Look around most gyms and inevitably you’ll see many women and some men working on their butts. A flat, flaccid but is not something many of us want hence the popularity of workouts like Bums, Legs and Tums classes (BLT for short) and exercise machines designed to target the butt area such as hip abductions and cable hip extensions. However, all of these admittedly popular methods of working the butt are very ineffective when compared to the mighty deadlift!
Of course, there are other great butt exercises, the weighted hip bridge is AWESOME for example, but because the deadlift works not only your butt but everything from your heels to the back of your head, it really is a winner.
Your butt is made up from several muscles – the main one being the gluteus maximus and, to a lesser degree, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. These muscles work together to extend your hip joint to the rear and also pull your leg out to the side of your body – a movement properly called abduction meaning to take away from the midline. The glutes, as they are often collectively known, also externally rotate your hip. You butt is the biggest and potentially strongest muscle in your body but how do many people attempt to strengthen and tone this muscle – doing high reps with light weights; a strategy that is very ineffective.
The reason for this is probably the mistaken opinion that it is possible to “spot reduce” fat from a particular area by doing high rep exercises for a specific muscle group. Not only is this untrue – you can only burn fat with globally demanding exercises and by eating a lower calorie diet – but is also an inefficient way to improve muscle condition.
The glutes respond best to a significant amount of overload that places them under tension from a stretched position to a fully contracted position and that means that, when it comes to building a better butt, deadlifts should be your go-to exercise.
About the deadlift
There are several variations of the deadlift (barbell, dumbbell, single leg, Romanian, sumo) for you to try but the common feature that links them all is that they include a movement called a hip hinge. Hip hinging involves leaning forward without rounding your lower back, very much how a waiter would bowl to welcome a guest in a restaurant . Rounding your lower back places an inordinate amount of stress on your lumbar spine – especially the intervertebral discs and ligaments. In contrast, keeping your lower back slightly arched ensures that a) no potentially dangerous stress is placed on these potentially fragile structures and b) your butt gets the best possible workout.
There are however certain weight lifters that do train in a rounded or arched back position. However, these guys are professional Olympic or powerlifters who are extremely advanced and this is back position is not appropriate for the general population. If you do find your back tends to round, you may have a habitual posture issue that needs to be addressed. This issue is commonly caused by caused by sitting in a chair too much, or what I call computer posture, and characterised by rounded shoulders and a rounded upper and rounded lower back, which, of course can all be corrected with time.
Unlike many other popular but less effective butt exercises, the deadlift involves keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground which means that it is what is commonly referred to as a closed chain exercise. Closed chain exercises are the most effective way to work your muscles because they mean that your body moves through space rather than moving a machine. This is much more natural and more natural means more effective.
Additionally, the deadlift is a compound exercise which means it uses multiple muscle groups at the same time. This not only makes the deadlift more “functional”, it also significantly increases your metabolism – both while you are doing them and for several hours afterward. The same cannot be said about side-lying leg lifts or whatever other ineffective butt exercises you have been performing up to now…!
How to deadlift
Deadlifts are relatively simple but that doesn’t mean easy. Take time to learn this excellent exercise properly and if you are still unsure how to perform them correctly, make sure you ask a qualified personal trainer to teach you.
- Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand with your toes under the bar, feet hip-width apart,
- Bend down and grasp the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand or mixed grip. Keep your arms straight.
- Lift your chest, pull your shoulders down and back and look straight ahead. Your hips should be below the level of your shoulders. Brace your abs tightly to support your spine and keep your lower back slightly arched.
- Without bending your arms, push your feet into the floor and pull the barbell up your shins to your knees. Keep your weight on your heels and not on your toes. Do not round your lower back.
- As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward and then stand up straight. Pause and admire the view!
- Lower the bar by pushing your hips back and then bending your knees. Place the bar back to the floor and repeat.
- Inhale before and as you lift the bar, exhale as you lower it.
- Lower the bar slowly and under control as the lowering phase causes the most muscle stimulus and so lowering the bar under control gives you the best results. Dropping the bar or lowering it very quickly makes deadlifting much less effective.
How many, how often?
Because deadlifts are so effective, you only really need to perform this exercise once or twice a week. It can be included in a full body workout or, if you follow a split routine, on leg or back day as preferred. In terms of sets and reps, lower reps work really well as that means you only have to concentrate for a relatively short time – five to eight being about right for most people. Lower reps can work too but they tend to develop pure strength. Higher reps are also okay for some but can be hard on your grip and technique breakdown is more likely to occur, BUT stick at it you will get better. Start off with sets of five to eight and then experiment with more or less reps to see how your body responds. Make sure you stop any set as soon as you notice your form begin to break down – a rounded lower back can soon lead to an otherwise avoidable injury.
Once you have mastered the basic barbell deadlift, you can try an even more glute-centric exercise – the Romanian deadlift. Unlike the regular deadlift which starts from the floor. The Romanian deadlift starts from an upright position and involves much less knee bend but a whole lot more hip hinge. This really works your glutes hard and effectively.
Deadlifts are not just a great butt exercise, they also work your lower back and hamstrings and will improve your running and jumping performance. With credentials like that, it’s a wonder you don’t see more people doing the deadlift!
such controversy lol legs or back workout, people need to focus on using their legs or otherwise it turns into a back workout, what are your thoughts, some coaches use for back day some use for leg, day, the position or height of hips will indicate the muscle most worked? What are your thoughts?
Quads are definitely important in the deadlift for breaking the bar off the ground but once it’s moving, the hips should take over. The knee angle shouldn’t be as pronounced as for squats – some people make the mistake of trying to turn the deadlift into a squat with the bar in front of them which really makes no sense as that’ll take load off the posterior chain and also limits the amount of weight you can lift. Conversely, some people hardly bend their knees at all which means they eliminate the quads entirely and focus only on posterior chain – again limiting the weight they can lift.
I have done deadlifts as in leg workouts and back workouts – it uses so many muscles it’s hard to say where it ought to go. When I was training for powerlifting meets, it went a few days after squats and I thought of it as a leg exercise but when I bodybuild, I think of it more as a back exercise. Morphology plays a part too – tall, long armed people (like me) useless quads and more posterior chain but a shorter guy would be more quads.
Hi, my name is Dinny Morris. I’m a personal trainer and in sunny Sydney, Australia.
I work with men and women at all levels of their physical development, from overweight couch potatoes who want to get in shape, to professional athletes and natural bodybuilders who want to beef up strength and body mass.