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Sep 18

The BEST Two Glute Activities

Posted to Health and Wellness by Annette Braun

Unless you’re a juice up horse with a needle in your butt, you don’t need to spend two hours in the gym to maximize efficiency. Once you trigger muscle protein synthesis, it’s time to leave the gym. The idea that a natural lifter needs 20 sets of 5 different exercises all targeting the same muscle group is misguided time wasting. In an effort to save the natural lifter time and energy, I’m going to pick two exercises for the lower body. I will try my best to avoid choosing the same exercise in two different muscle slots. Five categories will be considered: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip adductors, and hip flexors. Exercises will be evaluated by their electromyographical (EMG) amplitude. EMG is recorded by placing electrodes on muscle groups in an effort to record electrical impulses. EMG can be described as the study of electricity in muscles. More specifically, EMG amplitude is a measure of motor unit activity during muscle action. It’s described as an evaluation of muscle tension or how hard a muscle becomes during exercise. EMG comes with a set of limitations: cross talk, interference, placement error, muscle fatigue, technique, etc. Researchers typically make every effort to avoid these limitations.  The glutes are comprised of three muscles: gluteus maximus (GMAX), gluteus medius (GMED), and gluteus minimus (GMI). For the gluteal muscles, I chose the hip thrust and contralateral lunge. As a personal trainer, the most common question I receive is “how do I get a big butt”. The answer is simple enough: do the hip thrust. The Gmax is the most massive muscle in the human body and is paramount to good posture. The Gmed is a lesser known muscle that is even less researched. It was difficult to find research on the Gmed that wasn’t in a “rehabilitation” context. Nevertheless, the contralateral lunge was shown to be the best developer of the Gmed and has the capability to be properly loaded. Surface electrodes are unable to evaluate the GMI, along with other non-surface hip extensors, considering they’re not superficial.

The hip thrust exercise may be the least practiced exercise with the greatest upside. The barbell hip thrust will develop the whole lower chain and the glutes to an exceptional degree. To the uneducated, the squat is the best way to get a big butt – this assumption is far from the truth. In one study, the hip thrust outperformed the squat in gluteal and hamstring amplitude by nearly double, in both the upper and lower gluteus maximus. It also had nearly identical VL activation. I could make the argument that the barbell hip thrust has a place in the hamstring or quad slot, but I didn’t in favor of variety. The hip thrust shows its greatest gluteal amplitude at the end of the exercise, which is a unique, critical aspect. In comparison, during the “hard portion” of the deadlift and squat, the hip moves horizontally, which leads to lower glute activity – in the case of the hip thrust, it’s opposite. It’s important that one practices the hip thrust with a barbell because of the capability to progressively overload. The ability to incrementally increase weight lifted is critical to this exercise because the hip thrust is likely the exercise in which you move the most weight, a 25 lb dumbbell is not going to stress the glutes into any adaptation. Although the same rules apply to the other lifts, you must practice and hone the technique. One cause for concern, in particular, is hyperextension of the lower back. The emphasis and primary mover is the hip and the lower back should play no role in barbell movement. The lower back will activate during a hip thrust regardless of technique, but the key is limiting how much stress you put on it. For practical application, practicing the barbell hip extension exercise has great implication for runners or any person who moves in a horizontal fashion. In a 6 weeks study comparing the effects of training either hip thrust, squat, deadlift or not training, the barbell hip thrust outperformed all other training parameters in reducing 10 and 40 yard dash times, pro agility times, and increasing broad jump distance and vertical jump height [9]. The study had a small sample size and the authors were careful to state the data doesn’t affirm conclusions. Yet, combined with the data on EMG amplitude, I feel the hip thrust is the best developer of hip extension and could benefit every athlete. 

This data is the result of Contreras et. al research comparing EMG responses of the GMax, BF, and VL during the barbell back squat and hip thrust [8]. The hip thrust dominates the Squat in upper and lower GMax activation, by nearly double in both cases. 

The contralateral lunge was the second activity chosen for glute activity considering it’s the best way to develop the GMED. The GMAX gets all the attention because of its mass relative to the other gluteal muscles, but the GMED is extremely important during gait and single leg movements. The contralateral lunge involves holding one dumbbell in the opposite arm to the leg that will go forward: lunging with the left leg forward requires the dumbell to be held in the right arm. Holding the dumbbell on the inside of the hip forces the GMED to activate more so than holding the dumbbell on the outside of the hip. For some reason there is little research on the GMED EMG with external resistance. Even common strength exercises, like the hip thrust and squat, neglect evaluation of the GMED. Most research centers around “rehabilitation”, which means maximal effort isn’t apart of the research protocol. The body of research on the contralateral lunge is small, yet it’s convincing considering the activity asks the GMEDs do its primary function: resist hip adduction during gait. EMG activity of the GMED is higher than the GMAX during one and two legged jumping, which elucidates the importance of training the muscle group for athletic endeavors. Now, the knee flexors and extensors had nearly double the activation of both the gluteal muscles during jumping, but the glutes are still an important consideration. 

This data was collected by Stastny et. al and is an analysis of multiple studies which evaluated GMed EMG [17]. Among resistance exercises, the contralateral lunge is ranked the highest followed by the single leg squat.

As an aside, it was difficult to find research with uninjured participants: most studies revolved around rehabilitating gait or injury. The EMG of the GMED during the barbell hip thrust is unknown, and assumptions are inappropriate. Considering the research focused on rehab, the assumption that these muscles are more commonly injured because of neglect could be well founded. The research focused on recovering the muscle groups, instead of increasing their performance or preventing injury. I’m unsure whether lying side clams will allow the hips to stabilize the extreme impact of a jump or sprint appropriately. The lesser known, neglected, rehabilitation groups should be apart of a smart training program so those groups become injury resistant.


