Glutes are pretty damn important.
The muscles are responsible for most of the power that extends the hip. If you are standing up, running, jumping or, most importantly, deadlifting, your glutes will be the difference between success and embarrassment.
There was a period where lifting culture became obsessed with glute work. Women have always prioritized donkey kicks and abduction machines to try and get an edge in rear-end development but, for a while, athletes, gym bros and even competitive lifters were taking the time to set up a station for barbell glute bridges on their lower body days.
You might be thinking, “yes, glutes are important, of course you should train them often with different exercises!”. But there is a reason that you don’t see the best deadlifters in the world posting videos of their barbell glute bridges. Here’s my two cents as to why that is the case.
While the glutes are very important in squatting and deadlifting, those two exercises hit the muscles very hard as it is. What that means is that if you are regularly doing work with these main movements and their variations, your glutes are already taking a beating. in addition to that, barbell glute bridges train the glutes outside of the specific pattern that they have to be used in during the main movement
The glutes get used during a hinge or a squat pattern. In a squat, the hips are being extended at the same time the knee is and that’s a very specific type of execution. In a deadlift, the glutes fire in the context of a hinge, meaning that the hip joint is moving but the spine, while loaded, is staying braced and rigid. Glute bridges mimic neither of these scenarios.
Now, you might think, “Big deal, most isolation and accessory exercises don’t look exactly like the main movement that they are trying to aid in”. But the glutes are special because a weakness in this area generally isn’t a byproduct of the muscle not being stimulated enough or needing more volume to grow. If the glutes aren’t pulling their weight in a squat or a deadlift, it’s usually a byproduct of coordination and patterning. There’s been a lot of controversy over the term ‘glute activation’, which refers to somebody’s ability to use the muscle effectively as part of a more complex movement. Well there might be debate over the degree to which a muscle can be inactive, there’s no doubt that people who have poor movement patterns will move less efficiently which will affect the degree to which muscles are strained and how trained they get as a result.
Now, that’s not to say that glute isolation exercises are worthless. I think that they serve a very valuable role in the right context. Those who are struggling to feel their glutes operate or who can’t conceptualize what a powerful deadlift lockout should feel like might be better off including exercises to build some receptivity in that muscle. By doing isolation work, you can build up a lot of fatigue in the muscle which will increase your sense and awareness of it. If someone tells you to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and you feel nothing, the bottom line is that the glutes are not doing what they should be. If they can’t fire maximally with no weight, they’re not going to do a whole lot when a bar is loaded with hundreds of pounds. So some supplemental work to increase your connection to the muscle may be warranted.
Now, the reason you don’t see the best lifters in the world doing this (with some exception) is that this is not a problem that skilled and experienced lifters tend to have. That suggests that by the time you have a basic understanding of how the movement should go, the stimulus you get from rote squatting and deadlifting practice should be more than enough. That goes doubly for Strongman competitors, who regularly train cleans, picks, loads and carries, all of which hits the glutes harder than just about anything else you can imagine (do some 200′ front carries or load a keg over a yoke bar for double-digit reps, if you aren’t sold).
What is much more common in which deserves a lot more attention are the deficiencies that commonly pop up in the hamstrings and the quads. This will, of course, depend on which type of lifter you are. Many lifters who love squatting and hate deadlifting develop very strong glutes and quads but lack anything that looks like hamstring development. Similarly, lifters who love pulling more than squatting or those who have longer legs and have to use their hips more in a squat may have trouble developing the quadriceps. In either case the glutes are being taxed and they’re being taxed hard.
My recommendation to improve your glute development without having to get in everyone’s way with a ridiculous barbell glute bridge setup is to focus on how you lock out the weight on a deadlift. Make sure that you are braced and that your spine does not move throughout the movement and focus on bringing your hips into the bar as fast as you absolutely can once the bar is over the knee. There should be no slow reps here, even when the wait is light and you are early in the set. You can exaggerate this effect by holding the lockout for a 1 or a 2 count on each rep. By incorporating this maneuver on every rep of every deadlift you ever do, not only will you guarantee that your lockout stays nasty strong and never becomes a weak point but you can be sure that your glutes are getting all the developmental attention that they ever need.