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Does Hiking Build Glutes?

Being know as both the outdoors guy and an athletic trainer I often get asked if hiking builds your glutes?


While it isn't exclusive, it won't be surprising that many of the people who ask this are women. The boys seem to be concerned with chest and biceps while ladies want that booty popping. But aesthetics aside everyone should work for a strong set of glutes as they are the engine of almost all athletic performance.


Hiking is one of the fastest growing activities as it ticks off a lot of boxes. Aside from being easy to get into, it is exercise out in nature, lets you see cool sites and for those who are into Instagram it lets you get some great shots.


As with most fitness related questions the answer of whether hiking builds glutes is a bit complicated. First we have to understand what are the glutes and how muscles grow.


What are the Glutes?



The muscles of your butt that we refer to as the glutes are actually three muscles. The gluteus maximus which is the biggest muscle in the body, the gluteus medius which a smaller muscle on the side of the hip and gluteus minimus which is a little muscle under the glute maximus.


The role of these muscles is to extend the hip, spread your legs apart, and externally rotate your thigh. The glute medius also acts to stabilize the knee from caving in. As such, these are the movement patterns you will need to do to train the glutes.


Hiking, especially going uphill has a strong component of hip extension and uneven terrain requires stabilization so it makes sense why people ask if hiking builds the glutes.


How muscle is built


Hypertrophy is the fancy science word for muscles growing. The gym bros will refer to is a getting jacked or buff. Either way, to grow muscle you have to create enough of a stimulus that you have a positive protein synthesis.


Muscles are constantly growing (Anabolism) and breaking down (Catabolism). To get bigger muscles we have to have the anabolism out weight the catabolism.


Training regularly with enough intensity, volume and frequency combined with adequate protein and calories will lead to bigger muscles. The body is pretty lazy so you have to force it to grow new muscle so don't believe any programs that say this is easy.


While not all the factors that go into muscle growth are understood, science has identified three main mechanisms of muscle growth.


Mechanical Tension


This is loading the muscle with progressively heavier weights or resistance. The tension created by moving these weights will elicit muscle growth if there is enough volume. Hiking won't have very high mechanical tension since you are going to be going for longer periods of time.


Muscle Damage


When the muscles are worked hard enough micro tears occur. When these tear heal it leads to increase muscle size.


Metabolic Stress


When you do exercise that leads to burning in the muscles and a pump you are causing metabolic stress. Studies have shown that light weights done for high reps at or near muscular failure (going until you can't do another rep) will lead to a similar level of growth compared to heavier weights done for moderate reps.




Does hiking build Glutes?


The answer is yes but only up to a point. Hiking will build glutes for untrained people especially hiking uphill. But you will quickly become too fit for it to be enough to lead to further muscle growth. To get the most glute building out of a hike you need to focus on engaging the glutes by consciously contracting them each step.


To continue to get muscle building stimulus from hiking you will need to find ways to increase the workload. Carrying a loaded pack, steeper hills and hiking faster are all ways to up the intensity level but don't expect it to be as effective as dedicated glute focused muscle building program.


Since hiking is a longer duration activity it will certainly help burn a lot of calories which will assist in lowering body fat levels. Most people don't hike with enough intensity to create a high level of muscle building stimulus but will help build conditioning both cardiovascular and the targeted muscles which will help with improving work capacity for targeted glute workouts.


Ways of making hiking a better glute workout


Add in walking lunges as part of your hike. If you are on level terrain without a lot of rocks then mix in some sets of walking lunges with the focus of pushing off the heel of the front foot and with a slight forward torso angle. This will lead to more glute engagement.


Take longer steps when going up hill. Longer steps will engage the glutes more than short ones. Focus on pushing off the heel for the most glute engagement.


Carry a weighted pack to increase resistance. With this watch how heavy you go as it also increase the risk of injury on rough terrain.


