By Jordan Cieciwa (@FitCityJordan)
Women the world over have discovered the key to sculpting a noteworthy backside — the squat. Don’t believe me? Check out #SheSquats for a barrage of fitness-girl photos and the truly impressive results of their hard work.
If a nice butt is the result you’re after, a program designed with deep, heavy, perfect-form squats is what you need — so why aren’t we guys getting in on the action? Looking good in “dem jeans” isn’t just for the ladies. Our backsides should speak volumes about our devotion to the best power-producing exercise known to the fitness world — and our ability to balance our vectors.
“What’s Your Vector, Victor?”
You may be wondering what an epic Airplane movie quote has to do with an article on glutes training, but there’s a connection, I swear. In fitness, there are six primary load vector types (a.k.a. how the majority of our body weight — and external weights, if relevant — are moving) that we regularly engage in when we exercise: axial (up and down, or top to bottom), anteroposterior (front to back), posteroanterior (back to front), lateromedial (outside to inside), torsional (twisting or rotating), and, finally, the axial and anteroposterior blend (a mix of both). In regards to strength training specifically, the exercises that coaches tend to prescribe typically fall into two of these vector load categories: axial and anteroposterior. And while these common favourites (think those glutes-enhancing squats, as well as chin-ups and rows) undoubtedly have a lot to offer, if they are only checking one third of your load vector boxes they are neglecting the majority, which means your regimen is unbalanced and your goals will be that much harder to achieve.
In order to be truly successful, you have to understand that the principle behind vectors relates to both magnitude and direction, meaning that force, velocity, and acceleration are all vector-related quantities, and each one plays an important role in your training routine.
What Does It Mean?
Let me simplify it for you. When an athlete’s power output is high and the direction is controlled, there will be more force. Think about it this way: the force vector for a strong athlete jumping straight up would be long and far, while an untrained athlete would produce less force and therefore a shorter vector. If you’re squatting, you want your vector load to go straight up, pulling from the bottom of the squat in an axial load-type motion. If your glutes are insufficient, however, you will lose that force and stability because your weak behind will allow your legs to wiggle rather than hold strong, which means a decrease in force production. Identifying and mending this weakness may require the implementation of other types of vector-related exercises.
The vector is more of a “big picture” or sum of all parts. When a stabilizing muscle is weak, or the overall ability to generate power isn’t there, the vector is shorter — and a shorter vector means less power. When all vector types are acknowledged and accounted for, however, your body can work more efficiently as a whole. In the case of the more fragile fanny, that lost force production can limit the weight you train with, which, more importantly, can result in smaller quads or, worse yet, slower sprint times and lower jumps. In short, focusing on specific axial load vectors may create a shapely backside, but if you ensure that exercises catering to all six load vectors are properly employed, you are likely to prevent muscle imbalances and reduce your risk of injury.
Alternatively, if glutes-style training checks a vector load box you typically ignore, then these exercises may help you overcome problematic physical plateaus. If you feel like you just can’t conquer certain squat weights, sprint times, or change of direction hurdles, then isolating and annihilating your glutes may be the answer. Glutes not only look better when we squat, but they allow the body to produce more force in the direction we want, which leads to heavier squats, higher jumps, and other desirable results.
Exercises To Focus On
There are three exercise groupings I typically recommend for those “jumping” on the butt-enhancing, vector-checking bandwagon, so pick a few and add them on to any leg-day routine. Two to three sets of eight to 12 reps regularly should get you the results you’re after.
Grouping 1: Unstable Work
Please note: These exercises do have a higher risk of injury, so do not attempt them without proper supervision and safety checks in place.
Exercises: BOSU] squats (dome-side down), BOSU lunges (dome-side up, forward foot stepping onto it).
Grouping 2: Plyometric
Please note: If you experience any kind of knee pain, see a doctor or physiotherapist.
Exercises: Skaters (for speed and change of direction), single-legged lateral jumps (for resistance), box jumps with an exaggerated depth on landing, lateral box jumps, lunge jumps.
Grouping 3: Single-Legged Work
Exercises: Pistol squats (use a TRX to get as low as possible and to assist you in getting back up), single-legged split squats, lunges.
Last but not least, when you are focusing on your axial vector loads, please make sure you do your squats with good form, and do them often. We are so quick to pile on weight that we forget our muscles grow best with a combination of form, time under tension, and resistance. You want to drop that squat below 90 degrees, so make sure you work with a weight where you can get your ass to the grass. It’s also important to set up your squat rack or cage with safety bars to ensure you don’t get injured, and train with a partner who you trust to spot you.
It has to be said — the glutes are not just for show. They are one of the most underrated tools for athletic performance. The best athletes in the world squat and deadlift to make sure they produce the force they need. As for you, get in the gym and put together a plan that incorporates stability, power, and all six vectors. Then go out and buy a pair of jeans that will show the world you squat!