I frequently mention that I prefer using both lengthening and shortening movements when performing my glute/hamstring workouts. My glute workout usually consists of a circuit routine where I will do 2-3 different exercises back to back with minimal rest in between. This allows me to do more exercises in an hour. I also get more out of my workout by hitting different muscles groups as I’m not over fatiguing one body part.
I perform the following three exercises in a circuit of 3-4 sets with about a minute rest in between if needed. You can do 2 exercises or 4 exercises in a routine, but remember to try to pair lengthening and shortening movements.
1. Lying Hamstring Curl (Shortening)
The first exercise is a lying hamstring curl which is a shortening exercise because you are contracting the muscle toward you during your sets. There are many different ways you can do a leg curl. My personal favorite way to curl—and most effective for developing my hamstrings—is to have a nice even pace while contracting the muscles, slightly hold at the top of the exercise, then slowly lower the weight. I find that if I add on too much weight, I don’t contract my hamstrings as much and other leg muscles take over to compensate for the added weight. You don’t always have to go heavy to develop your muscle groups. Remember, quality is always more important than quantity. I also like to engage my core during most of my exercises as it keeps my body in line and helps me not cheat and swing the weight.
2. Standing Cable Hip Thrust (Lengthening)
The second exercise is a standing cable hip thrust which is a lengthening exercise. This is very much one of my go to exercises and can be done with the cable attachment at different heights to engage your muscles differently. Having my feet slightly toed out helps me keep my balance and positioning. This also puts the weight on my outer heels as I contract my glutes when I come back up to a standing position. Instead of stopping at the top of the exercise as some people do, I squeeze my glutes throughout the full movement and rotate my hips underneath me. Remember, you don’t want to arch your back as you do this because it will turn off your glute activation and possibly strain your lower back. It’s important to keep your core contracted and your back flat. You shouldn’t be engaging your back during this exercise, but if you are you may need to lower the weight.
3. Glute Cable Kickback (Shortening)
The third exercise is the glute cable kickback. For this exercise it’s very easy to engage your lower back as you are kicking back. By kicking back higher up you are engaging your upper glutes more, but you are also engaging your lower back muscles which could lead to a strain or injury. I used to go heavy on this exercise until I noticed my back would be slightly sore afterward for having overcompensated for the added weight. I have since then lowered the weight 20-30 lb. I also focus on the upper part of the kickback by holding the muscle contraction before I bring my leg back to the starting position. A consistent and even speed is a must for this exercise. I prefer to hold onto the structure with both arms as it locks my body into place, and I remember to not arch my back as I come up. As always, a tight core makes it more difficult to arch your back.
Standing Hip Thrust (Lengthening)
One of my all-time favorite exercise is the standing hip thrust using a 1.5″ band. This exercise is great for when you’re on the road or at a home gym. The band is inexpensive, it’s very easy to set up, and it gives you a great glute pump. I perform this exercise in a couple of different variations. The first variation is by having a consistent slow speed and the other is at a fast tempo. With both slow and faster pace, I hold at the top of the movement and contract my glutes by rotating my hips underneath me. This ensures you have constant muscle tension from beginning to end. If you feel like you are going to fall forward the first few times you do this exercise, you may need to take another step forward. You should also have your feet wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointed out or the band may pull you back. Keep your back nice and flat as you lean forward and rock your weight to the back of your heels. As you come up, try to keep your back rounded and don’t arch your back. This will prevent you from engaging your lower back and it will keep your glutes activated.
Sliding Lunges (Lengthening)
Another great on the go travel glute movement is the standing slide lunge. I use the SKLZ Slidez disc for these lunges. I recommend holding onto something until you get the hang of it. Once you are comfortable with that, try using your own body weight without holding onto anything. Then when you get confident with that movement, add weights. What’s important is to get a nice long stretch at the bottom of the exercise and then drive through your heel on your stationary leg as you come up. You don’t need a lot of weight if you are doing it correctly. Most people find they use quite a bit of quad because they may be leaning too far over or not going back far enough. Keep your shoulders back and core engaged from the top to the bottom of the exercise. I recommend performing this exercise at a slow pace, focusing on lengthening your hamstring, and then squeezing your stationary leg glute at the top of the exercise.
Glute Hamstring Raise (Shortening)
The final exercise is the glute hamstring raise which is a shortening movement. I prefer to keep my back rounded during the whole movement and to let my arms hang down so I don’t engage my lower back. A rounded back turns off lower back muscles and will prevent lower back contractions. Some people arch their back as they come up, but this makes you lose the contraction in your glutes and hamstrings, not to mention aggravate a weak back. Although I’ve seen the glute hamstring raise performed at a high speed, I prefer to keep a slow consistent speed, hold at the top of the movement, then lower myself back down. The faster you go, the more likely you will be letting your body weight pull you down instead of working your muscles. This is a waste of 50% of the exercise. If you can’t keep your muscles contracted from start to finish, you may be holding too much weight in your hand. Either drop some weight or, if you aren’t holding weights, hold onto the sides of the machine until you are strong enough to do it on your own.