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Why Isolating Glute Exercises Don’t Lead To Better Glutes

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Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator DVRT Restoration Certification, DVRT Rx Shoulder, Knees, Pelvic Control, & Gait Courses)

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A lot of people make the all too common mistake of believing that isolating a muscle is the best way to  improve the appearance and function of such muscles. This really hasn’t held up in the research and actually there are more variables we need to understand to make the best decision.

We have to first appreciate the fact there are three gluteal muscles on each side which are designed both to produce and resist force during movement. In fact, if we can find the right balance of producing and resisting movement we actually have exercises that have a long history of producing greater results in the glutes.

glute exercises

Research shows consistently that when compared to even more stable lifts and more weight, the more single leg we go the more glutes we end up using. A 2020 meta-analysis found that exercises like the step-up worked the glutes more than popular glute exercises like the hip thrust.

Even in more isolated exercises like the hip thrust, research shows, “It was concluded that unilateral loaded the hip joint to a greater extent than the bilateral across all three planes. The current study offers novel insight to the biomechanical demand of the unilateral hip thrust and has implications for exercise selection within the physical preparation of athletes.”

When we consider how important the foot is for “communication” the glutes and how the core is essential for maximal use of the glutes (through the use of the Posterior Oblique Sling) the idea of isolating your glutes for maximizing gluteal development doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Some examples of how glute exercises that employ the connection of the chain from the foot up to the glutes and how we can progress to more challenging movements that integrate that Posterior Oblique Sling.

Instead, we can use functional training concepts like we teach in DVRT where we can progressively build to more single leg training while stressing what the foot and core do as well. Pulling the Ultimate Sandbag apart as we go into a single leg bridge actually does load the glutes more via greater leverage while also tying in the lats and core to higher levels.

Our MAX rear step deadlift not only puts us in a single leg stance, but makes the glutes “react” to our movement and use the glutes at a higher level. Using our mobility balls always me to tie in the posterior muscles of the entire body.

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