  2. Neuromuscular Activation of the Vastus Intermedius Muscle during Isometric Hip Flexion

  3. Relationships among Vertical Jumping Performance, EMG Activation, and Knee Extensor and Flexor Muscle Strength in Turkish Elite Male Volleyball Players

  4. In vivo load sharing among the quadriceps components

  5. Activation of quadriceps femoris including vastus intermedius during fatiguing dynamic knee extensions

  6. Kinematic and Electromyographic Activity Changes during Back Squat with Submaximal and Maximal Loading

  7. Electromyographic Comparison of Barbell Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift, and Hip Thrust Exercises: A Cross-Over Study

  8. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis EMG Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises

  9. Effects of 6-week squat, deadlift, or hip thrust training program on speed, power, agility, and strength in experienced lifters: A pilot study

  10. Kettlebell Swings: Go Heavier For Greater Glute And Hamstring Activation

  11. What Is the Best Exercise for the Hamstrings?


  13. Muscle Activation During Various Hamstring Exercises

  14. Kettlebell swing targets semitendinosus and supine leg curl targets biceps femoris: an EMG study with rehabilitation implications

  15. Towards evidence based strength training: a comparison of muscle forces during deadlifts, goodmornings and split squats


  17. Strengthening the Gluteus Medius Using Various Bodyweight and Resistance Exercises

  18. Does the Dumbbell-Carrying Position Change the Muscle Activity in Split Squats and Walking Lunges?

  19. Electromyographic Analysis of Hip and Knee Exercises: a Continuum from Early Rehabilitation to Enhancing Performance

  20. An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts

  21. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts

  22. Muscle activation during lower body resistance training

  23. Can you “just squat” for maximal leg development?

  24. Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats

  25. The Effects of a Weight Belt on Trunk and Leg Muscle Activity and Joint Kinematics During the Squat Exercise


  27. EMG Analysis of Trunk and Lower Limb Muscles in Three Different Squat Exercises in Athletes and Non-Athletes

  28. EMG evaluation of hip adduction exercises for soccer players: implications for exercise selection in prevention and treatment of groin injuries

  29. Activation of the hip adductor muscles varies during a simulated weight-bearing task


Sep 18

The healthy white powder?

Posted to Supplementation by Annette Braun

What is it?

Creatine is considered an ergogenic aid: it aids in increasing performance capacity, the efficiency to perform work, the ability to recover from exercise, and/or the quality of training thereby promoting greater training adaptations [2]. Creatine is a combination of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. It’s a substance found in protein sources like meat and fish. It’s not a “pre-workout” stimulant, so it won’t make you jittery and it has no known toxic effects in controlled doses [1]. It won’t increase water retention, damage your kidneys, or cause muscle cramps [1].  Its supplementation has been shown to increase total creatine and phosphocreatine levels in the body; on that principle, it should increase performance during short bouts of hard exercise [3].

How does it work?

When you exercise, fuel stored in the body is used converting ATP into energy which becomes useless ADP; phosphocreatine then reacts with the useless ADP to restore our muscle's fuel source, ATP [5]. Essentially, ATP acts as gasoline does to an automobile; the key difference is the human body has a system inside which replenishes the gasoline. We have a relatively small gas tank, which means a small amount of ATP is stored in muscles. When creatine is helpful is a reflection of the training duration, creatine is used to resupply ATP following short bouts of exercise less than approximately 30 seconds. Therefore, creatine supplementation isn’t exactly the most helpful thing for long distance runners or long distance cycling. Once our small ATP reserves have been depleted, if we don’t rest, they don’t replenish. When replenishment doesn’t occur, fat becomes the primary fuel source.

Why should I use it?

Creatine is a cornerstone component of resupplying energy during short bouts of exercise [5]. If you are looking to boost performance during workouts and aren’t supplementing creatine, it may benefit the progress of any weight training program and anaerobic exercise. It has been reported to increase maximal strength and work performed (5-15%), single effort sprint speed (1-5%), and repetitive sprint performance (5-15%) [2]. Creatine also adds a statistically significant amount of muscle retention, even after a period of detraining [3]. Although meat contains creatine it’d be difficult to eat enough to reap the full benefits. It’s also a relatively inexpensive supplement; for a 5g daily amount, a reasonable range is anywhere from 10 to 30 cents per serving. At 5g daily, a 600g container costs around 15 dollars and would last about 4 months.

Final Thoughts

Creatine is a natural substance derived from meats. It has been shown aid performance during short bouts of high intensity exercise including weight training and sprinting. It increases fat free body mass, phosphocreatine stores, and workout performance. It's very safe and cheap.


  1. R. Poortmans, Jacques & Francaux, Marc. (2000). Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 30. 155-70. 10.2165/00007256-200030030-00002.

  2. Kreider, Richard. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance training adaptations. Molecular and cellular biochemistry. 244. 89-94. 10.1023/A:1022465203458.

  3. Branch, John. (2003). Effect of Creatine Supplementation on Body Composition and Performance: A Meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 13. 198-226. 10.1123/ijsnem.13.2.198.

  4. G Burke, Darren & Chilibeck, Philip & Parise, Gianni & Candow, Darren & Mahoney, Douglas & Tarnopolsky, Mark. (2003). Effect of Creatine and Weight Training on Muscle Creatine and Performance in Vegetarians. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 35. 1946-55. 10.1249/01.MSS.0000093614.17517.79.

  5. Ruden, Timothy Mark, "Effects of oral creatine supplementation on performance and muscle metabolism during maximal exercise " (1995). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 312.