Ask any individual what they think counts as a nice pair of glutes, and you’re likely to get a variety of responses.

Some like big glutes, some like small glutes. Some like firm glutes, and others like glutes that are a little more soft.

Me? I like glutes that are STRONG. Glutes that fire properly when we run and jump and squat. Glutes that are well-developed, not just in the gluteus maximus (ie. the big prominent part we see), but also in the gluteus medius & minimus.

 

Call me boring, but I like glutes that are functional.

The gluteus maximus is the largest and one of the strongest muscles in the body – and yet many individuals sustain injuries as a result of weak glutes. What gives?

It’s no secret that the vast majority of the Western population spends a ridiculous amount of time sitting on their derrieres. Sitting and eating breakfast, sitting in the car on the way to work, sitting at work, and then sitting on the couch in the evening.

They may throw a run or a workout somewhere in the mix, but they’re still spending a large portion of their time sittin’ on their behinds.

The result? Lazy asses. Our poor glutes have to deal with the constant contraction party that’s going on in the hip flexors, so they just shut off. They don’t fire up properly, which means their job of stabilizing the hip isn’t getting done.

We’re also a very quad-dominant species. Between running, walking, cycling, and not knowing how to use our glutes properly, we end up putting more emphasis on the quadriceps during squats and lunges (and more stress on the knees) while we neglect our poor posterior chain.

Combine our love for quads with our weak and lazy glutes and we’ve got a recipe for injury. Not only do weak glutes put runners at risk of sustaining injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, and even shin splints, they can also cause lower back pain and the dreaded piriformis syndrome in runners and non-runners alike (Tonley, et al, 2010).

Fortunately, there is a solution 🙂

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DEADLIFTS.

Deadlifts in their various forms are ah-MAZING for strengthening the glutes, along with the hamstrings. And when prepared for properly, they also help to wake up and strengthen our gluteus medius & minimus!

better glutes

While weak and lazy gluteals lead to injury, strong & powerful glutes lead to improved athletic performance. You’ll run faster and get up those darn hills more easily.You’ll have a strong and complete pedal stroke on the bike.  You’ll recruit the proper muscles while squatting and lunging, which means you’ll get more bang for your exercise buck AND you’ll take some of the pressure off your knees.

There are a variety of deadlifts to choose from, each providing their own benefit. I will say right off the bat that deadlifts have the potential to be a higher-risk exercise, so please please PLEASE ensure you are practicing proper form when performing a deadlift.

A specific how-to for each variation is beyond the scope of this particular post, but I would be happy to answer any questions pertaining to deadlifts & your fabulously unique body. Feel free to reach out to me here.  Otherwise, consult your favourite fitness professional before giving them a shot. A YouTube how-to is probably not the best option 😉

The Barbell Deadlift 

Performed in the conventional stance or sumo stance, this type of deadlift involves picking a heavy barbell up off the ground and placing it back down.

Conventional and sumo deadlifts allow you to move A LOT of weight, which A) helps build massive strength all through your posterior chain (especially the glutes) and B) makes you feel like a total badass.

Barbell deadlifts can also be performed in the Romanian or stiff-legged variety. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between each. The main difference between the Romanian/stiff-legged and conventional/sumo deadlifts is that whereas the latter deadlifts begin and end on the ground, the former never touch the ground. #NowYouKnow

The Kettlebell Deadlift 

The kettlebell deadlift is a fantastic way to practice the hinge patterning of a deadlift with an external load, with a little bit less going on than there is in with barbell deadlifts. This makes it a better learning tool.

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Plus, kettlebells are far more portable than big heavy barbells. Invest in a heavy kettlebell for your home gym and you can deadlift to your heart’s content!

The Single Leg Deadlift

Single leg deadlifts are excellent for building single leg strength and stability (duh). This is important, because we want to ensure that the right glute is just as strong as the left, and vice versa. Plus, for you runners out there, when you run you are constantly on one leg! It’s incredibly beneficial to train your body with single leg work.

You can practice single leg deadlifts with a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, you could perform an offset deadlift and hold a weight in one hand and stand on the opposite leg, OR you can practice the movement without any weight. Unweighted single leg deadlifts (which I often refer to as single leg hip hinges), should be practiced before adding any extra weight to get the form down pat.

While deadlifts are fantastic for developing strength and improving power in the gluteus maximus, we want to ensure the glute medius & minimus are getting the love as well. Fortunately, glute activation exercises that wake these little glutes up, like single leg glute bridges, clam shells, and hip abductions, are a great way to warm up for deadlifts.

