you’re stood up, it is. The load isn’t pushing down on you like a squat would, instead the load is in front of you and the glutes need to work hard to push the weight backwards.
The cable leg kickback is a great exercise if you’re looking to give the hips and joints a break as the cable nature of the exercise makes it a lot lighter impact.
Say hello to a killer exercise for your upper glutes – the Glute Hyperextension. If you’re lucky enough to have a glute hyperextension bench in your gym, you should most definitely take advantage of it. This exercise is a brilliant movement for targeting both the upper and lower glutes, the hamstrings, and the lower back muscles.
When you break this exercise down, it’s basically like you’re performing a hip thrust – but just stood up. The load is behind you, and you’re glutes need to contract hard to shift the weight forwards, as you would with a hip thrust or glute bridge alternative. Again, the cable nature of the exercise prevents loading the joints and gives them a well-earned rest.
Time to move onto the abduction-based exercises to target the gluteus medius…
Using a machine is always a good option if you’re looking to isolate and add size to a muscle. The hip abductor machine ticks many of the ‘How to select the best hypertrophy exercises?’ such as benefiting from an optimum strength curve, having a high level of stability, and being able to easily apply progressive overload – all key factors when it comes to muscle building.
As you read through the article you’ll notice that many of the exercises require the use of a resistance band. There are many benefits to using a resistance band, but the reason we recommend them when training the glutes is due to their unique resistance curve. As you go through the movement the exercise becomes more difficult as the band becomes stretched. This means the most resistance will be at the top of the movement, forcing us to push hard, recruiting many muscle fibres.
We recommend the following resistance bands if you don’t already have some:
Named due to the way the body position replicates a clamshell when you perform the exercise, the clam shells are another great exercise to target the upper glutes.
The curtsy lunge is an effective way to target the gluteus medius. It’s a compound exercise that also targets the gluteus maximas, quads, and hamstrings and will also engage muscles like the abs and calfs for stabilisation.
This exercise combines a side hip thrust movement with the abduction movement to create an exercise that will fire up those upper glutes. It’s another exceptional exercise that can be done in the comfort of your own home.
A similar movement pattern to the hip abduction machine, but this time we can do this exercise anywhere, no machines are involved. Performed either sitting on the floor or sitting on a chair, pick the variation that’s right for you.
The glute bridge is a popular exercise primarily targeting the gluteus maximas (the largest glute muscle). Placing a band around the knees and pushing outwards throughout the entire movement means not only are the glutes maximas working hard to extend the hips, but the medius will be working hard to keep the knees pushed out. Double the benefits!
It’s vital to remember the most important muscle building principles when it comes to growing any muscle group, including the glutes.
Regardless of what muscle we’re trying to build, the principles remain the same. To build muscle we need to make sure we are supplying the body with the necessary fuel (calories) needed to grow.
In a muscle building phase, we need to be eating 200-400 calories more than we burn on a daily basis. This means if we’re burning 2000 calories every day, we need to be eating 2200 to grow.
Out of these 2200 calories, we need to work out how many grams of protein/carbs/fats we need. Although relatively easy to work out, it requires some explanation, so check out ‘How many calories do I need to build muscle?’ for the full breakdown.
Hopefully, the article mentioned above has provided you with the knowledge to work out what your nutrition should look like to build muscle; but what about our training?
It’s all well and good knowing the best exercises to grow the glutes, but if we’re not applying the basic muscle building training principle, we’re going to have a hard time adding any size.
And that is Progressive overload. In order to grow a muscle, we need to be increasing the stimulus placed upon it over time in order for the muscle to adapt and grow stronger/bigger. Arguably the easiest way to apply progressive overload is by increasing the resistance over time. But other ways include: performing more reps, completing more sets, and reducing rest times.
For a comprehensive explanation of progressive overload, check out ‘The foundation to building muscle’.
If you stay consistent with your glute training, you can expect to see results within 8-12 weeks. Saying this, it’s worth noting that everyone is different and people will experience results at different rates. For example, a complete newbie can expect to see results quicker than an experienced lifter. It also depends on a variety of different factors such as genetics, age, consistency, and diet to name a few.
So, how many glute workouts should you do a week? Well, this again depends on several different factors including: training age, training intensity, and training volume. A better way to look at it would be to consider how many weekly sets you should be doing. The current recommendations show between 10-20 weekly sets are enough to build muscle, with the lower end of the limit geared towards newbie lifters and the upper end of the limit aimed towards experienced lifters.
Let’s use an intermediate lifter as an example, they may need around 15 weekly sets per muscle group to build muscle. Some research suggests that 10 sets per muscle group per workout is the optimum amount, and anything over this may result in wasted sets. We would therefore suggest 2 weekly glute training sessions for this lifter, completing 8 sets in one session and 7 sets in another session.
If you’re looking to add size to the entire glute area, we need to be considering the 3 different muscles: gluteus maximas, glutes medius, and gluteus minimus. With the maximas being the largest of the 3 muscles it makes sense we give them the most attention. Exercises such as hip thrusts, squats, and step-ups have been found to effectively target the gluteus maximas.
For a comprehensive breakdown of the best exercises for glute growth, check out ‘The 10 best exercises for a bigger butt’
And there it is, you now know the exercises you need to incorporate into your routine to grow the upper glutes and build that ‘shelf’ look you’re after.
Remember, form comes first, once you’ve got that sorted, add resistance, and apply progressive overload.
Provide your body with the fuel needed to grow, and you’ll see results in no time!
As always, we hope you’ve enjoyed the article. If you have any questions, drop them down in the comments and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can – happy glute training!