Top 5 Home Glute Exercises


There are a ton of great glute exercises you can do if you have access to a full gym but the pandemic has made the home gym more popular than ever so we are going to focus on exercises you can do with the equipment you can easily get for your home.


Equipment Recommended


Kettlebells


We get our kettlebells from Great Lake Girya. These are really well made with a smooth finish to be easy on the hands.


Hip Circle Type Bands


These resistance bands are a loop of stretchy fabric that you put around your thighs just above the knee. It adds resistance for the glutes. Side leg lifts, pushing your knees apart squatting, and any other exercise that you have to push your legs apart become much harder.


Large Loop Resistance Bands


These are the long looped resistance bands that come in different thicknesses. The thicker the band the more resistance you will have. We use the bands to add resistance to kettlebell swings, goblet squats, and Romanian deadlifts in this program. WIth bands, the further you pull the harder they get so it adds a lot of resistance on the top of an exercise.


Exercises


Kettlebell Swing


If your goals include being lean, athletic, and having a nice butt then kettlebell swings should be part of your program. Swings are a ballistic exercise so take the time to understand how to do them and in the beginning keep your sets to under 10 reps with adequate rest between sets so you can work on technique without being fatigued. While swings are a great exercise they can lead to injury if done wrong.


I like doing them either in EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) or Tabata style as you get a lot of muscular work and a heavy cardio load for conditioning. In the workouts below I show how to incorporate swings into a muscle building/fat burning workout.


Swings can be done with other implements but kettlebells are the most convenient. One of my favorite techniques is to add a resistance band to increase the resistance.





Goblet Squat


The goblet squat is squatting while holding a weight in front of your chest. This weight can be a kettlebell or dumbbell. The front or anterior loading adds a lot of core and upper back engagement that you don't get just having a barbell on your shoulders.


To maximize glute engagement take a slightly wider than shoulder width stance and angle the toes out. Push your knees out as you lower down. To further hit the glutes, push your feet apart against the floor to come up rather than just pushing down. Your feet shouldn't actually move but imagine trying to split the floor apart by pushing with your feet. This will really add to torching all the glute muscles.





Lunges


In essence lunges are taking a giant step and bending the legs until the rear knee touches the ground and coming back up again. They work almost all of the muscles of the legs including the glutes. There are many ways to do lunges but I recommend the rear stepping lunge for most people as it is kinder to the knees.





Banded Side Steps


With a wide resistance band around the thighs just above the knees, assume a partial squat position. From here take a big step to the side. If you have the room then go multiple step in one direction and then come back to the start with an equal number of steps.


If space is limited just move a couple of steps in one direction and then come back to the start, repeating this pattern until you have accumulated the required reps. Keep in the the partial squat the whole time.





One legged and Two Legged Glute Bridge


For the two legged version: Lay on your back, bend your legs and put your feet flat on the ground. Pushing through your heels lift your hips up until you are in a straight line from knee, hip and shoulder. Hold for a second and come down.


For one legged version: Assume the same starting position but before you raise up lift one foot off the floor. With the foot remaining on the floor push through the heel and lift your hips. Do an equal number of reps for each leg.





One Legged Romanian Deadlift


Unless you have a barbell and enough weights at home it can be hard to hit the glutes hard enough to elicit growth doing two legged exercises. With a light dumbell or kettlebell you can torch your hamstrings and glutes by doing Romanian deadlift on one leg.





Principals for building your glutes (or any other muscle)


If you want to build your glutes or any muscle you have to understand that there are training principals that need to applied to get the best progress.


Consistency


Building muscle takes time so the most important thing is to be consistent. It will take months of hitting a muscle group at least twice a week to see real progress.


Progressive Overload


Muscles don't like to change so will do the minimum necessary to adapt to a stimulus. Because of this you need to increase the load over time to force them to adapt. You body gets more efficient at things you do regularly so you need to regularly find ways to make an exercise harder.


A Few Ways to Make An Exercise Harder


Add Weight

Add Reps

Add Sets

Slow Exercise Tempo Down

Shorten Rest Periods

Add Pauses at the hardest part of the exercise

Train to muscular failure. This is doing as many reps as possible with good form.





