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What Is The Biggest Muscle? (And How Do I Develop It?)

I’ve heard a lot of funny things in the gym. About a month ago I heard my current favorite. I asked a new, female client what goals she wanted to work on with me. Without hesitation, as if she’d been waiting to say it her whole life, she said, “I want to get a huge butt!” I laughed as she continued: “Like that tennis Williams lady, but without all the other stuff, just the butt!” For anyone who doesn’t know, the gluteus maximum–aka the humble buttocks–is the biggest muscle in the body. It’s not hard to develop, either.

Muscle development isn’t that complicated. And when you focus on the largest muscles, the payoff is big, after a manner of speaking.

She certainly wasn’t asking for my help because I have a rump that turns heads, although it is starting to get pretty round in a Van Damme way. This is only news because I spent the last 20 years with a flat spot that my pants always fell off of.

largest muscle

This is not a picture of me.

Okay, enough. On to practical things. For better or worse, whatever I have back there is due to my obsession with getting stronger. There are two muscles that can never be strong enough–the glutes and the lats. The lats are the wings that puff out on the sides of the torso. You’re already familiar with the glutes–admit it, we all notice when a nice caboose saunters by.

It makes sense to me that by strengthening and growing the body’s biggest muscle, we can grow and strengthen the body’s overall power. That’s all I care about in my training–is what I am doing making me as strong as humanly possible? Time is our only limiting factor. If that means that the best use of my time is making my glutes bigger and stronger, so be it. One day maybe it will be me filling out those pink leotard pants in high heels, but probably not.

Here is what I am working on with my glute-fixated client:

Squats build muscle

As Dan John says, “Big butts are strong butts.” Amen to that, Dan. I don’t think anything builds stronger posteriors than squats. Below is a video of a traditional back squat.

Okay, so that’s not really a traditional squat because that sure as hell isn’t traditional weight, but you get the picture.

For the length of my femurs and torso, back squats do not treat me well once I am squatting over 200 lbs. So I have worked on my front squats. If you are a tall guy and have trouble staying upright during the back squat, you might give this a try. It helps me stay upright.

I do them with kettlebells, barbells, sandbags, and whatever else I can think of that tests well (this refers to biofeedback testing). Here’s my friend Boris B. with a front squat tutorial if you’re interested. Boris is the best:

The tool is not what matters. And luckily for me, the weight is not what matters either, since I sacrifice many pounds when I front squat instead of putting the barbell on my back.

What matters is that you can perform the movement without pain, for enough reps to grow. Squats can be done on one leg or two, to various depths. What makes squats the (in my opinion) best way to build muscle is that they require the entire body to move the load. Higher volume can result in more muscle, but I do not do marathon squat sessions. I have put four inches on my thighs in the last 120 days and I rarely do more than 5 sets and can’t remember the last time I did more than 6 reps in a set.

Deadlifts

I would mark deadlifts second based on anecdotal evidence with myself and clients. The reasons are similar to the squat: just about everything in your body has to work to pull heavy weight off the floor, although deadlifting does not have to be heavy to be beneficial. (it’s just more fun).

If you’re new to the deadlift, it is simply picking a weight off the floor. It can be done with a barbell (most awesome) kettlebells (pretty awesome), large stones (YES!), and anything else that is subject to the laws of gravity.

Again, I like to lift heavy, but for sheer muscle building purposes, I put overall volume ahead of the amount of weight on the bar, so if you’re terrified of the thought of deadlifting heavy, then:

1. Don’t be

2. You can do it with light weight, but I bet you’ll change your mind

The hinge

The deadlift and the squat share a characteristic with every other movement that I associate to glute development: the hinge of the hips. If your butt has to reach back and then come forward again during a loaded movement, it is probably going to help your legs and rear grow.

My other favorites are the double kettlebell snatch, long cycle clean and jerk with two KBs, swings, and pushing my truck around an empty parking lot with my back against the tailgate.

I am having my client do variations of each of these movements. If she is agreeable, I’ll have an update soon with a report on her goal, complete with scandalous measurements:)

There’s a reason why everyone loves the biggest muscle: it’s useful, it looks good when developed, and it will make you incredibly strong if you work on it. Try it and post scandalous pictures. Hmm…I wonder if there are any websites out there with stuff like that?

Josh

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jon Chacon September 4, 2010, 4:55 pm

    Josh,

    Great post. Where in the heck did you find that first pic? Jesus Christo! Anyways, no doubt about the squat and the deadlift, brother. I often compare the two beasts. Sometimes I compare the two by looking at them “primally.” Which movement would be more primal? I tend to think the deadlift since we most often find ourselves having to pick things up off the ground, especially heavy things like the carcass of a fresh animal kill back in the day. With the squat obviously the weight starts on the back or shoulders, which is a position the average caveman probably wouldn’t find himself needing; however, you make a great point with the usefulness of pushing things (like your vehicle; I love pushing my truck!) whether it be facing away from or straight on the object is very beneficial and would definitely match up to something where your average stone man would have to squat in a sense to push something away or to move it. Personally, I like both movements, and as you suggested, I just do whichever variation of that movement my body wants to do according to my biofeedback.

    Happy lifting,

    Jon

  • Kathi September 4, 2010, 9:08 pm

    Josh:

    Great blog …… and I thought the same as you, however I have not had the same luck (results) by incorporating deadlifts and squats into my routine. I cannot get a butt!!!!!!

    I look forward to reading about your client’s results…….I must be missing something. Keep me posted.

    • Heather September 5, 2010, 11:35 am

      Kathi,
      Tosca Reno wrote an entire book about the butt and how to develop it. It’s called The Butt Book, and it is available through Amazon. Another word of advice. . . LIFT HEAVY. In fact, lift heavier than you THINK you can; you’ll surprise yourself. Reno has an entire diet and stretching regimen and everything. ENJOY!

  • Todd September 5, 2010, 12:26 am

    Wat that from “Bring a Stripper to Work Day”?

    Great points, Josh. Love squats and deadlifts. Throw in some lunches and step-ups, and we have a killer leg day. 😀

  • Heather September 5, 2010, 11:33 am

    I wanna know how those heels hold up in a front squat! And hey, I DIG that chick’s butt! Well done, Chick in Pink Wearing Hooker Heels! Personally, I like doing front squats with kettlebells, preferably double-cleaned and HEAVY. That, IMHO, is what will really get that back field in motion, so to speak. And ibid to what you said about the “hinge” motion with deadlifts. There’s a darned good illustrated example of it in Pavel’s “From Russia with Tough Love,” perhaps your client ought to have herself a look-see. AWESOME post!

  • Craig McGuigan August 5, 2011, 8:54 am

    Great post. I am a big fan of the box squat for building the whole posterior chain. Keep up the good work!