Why Your Glutes Aren't Growing

why your glutes aren’t growing


These days, it seems like all women (and some men) are on a mission to grow their glutes. I mean, who doesn't want a better booty?

Sure, it's nice to have a booty that looks bigger, firmer, and rounder, but a stronger set of glutes are even more important for overall health. As the largest muscle in the human body, the glutes help stabilize and align our pelvis for proper movement, they help prevent injury from muscular imbalances in the lower half of the body, they can support and aid the lower back, and they are freaking powerful. The glutes can handle the load of heavy weights in compound exercises, such as the squat and deadlift.

So not only do bigger glutes look good, they will also make you  stronger in the gym! And who doesn’t want that?

When I first started working out, I made SO many mistakes regarding the glutes. Not only did I lack knowledge about their importance, but I didn’t at all train them properly.

This left me wondering why the 30-day squat challenge, bodyweight lunges, and the hundreds of donkey kicks I was doing were not working.

Even when I discovered lifting weights, I still wasn’t training the glutes properly. I was then left wondering why my glutes were not growing despite doing heavy squats, lunges, and leg presses.

After not seeing the results that I wanted and becoming a little self conscious about my “pancake butt”,  I decided to really educate myself and to “experiment” in the gym. I read tonsssss of articles about the glutes that were research and science based, rather than trying some challenge on the internet. I remember then going to the gym when it was empty and trying out different glute exercises, focusing on what I could feel most and how I could best activate them. I began implementing new training cues and exercises, and overtime, I progressively overloaded the muscle… and viola! My glutes FINALLY grew and I finally started seeing actual results. Even better, I started to get stronger in the gym as all of my lifts went up!

So how can YOU build stronger, bigger glutes?

If you are left wondering why you aren’t seeing results with a squat challenge or a “build a bigger butt in 10 days” workout plan, read on.

 Here are five reasons why your glutes are NOT growing…

1. You are not activating the glutes properly.

I hear people all the time saying how they only feel their legs working in exercises such as squats or lunges. Majority of these people end up developing muscular imbalances where their leg muscles (and often times the hip flexors as well), begin overpowering their glutes. As the quadriceps become stronger overtime by taking the majority load of the weight, they develop more compared to the glutes, leaving one to have big quads and not so big glutes.

There are a few issues and possible causes that link to poor glute activation. First, many of us sit down for the majority of the day. Whether you work a desk job or not, you most likely are not using your glutes all throughout the day. This creates a “use it, or lose it” situation, where the glutes become “underactive” and are difficult to activate when performing exercises in the gym.

Sitting all day can also lead to another potential cause of underactive glutes…tight hip flexors. If you are sitting down all day, your hip flexors are in a folded position. With the body being extremely adaptive, the hip flexors (often in particular, the iliopsoas) will become tight and remain in a shortened position. This tightness can then cause postural issues, such as anterior pelvic tilt, where the superior iliac crests of the pelvis moves forward and downward. This can become a problem, as the glutes are unable to reach full extension, as the hip flexors are shortened and the range of motion is limited.

Now, even if you do not suffer from tight hip flexors or postural disalignment, the glutes can be tricky to activate. The best way to get your glutes to fire during exercises is to activate them prior to starting your main workout, or even activating them between working sets (I personally do both).

The point of these exercises are to get your glutes to “wake up”, not to be used as an actual workout (you will want to perform resistance training!). You want to be feeling a bit of a burning sensation in the muscle and you should be working to establish a mind-muscle connection.

  • Banded Glute Walks

  •  Donkey Kicks

  • Fire Hydrant Exercise

  • Bodyweight Glute Bridge

2. You are not performing exercises that are suited for your biomechanics.

Everyone’s body is unique. Each of us have different limb lengths, muscles that are naturally more dominant than others, and variance in muscle insertions. These individual differences can lead some of us to feel certain muscles working more so in specific exercises and can also cause differences in our form.

For example, one person may feel stronger in a more upright position for the back squat, while another person may be more hip dominant, causing them to have more of a forward lean. This isn’t to say one’s form is necessarily better than the other, but instead there is differences between individuals’ biomechanics that influence the positioning that they are most comfortable and strongest in.

Some people may feel walking lunges primarily in their glutes, while another person may feel the exercise all in their quads. While it may be an issue of lack of glute activation, tight hip flexors, etc., it could also be that positioning of the lunge exercise is different for each person’s biomechanics. For me personally, I have found that despite activating my glutes prior, I still feel walking lunges predominately in my quads. However, I feel split squats all in my glutes.

My best advice would be to figure out what works for you and your own body. Try out different glute exercises and see which exercises you feel your glutes working the most in. Try different form variations including varied bar positioning, foot placement, or leaning forward more so, and see what is most comfortable for you.

Some glute exercises that have MANY different variations include…

  • Squats

  • Deadlifts

  • Split squats

  • Hip Thrusts

  • Glute Bridges

  • Lunges

  • Step-ups

  • Cable Pullthroughs

  • Glute Kickbacks

  • Kneeling Squat

  • Leg Press

  • Glute pushdown (assisted pull-up machine)

  • Abductor

  • And much more!