Intensity


In exercise terms, this is how close to your one rep max you are using for resistance. If you use a weight you can only do 5 reps with you will get stronger but will need to do a number of sets to get enough stimulus for muscle growth. Medium intensity for medium reps pushed to the point near muscular failure is the classic formula for muscle growth.


Frequency


Muscles will stay in a state of increased protein synthesis for 24-48 hours after a workout. The more frequently you can trigger this the quicker growth you will experience. All things being equal you will get more progress hitting a muscle group 3 times per week than you will hitting it only once.


Volume


This is how much total work you do. Think of it as Sets X Reps X Weight. Studies and experience has shown that higher volumes correlate to more muscular growth. But as a beginner you don't have to do a lot to see progress. When starting out a few hard sets of an exercise will get you progress where as a more advanced athlete may need many sets to get enough work to see progress.


At Home Glute Workouts


Beginner Workout


Equipment needed: Hip Circle Type Band


Do this workout 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive days.


Do as a circuit with a short rest between exercises. Once you have done the circuit rest for 2 minutes.


3 rounds


10 One Legged Romanian Deadlifts ( No added weight)

10 Two legged glute bridges

10 Banded Side Steps Per direction

10 Rear stepping lunges per leg

10 Body weight squats


Progression: Add One Rep Per week Until you are at 20 reps per exercise.


Intermediate Workout


Equipment needed: Kettlebell (12 KG for women, 16 KG for men)


Do this workout 2 times per week. It will be demanding so you will need time to recover. Make sure there are at least 2-3 days between workouts.


Get an interval timer for you phone. You can find them free in the app stores for Android or IOS


This will be an EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) workout


With a timer set to beep at the start of each minute, you do the prescribed number of reps and what ever time is left is your recovery. When the next minute beeps you go again until you have done the total number of sets required. A 10 minute EMOM means you will do 10 sets in 10 minutes.


In addition to a good muscle builder, this will be taxing on your cardio but over time you will get fitter.


Each exercise will be done starting with 6 minute EMOM. Each week you will add one minute until you are at 12 minutes per exercise. This progression will make this a 7 week cycle. For week 8 go back to 6 minutes per exercise to give yourself a recovery week. Then for week 9 start a new program.


Workout


5 Rear Stepping Lunges per leg holding kettlebell in Goblet position

8 One Legged Glute Bridges per leg (Do the reps for one leg and then do the reps for the other each set)

20 Kettle bell Swings

10 Goblet Squats with kettlebell


Advanced Workout


Equipment needed: Kettlebell (20 KG for women, 32 KG for men), Hip Circle Glute Band, Resistance band 13-15 mm wide (band should be a loop of around 6 feet)


Do this workout 2 times per week. It will be demanding so you will need time to recover. Make sure there are at least 2-3 days between workouts.


Get an interval timer for you phone. You can find them free in the app stores for Android or IOS


This will be an EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) workout


With a timer set to beep at the start of each minute, you do the prescribed number of reps and what ever time is left is your recovery. When the next minute beeps you go again until you have done the total number of sets required. A 10 minute EMOM means you will do 10 sets in 10 minutes.


Workout


8 minute EMOM per exercise


20 Banded Kettlebell Swings

10 Banded Goblet Squats

5 Rear Stepping Lunges

10 Banded Side Steps per side


Progression: Add one rep per exercise per week for 4 weeks. Next 2 weeks add a minute to each exercise. After 6 weeks plan a deload or recovery week as this will be intense.





The Wrap Up


While hiking is a great exercise for building endurance and burning calories it isn't the most effective glute builder. Hiking just doesn't create enough stimulus to cause much muscle growth.


If your goal is having bigger glutes then combining hiking with dedicated a muscle building program will give you the best results. And remember that muscle takes time to build so stick with it for the long term to achieve your go






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