There are not enough days in the week to train each muscle individually, so it makes sense to pair some muscle groups together and train them in the same session.
One of our favourite pairings is Glutes and Hamstrings. Whether you’re training for aesthetic purposes, trying to get stronger or looking to improve athletic performance, training glutes alongside hamstrings is a sound choice.
Your glutes are your butt. So by training your glutes, you’ll be shaping your butt.
What many people don’t appreciate is that by training your hamstrings you will also improve the appearance of the peach. After all, if you build strong toned hamstrings, you’ll accentuate the lower glutes, and the butt will appear fuller and rounder.
Not only that, but many of the best glute exercises are also great exercises for developing the hamstrings, so it’s logical to train them in the same session to make the time we spend in the gym as efficient as possible.
Today we’ll be covering anatomy, muscle roles, the best exercises to target the glutes and hamstrings, and how to piece it all together to build a workout that will get the booty poppin’.
The glutes are made up of 3 muscles and make up the largest muscle group in the body.
The biggest of the 3 muscles is the gluteus maximas. This is the most superficial of the 3 muscles and is responsible for the majority of the shape of the butt. The maximas is primarily responsible for hip extension – which means increasing the angle between the thigh and the hip (think coming out of the bottom of a squat) but also aids in external rotation.
The 2nd muscle is the gluteus medius. This is located on the upper glutes and is responsible for hip abduction (moving the leg out to the side) and internal rotation (turning your foot inwards).
The 3rd muscle and the smallest muscle in the region is the gluteus minimus. The minimus works alongside its bigger brother, the medius, to abduct and rotate the thigh.
The three muscles collaborate to stabilize the hip and provide support for the legs.
The hamstrings are made up of 4 muscles: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, the biceps femoris long head and the bicep femoris short head.
3 of these muscles (the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris long head) originate on the pelvis whereas the bicep femoris originates on the femur. All 4 muscles insert onto the lower leg beneath the knee.
This means the hamstrings are a biarticular muscle group. That’s just a fancy way of saying the muscle crosses 2 joints. As a result, the hamstrings have 2 roles:
This is important to know as it will help us decide what exercises we need to incorporate into our routines to target the hamstrings. You guessed it, exercises that incorporate knee flexion, hip extension, or both!
After learning that the largest muscle in the glute region, the gluteus maximas and the hamstrings are both involved in hip extension it makes sense that the exercises we choose involve this very movement.
But that’s not to say that the only movement we do. We need to consider abduction exercises to target both the medius and minimus exercises to target the primary role of the hamstrings – knee flexion.
You probably already know the difference between compound and isolation exercises, but it does no harm to go over it again quickly.
Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple joints and therefore target multiple muscle groups at the same time. Isolation exercises on the other hand only target one joint meaning they only work one muscle group.
The deadlift is a compound exercise that targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back and upper body.
The leg curl is an isolation exercise that only targets the hamstrings.
Neither compound nor isolation exercises are inherently better than the other at building muscle (1). In order to build muscle, we need to stress our muscles by taking our workout sets close to failure (2). This will elicit the greatest amounts of mechanical tension which is key for building muscle (3).
Our body doesn’t care if the stimulus placed on our muscles comes from compound or isolation exercises – it just needs a strong enough stimulus so that it can adapt (i.e. build muscles) Sometimes that can be from compound exercises, and other times that can be from isolation exercises.
Having said this, it’s a good idea that a good chunk of glute and hamstring workouts focus on compound exercises. A good chunk is about 50-75% of our workout. Leaving the rest of the workout to the isolation for additional volume to the muscles that weren’t fully exhausted with the compound movements.
Why is this you ask?
First of all, there are some really great exercises available that target both the glutes and hamstrings in the same movement. Take the Romanian deadlift for example, both the glutes and hamstrings are recruited heavily when performing the movement.
It’s a 2 birds 1 stone scenario, instead of doing separate glute and hamstring exercises, you can do one compound movement to hit them both. This will save you a hell of a lot of time and will help you achieve the exercise volume required for muscle growth (more on this later).
Secondly, as you’re working multiple muscle groups in one go, you’re going to be able to shift more weight. Not only is this hella motivating as you move some big numbers, but it also bodes well for muscle growth. With strength and size closely related, if you can get stronger, you’re likely going to get bigger.
It’s also easier to progressively overload a compound movement. If you haven’t come across this term before, or you’re not quite clued up on the importance of progressive overload – it’s time to jump over to the linked article and have a read – it’s essentially one of, if not the most important factor that influences building muscle.
Anyway, back to what we were saying. Yes, it’s easier to progressively overload a compound exercise compared to an isolation exercise. It could take years to add 30kg to your leg curl, but adding 30kg to your deadlift within a few months is more than achievable. Progressing in such a way will work wonders for lower body development.
When programming compound exercises into our routine it makes sense that we start the session with them and end with isolation exercises. That’s because they’re the most taxing and will require us to be in the freshest condition to perform them efficiently with sound form.
We can then finish off with the isolation exercises to hone in on the muscle fibres and fatigue the muscles that didn’t get their fair share during the compound lifts.
Let’s take a look at the best exercises to incorporate into your routines to maximise glute and hamstring development.
Since being invented in 2006 by ‘The Glute Guy’ Bret Contreras, hip thrusts have gained massive popularity and are now considered a powerhouse movement and an essential exercise for anyone looking to grow and strengthen their glutes.
This glute-focused giant allows you to load the maximas throughout the range of motion resulting in high muscle activation and mechanical tension.
