Despite many men being obsessed with tight sixpacks and bulging biceps, they generally wouldn’t mind (or at the very least would benefit from) having buttcheeks so powerful they could crack walnuts with them. As for women? Well, it’s not uncommon for women to have their behind as the very reason they want to start training. Most women would kill for an ass so glorious that it could inspire Sir Mix-A-Lot to write a sequel to his classic ‘Baby Got Back’.
The thought that squats build a perfect booty is pretty popular on the internet these days, and it sparked sort of a counter-movement (in part instigated by Bret ‘The Glute Guy’ Contreras) where the formerly mentioned train of thought is criticized – apparently squats are great, but don’t build a round, firm set of glutes like the superior ‘hip thrust’ and ‘glute bridge’ will do. Research is cited where the amount of activity in the ass muscles is listed for several exercises, ranging from squat and deadlift variations to hip thrusts and many more.
In this sense, it is true that certain hip extension exercises (extending the hip is the main function of the biggest ass muscles that helps shape it all) like the hip thrust are superior compared to squats, yet I still don’t always have people do hip thrusts. The main reason and the reasoning behind it are simple, but not just related to exercise choice.
A few things to keep in mind first:
- The way I train athletes varies from one person to the next, based on their goals and experience, but what I describe here is basically geared towards novices.
- ‘Toning’ your ass can consist of two things: building muscle and losing fat. Please stop using the word ‘toning’ to promulgate your strange 30-reps-without-weights protocol to build a ‘toned butt’.
An important principle is that a beginner only needs a very small stimulus to force the body into an adaptation, which basically means progress in the broad sense of the word. A total couch potato could -theoretically- build more mass in their ass muscles from riding their bike hard enough, even though the progress would be small and would stall pretty quickly. A beginner would benefit from doing squats and deadlifts in more ways than just having a better butt (overall strength and health, for example), and it takes time to master those exercises technically so I prefer letting beginners focus on exercises like that. Improving technique and building strength there will help build your ass muscles just fine. (Have you noticed I like saying ass muscles? Say it out loud. Ass muscles.)
At some point, depending on a few factors (like your goals) it would be appropriate to change things up. In the case of creating a better looking butt, you will need several things, but I will only go through three of them, since these are relevant to this post as well as easily misunderstood and under-appreciated:
- Progressive overload. You need to add weight (or otherwise increase the intensity through changing leverage in an exercise or something).
- Proper volume. Hypertrophy, or building muscle, ideally requires a moderate-to-high amount of sets or reps, otherwise you’re focusing more on building strength (with low volume training) or on muscular endurance (very high volume).
- Proper exercise selection. I would always let someone do a squat variation and a heavy hinge (deadlift) variation, yet there will be a point where just squatting and deadlifting won’t cut it anymore if your goal is to shape your butt reasonably fast. Ass muscles are pretty strong and just one of many muscle groups used in the squat and deadlift. This is where exercises like glute bridges can come in to target the ass muscles more specifically.
So I’m not part of the ‘SQUATS ARE ALL YOU NEED FOR A GLORIOUS ASS-Instagram-motivational-fitness’ crowd, but neither would I let every beginner who cares about the shape of their ass go crazy on hip thrusts. It’s not that it’s wrong, I just don’t think it’s necessary to do more as a beginner when doing less will get you your results just fine while leaving more time and energy to do other stuff.
My girlfriend: “Your ass is not exactly… Very small.”
Me: “Well, I’ve always had wide hips and a big ass. And then came years of squatting.”