There are a number of ways you can work deadlifts into your strength training program, but this is one of my favourites:

better glutes

So there you have it! A variety of deadlifts to choose from that will give you a strong and powerful (and visually appealing 😉 ) gluteus maximus, and warm-up exercises that will wake up your gluteus medius and minimus and prepare you to rock your deads.

As I mentioned above, deadlifts are a complex movement with the potential for injury if performed incorrectly. If you’re unsure of how to perform a deadlift or whether your form is correct or not, hit me up! We’ll get on Skype for a little chat. And please remember, that while I am a personal trainer, I’m not YOUR personal trainer (unless I actually am!). Always consult a health care practitioner before beginning a new exercise program.

Want strong glutes? Its time to #deadlift! http://wp.me/p5AzsA-1Gw via @arianafotinakis #runchat #sweatpink Click To Tweet

Do you incorporate deadlifts into your routine? If so, what’s your fav style? If not, what’s holding you back?

Sources

Tonley, J.C., Yun, S.M., Kochevar, R.J., Dye, J.A., Farrokhi, S., & Powers, C.M. (2010). Treatment of an Individual With Piriformis Syndrome Focusing on Hip Muscle Strengthening and Movement Reeducation: A Case Study. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 40(2): 103-111. 

Showing 15 comments
  • Susie @ SuzLyfe
    Reply

    I’ve had to be careful of deadlifts in the past (because of previous injuries) and now there are absolutely off limits (because of the injury that I’ve been talking about on the blog). I agree that they are very beneficial, and I often give them to my clients to do, but I insist that they NOT do them unless they do them 100% correctly. Otherwise, you can really hurt yourself!
    Even my husband, who knows how to do them properly, threw a disc doing deadlift in med school.

  • Reply

    This is awesome! My coach is all about getting my glutes fired up. We do a lot of deadlifts. Also squats and lunges. The cool part is feeling my glutes engage when I run, especially when I’m pushing up a hill! Great post!

  • Reply

    So much great information here! I have issues with my hips being weak, but I didn’t think about the connection to the glutes, which is so important! I need to do more single legged deadlifts…they are so tough for me!

  • Reply

    Dead lifts are one of my top fave exercises. I always feel them the next day and strengthening my glutes has always been something my trainer and I work on. Pinning thanks!

  • GiGi Eats
    Reply

    Squats – This is SQUATS December for me! Every day, I must do squats. Even though I am suffering from food poisoning right now – I MUST DO MY SQUATS! lol

  • Kerri Olkjer
    Reply

    I am all about strong and functional these days. You don’t really appreciate them until they’re gone! Working on getting them back, definitely including deadlifts.

  • Marcia
    Reply

    Great info. Ariana! I’m just shifting focus to strength training after a fall marathon training cycle and it feels great. I need to find a way to do more glute exercises during my run training cycles.

  • jill conyers
    Reply

    I like deadlifts especially single leg but I love squats. Any and all kinds of squats.

  • Reply

    I love me some deadlifts. I use them to strengthen my hamstrings.

  • Patrick Mullin
    Reply

    I am going to share this with my girlfriend. To answer your question, I do include deadlifts into my routines and my clients as well. I think it is pivotal for posterior chain development. Also, as a suggestion. Try barbell hip thrusts to develop the glutes. My squats and deadlifts skyrocketed when I included these in my routine!! Love your page by the way! I hope to get mine looking like your soon: http://www.thepatrickmullin.com

  • Jessica
    Reply

    This is AWESOME!! I love dead lifts and am always pushing my clients to do more.

  • Markita@Sweshfit
    Reply

    Ha! I just did a post about glutes too…so great minds think alike. I didn’t include deadlifts, but totally agree that this is a great exercise for them. I unfortunately don’t have access to a barbell or heavy weights right now, so I can’t do them like I want, but I do them with 50 lbs dumbbells and it gives me a decent burn.

  • Becki S
    Reply

    I love traditional deadlifts and recently I’ve been doing sumo deadlifts more frequently and reverse single leg deadlifts. All for the glutes!

  • Brittney
    Reply

    Hi Ariana,
    I just wanted to give you a heads up that your anatomical picture of the glute muscles is incorrect, here is a good breakdown of the maximus, medius, and minimus: http://i0.wp.com/www.hybridperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Glute-muscles.jpg
    Otherwise the blog is great!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much for the heads up! I went back and looked at it and for the life of me couldn’t see the difference haha. Apparently my dyslexia works from top to bottom as well! 😉

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