The Romanian deadlift is an awesome exercise that targets the glutes and hamstrings to a similar degree. This hip hinge exercise lengthens the muscle under load as you control the eccentric portion of the exercise. Both muscles will be required to work in unison to extend the hip and power back up to the starting position.
A symphony of strength for glutes and hamstrings. Not only do Bulgarian split squats target the glutes and hamstrings but you’ll work the quads as you work to simultaneously extend the hip and knee joint. By working one leg at a time, the smaller glute stabilisation muscles (medius and minimus) will be required to maintain balance and a level hip position. Warning though, we’d recommend starting light as these are harder than they look!
The clue is in the name. The glute ham developer is great for well, developing the glutes and hams. If you’re lucky enough to have this machine in your gym, it’s definitely worth using. This powerful posterior chain exercise targets hip extension in the first part of the movement and knee flexion in the second – 2 of the very movements we’re looking to target.
Good mornings are similar to Romanian deadlifts, but instead of holding the barbell in your hands, you have it resting on your back. The movement although is the same, you hinge at the hips to lower the weight towards the floor – and then contract the glutes and hams hard to return to the starting position. Similarly, the controlled eccentric and concentric parts of the movement lead to great overall glute and hamstring development.
Cable pull-throughs are a popular exercise for building posterior dominance, and rightly so. This cable-based exercise hones in on the glutes and hamstrings by involving hip extension against resistance. The cable nature of this exercise allows you to provide constant tension throughout the entire range of motion which bodes well for muscle building.
Our first isolation exercise on our list is the leg curl. As we mentioned previously, your workout should include a combination of both compound and isolation exercises for maximum development. The leg curl focuses solely on the hamstrings with the exercise involving knee flexion only.
Bonus tip, Research has found that training the hamstrings in the lengthened position provides a powerful muscle-building stimulus (5). As a result, if you have the option between seated and lying leg curls – we suggest opting for the seated version as this places the hamstrings in the lengthened position.
Finally, we have our glute isolation exercise. While the glute previous glute exercises have focused on glute extension )which is the primary role of the glute maximas), It’s important not to neglect the glute medius and minimus. As we learnt earlier, the role of the medius and minimus is hip abduction, ie. moving the leg away from the midline of the body – and that’s exactly what this machine does.
Research has found that 10 sets per week, per muscle group is likely to be the minimum effective dose for building muscle (4). With regard to the upper limit, this is a little more nuanced. Having said that, the general consensus is that you probably shouldn’t exceed 20 sets per muscle per week – as any volume over this is likely to have no additional benefit on building muscle.
So, today we’re targeting the glutes and hamstrings, so we’re looking at 20-40 sets. This is far too much for one session so we have broken it down into 2 different sessions, Workout A & Workout B.
We suggest leaving at least 2-3 days between the workouts to give the muscles time to recover. During this time you can either train your upper body or utilise a rest day.
Now we know the best workout to grow the glutes and hamstrings, it’s worth diving down into the training and nutrition muscle-building principles we need to follow to maximise our muscle-building potential.
First things first. Arguably the most important element when it comes to building muscle is ensuring you’re eating a muscle-building diet. No, this isn’t some special diet that’s secret amongst the bodybuilding community, it’s a lot more straightforward than this.
To build muscle you need to be eating in a calorie surplus. If you’re not familiar with this term, it simply means that you need to be eating more calories than you burn every day.
You see, building muscle is an energy-rich process, so you need to fuel the body with enough energy (calories) for it to happen.
If you don’t eat enough calories, then you won’t build muscle – simple. You could have the best training program in the world and workout religiously for 5 days a week for years; but if you’re not fuelling the body with enough calories, then you’ll never build the muscle you deserve; and that’s the harsh truth.
Each macronutrient (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) has a role to play in the muscle-building process – but it’s the protein that has the biggest impact on our muscle-building capabilities. Similar to the calorie scenario we mentioned above, if we don’t consume adequate amounts of protein, then we’re not going to build muscle.
Muscles are made out of proteins. Our body is constantly recycling old proteins and building new proteins to replace them. If we don’t consume enough in our diet, then we won't be able to build the number of proteins required for muscle growth – and our progress will plateau.
We could go on for hours about the subject, but we’ve already covered the topic extensively in another article. Head over to “How much should I be eating to build muscle” to learn how much you should be eating, along with what you should be eating to maximise muscle growth.
Now we’ve covered the most important element of nutrition, let’s have a look at the most important training element that’s going to have the biggest impact on our results.
That is; Progressive Overload.
As the name suggests, it involves progressively overloading our muscles to force them into new growth. What this means is that we need to constantly push our muscles to new heights so that they will continue to grow.
Our bodies are adaptive in nature. When we first begin working out, we introduce a new stimulus (lifting weights) to our body. As a result, our muscles adapt and become bigger and stronger so that they can handle the new stimulus. If we continue to workout in the same way we did when we first started, our body will have no reason to continue to adapt and progress will plateau.
What we need to do is place the muscles under a new, more powerful stimulus so the body can continue to adapt. This new stimulus can be introduced in many different ways:
Any way that we make the workout harder is a form of progressive overload, and it’s this progression that going to keep our muscle-building progress on the right path.
And there we have it, our favourite muscle-building glute and hamstring exercises, 2 workouts for you to introduce into your glute-building training plan today to unlock new muscle growth, the most important nutrition and training elements that will affect your progress, and an overview of the role of each of the muscles and how best to train them.
We hope you’ve enjoyed today's article and we wish you all the best with your muscle-building journey! Any questions, drop them below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.