Do you want your booty to pop through your jeans with an upper shelf? You’ve found the right article. And I’m going to give you the best advice within the first paragraph of this article. Stop copying band glute exercises from social media and start training your glutes with heavy loading!
The upper glute shelf is developed by building the gluteus maximus and medius. You must use heavily loaded compound exercises and ditch the light resistance band exercises.
Before diving into the nitty gritty, it’s essential to understand basic glute anatomy to maximize the upper glute shelf.
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There are three main glute muscles:
The gluteus medius and minimus are smaller glute muscles that abduct the hip (think of 80s Jane Fonda lying lateral leg raise) and medially rotate the leg (turn the leg inward). The gluteus maximus is the large, powerful muscle of the butt that extends the leg and assists in lateral rotation (turning the leg outward).
The gluteus maximus and, to some extent, gluteus medius are the muscles responsible for giving you the upper glute shelf.
How To Build An Upper Glute Shelf
So, how do you build the shelf on your upper glutes that make your jeans pop? Forget the endless walking band exercises you see on Instagram. You must lift heavy to effectively recruit the gluteus maximus (the primary muscle to create the upper shelf)!
The contributions from the glutes when squatting, lunging, or deadlifting increase as the load increases .
Meaning that the heavier the load, the more the glutes are used. For example, the hips provide a 33% greater contribution to the squat at 90% vs. 50% 1RM with no increase in knee extensor contribution (quads) .
The lunge is similar, with a 22.8% greater hip contribution at 50% additional bodyweight load vs. 12.5% load . The deadlift follows the same suit with a 33% increase in hip contribution at 80% vs. 10% 1RM .
Heavy loads are needed to elicit large forces from the gluteus maximus to stimulate muscle growth. So, what exercises can we use to get a bigger butt grow the upper glute shelf?
Best Upper Glute Exercises For A Shelf
To maximize glute involvement when squatting, squat deep to place the most extensive stretch on the glutes. You can make minor adjustments, such as using the low bar position, which increases forward lean, resulting in greater glute activation .
However, if you don’t like that position (I prefer high bar), stick with what's comfortable. Here’s how to maximize the squat for the glutes:
The Romanian deadlift is a far better upper shelf glute builder than the deadlift. The deadlift doesn’t maximally stretch the glutes and doesn’t stress hip extension to the same extent as the RDL.
You can make small movement modifications, like bending the knees more when descending to place less stretch on the hamstrings and more stress on the glutes. You can also take a wider stance to hit the glutes harder . Here’s how to do it:
For your upper glute shelf, the reverse lunge trumps the forward lunge because of the shin angle and the ease of loading your backside versus your quads. A slight forward lean also helps stretch the glutes throughout the movement, promoting muscle growth. Here’s how to do it:
To make this more intense, you can elevate your front foot to get a deeper stretch!
While the reverse lunge is great, the walking lunge is still excellent for building the upper glute shelf. Especially when performing high-rep walking lunges. As in, 100-400 m non-stop. Good luck walking the next day with the glute soreness. Here’s how to do it:
While the name makes it sound like a back exercise (which it is), a simple modification turns it into an epic upper shelf glute builder. Instead of raising your shoulders, push your hips through the pad and squeeze hard. Here’s how to do it:
The glute bridge is the most straightforward upper shelf glute targeted exercise. It elicits greater glute activation than the hip thrust . But the range of motion is much shorter. Here’s how to do it:
I love the hip thrust for training glutes, and it should be the main staple for your upper glute shelf training. Heavy and burnout sets will leave you walking funny. You can add a band around your knees during the hip thrust to increase the challenge to your glutes since they are hip extensors and external rotators.
You now have resistance vertically with the barbell for hip extension and laterally for the external rotators. Here’s how to hip thrust:
Two pieces of information completely changed my view on the step-up. First, a systematic review compiling all of the relevant glute muscle activation research found the step-up lit up the glutes the most .
Secondly, the Bulgarian Weightlifting team dropped all back squatting in favor of the step-up.
It was reported many lifters had stopped squatting and hit personal best snatch and clean & jerks. The world record holder at the time Leonid Taranenko who clean & jerked 586 pounds, only performed the step-up as his heavy leg training for four years leading up to this.
His best step-up was 396 pounds for 3 reps with each leg which is insane. What matters to you, however, is the Soviet coaches observed the lifters who used the step-up instead of the squat developed more complete muscularity than someone who not just lifted heavy weights but also sprinted and jumped.
Here’s how to perform the step-up:
When equating load with the back extension, research suggests the reverse hyper elicits greater peak glute activation . This makes it a viable option for developing your upper glute shelf. Further, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for relieving lower back pain. Here’s how to do it:
The hyper dead is my favorite back extension variation. It’s the strictest hip extension exercise, maximally overloading the glutes and hamstrings. However, you need a 45° back extension. While you can use a 90° back extension, I’ve found the range of motion is too short. Here’s how to do it:
KB swings take advantage of speed to elicit high-force outputs and glute activation. In fact, a light 16 kg kettlebell produces similar glute activation as a percentage of maximal voluntary contraction to hip thrust with a 10RM load .
The rapid acceleration and deceleration are what make up for the light loading. Here’s how to do them:
Best Workout For An Upper Glute Shelf
This is a simple glute workout you can plug into your current training program to build the upper shelf.
A1) Hip Thrust
3 x 8, 1 x 15
B1) Step Up
3 x 8/leg
C1) KB Swing
3 x 10
D1) Back Extension
2 x 20-30
D2) Reverse Lunge
2 x 20/leg
To build a shelf on the upper glutes, you need to lift heavy. Light band exercises that look great on Instagram will only get you so far. Great upper glute shelves are built under a heavy barbell. Perform a mixture of heavy exercises for low reps and light exercises for high reps.
You can also use bodyweight exercises for ultra-high reps to finish off your glutes, such as high-rep hip thrusts or walking lunges.
Grow Enormous Glutes That Won’t Fit Your Jeans
A leg specialization program to bust through muscle growth plateaus and finally throw away those skinny jeans.
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