3. You are not utilizing progressive overload or varied intensities.

In order for the glutes to get bigger and stronger, they must be challenged overtime. If you constantly use the same weight of resistance or no resistance at all, the glutes have no new stimulus to adapt to, and therefore they will remain the same.

Just like any other muscle, the glutes must be trained with progressive overload. This can be best accomplished by increasing training volume overtime, where volume = sets x reps x weight used.

So each week, you should perform an exercise with increased weight, an added rep, adding another set, or even adding another exercise to your workout. You can also increase training volume by training the glutes more frequently. If you are training glutes only once a week, you can try increasing to two glute/lower body sessions per week.

However, you can not keep increasing training volume infinitely. There comes a point where the body can only adapt and recover from so much training volume (known as “maximum recoverable volume”). In order to continually keep the glutes growing and getting stronger, the intensity of training must vary.

Your training program should have periods of time where the volume is higher with lower intensity (more reps, lower weight) and periods of time where the volume is lower, but the intensity is higher (fewer reps, higher weight). There also must be periods of time where volume and intensity is lower overall, to allow for recovery and “supercompensation”.

Ultimately, you want to apply a higher degree of training stress (increased volume) overtime, so that the glutes must adapt and grow bigger and stronger.

This is another reason why the 30-day squat challenge and body weight glute kickbacks are bull****.

4. You are not eating enough food.

Eat MORE food? What?! Yes.

In order to build lean muscle tissue, you need to eat to support growth and recovery from training. Anabolism is the building up of biomolecules, while catabolism is the breaking down of biomolecules. While both occur simultaneously, one must exceed the other to produce a net change.

In order to build muscle (add tissue), anabolism must exceed catabolism. Therefore, you must eat in a caloric surplus to grow and repair muscle tissue, allowing your muscles to become bigger and stronger.

Something important to remember is that the body can only synthesize so much muscle. In other words, you cannot just eat more food and expect to grow muscle. You must also be applying training stress to the muscle to stimulate growth! (Hence the previous three reasons why you aren’t seeing glute growth.)

But how much more food is actually required for muscle growth?

This can be a tricky question to answer, as it is nearly impossible to know the exact, perfect number of calories to eat to gain pure muscle mass without gaining any body fat. Here are a few reasons why…

  • Your daily expenditure may differ day to day, meaning that how many calories you burn may differ depending on if you are more active, or moving around more.

  • People have different metabolic set points and the rate of one’s metabolism may differ.

  • Note everyone wants to track their food down to the gram, or every calorie that they consume. That’s not realistic for everyone.

In general, I would suggest eating roughly 100-300 additional calories per day (if you are currently maintaining your weight). This amount can vary greatly depending on the individual, so you could also chose to monitor the amount of weight that you gain week to week. Generally speaking, females should aim to gain around 0.25lbs-0.5lbs per week to gain muscle, while men can aim to gain around 0.5lbs-1lb per week.

The reality is, muscle growth can be a slow process, but be patient! Remember, you want to gain lean muscle mass, not a ton of body fat. While body fat may come with muscle tissue gain, it can be kept to a minimum if you monitor your caloric intake respectively.

5. You are not on a program that focuses on specificity.

Do you have a friend that has the perfect “bubble butt”, yet barely hits the gym? Yep, that may be due to genetics.

An unfortunate reality is that genetics do play a huge role in responses and adaptations to training. Some people may respond extremely fast and easily to a training stimulus, while others may be slow responders that do not see as much change. In other words, one person may see a whole lot of glute growth within just a few months, while another may have to train for years to see the same effect.

If you genetically seem to have a “pancake butt”, or if you are just not genetically gifted with the ability to slab on muscle easily, there is still hope for you!

The solution is specificity.

If you are following one of those squat challenges, or a program that is not tailored specifically to you, this may be a reason why you are not seeing the results that you want.

Given the role genetics play in seeing results, training programs that are specifically designed for your own unique body and tailored to your rate of progression are what will yield the best results. To achieve your goals and develop the glutes that you want, you need to be on a program that takes into account how your body responds to a certain training stimulus. For instance, you may need to train your glutes at a higher frequency (more times per week) than someone else. Or, you may respond better to exercises performed at a higher intensity with fewer reps, or vice versa.

Do not expect to get the best results from programs that are not designed uniquely for you. Your training needs to be customized to YOUR body.

I created a free training program that is designed for your body type, that integrates Ayurvedic wisdom with modern science. The Flux Fitness Plan will transform your body, expand your mind, and elevate your soul.


Flux Fitness Plan

Sign up now for the Flux Fitness Plan, a free 4-week fitness program that takes a holistic approach to fitness, infusing spirituality into exercise and nutrition.

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  • 4-week workout plan for each dosha: Vata, Pitta, Kapha

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  • Daily food journal for tracking meals and practicing conscious eating

ExerciseChelsea Spinos