Ok, so if you do want to get bigger in some places but are worried about other areas getting too big, here’s what you need to know.
I’m going to use the example of wanting a bigger butt and more leg muscle tone while not wanting your legs to get any bigger.
I’ve had a number of clients who wanted this exact thing. So maybe you do too. Maybe you don’t. Either way, the principles of getting bigger somewhere and smaller somewhere else are the same, regardless of which body parts you’re talking about.
Your legs and your butt are connected. Obvs. This means many butt exercises work the legs and many leg exercises work the butt. So how do you make 1 bigger without the other following suit?
In this post I’ll show you how. Plus, I’ll give a sample booty building workout so you can see how it’s done. By the end of this post, you’ll have the tools to implement this into your own workouts. Awesome, right?
Before going any further though I’d highly recommend reading this piece I wrote a few weeks ago which details how muscle gets bigger and how it doesn’t. Give it a read because this post will make much more sense if you do.
Done reading it? Ok awesome, let’s get to it.
The quest for exercise selection dominance
We can’t talk about targeting a specific muscle group without talking about exercise selection. So this is the first order of business.
Two exercises can work the same muscles but to different degrees.
For example, the hip thrust mainly works the glutes, quads, and hamstrings . As does the squat. So what’s the difference then? Why even bother with two different exercises if they work the same muscle groups?
Because they work those same muscle groups from different angles. This challenges the muscle in a unique way and changes which muscles are emphasised.
In the hip thrust the glutes work the hardest — they are most responsible for moving the weight. Whereas in the squat, the quads work the hardest. That doesn’t mean the glutes don’t get worked when squatting, just that they aren’t the dominant muscle like in the squat.
Keep this in mind as I’m going to be referencing “glute dominant” and “X dominant” exercises a lot as we discuss how to actually build a bigger butt without getting bigger legs.
For the best results you want to base your workouts around compound, multi-muscle movements that are (insert target muscle) dominant, which in this case is the hip thrust and its variations. Isolation movements like band seated abductions have their place, but are far less important than compound lifts.
How to build muscle
The two main drivers of muscle growth are volume (more reps) and intensity (heavier weights).
To emphasize glute growth, give it more volume and intensity than every other muscle group. You don’t want to ignore the other muscles. Simply don’t work them as hard.
Prioritise glute dominant exercises and build a strong mind-muscle connection with your butt muscle during any lower body exercise.
How to not build muscle
Growing muscle is hard, like REALLY hard. As long as you moderate how hard and how often you push the leg dominant lifts, your legs won’t get bigger on accident. You can give your legs some tone without pushing them hard enough to get bigger.
So you make the glute dominant exercises the priority of your workouts, but what does that mean exactly?
As far as exercise selection goes, the main driver of butt growth will be your bridge and hip thrust variations because these are butt dominant exercises. This means the main goal of every workout is to get better at those butt dominant exercises.
Getting better means getting:
- More reps
- More sets
- More weight
- And/or feeling a stronger mind muscle connection to your glutes when you lift.
Your workout is designed around these goals because that’s what’s going to make your butt rounder.
Your main focus is on improving these lifts. This means you put bridges or hip thrusts first in the workout. You push them the hardest and the most often.
That said, to make hella booty gains, it’s still a good idea to squat and/or lunge (leg dominant) in some capacity because this will make your glute dominant exercises more effective.
However, you include squats later in the workout, and keep the total volume and intensity much lower than your glute dominant moves. That way you don’t give the legs enough of a training stimulus to grow muscle.
The trick is to become OK with the hip thrust part of your workout making you too tired to go heavy on your squat part of the workout. You don’t care if you’re still squatting the same weight for the same amount of reps months later, because your hip thrusts have improved and your butt is bigger.
Here’s a sample workout to demonstrate how this looks in the gym.
- A1 Clamshell 3 x 20 (Isolation exercise for glute activation)
- A2 Barbell Hip Thrust 4 x 8-12 (Compound Glute Main lift)
A3 Dumbbell Row 4 x 8-12
- B1 Back extension (Compound: Hamstring dominant glute exercise)
- B2 Goblet Squat (Compound: Quad dominant glute exercise)
B3 Push-Ups 3 x 8
- C1 Farmer Walk 1 set some distance and back
Glute burnout ( To get your glutes as pumped as possible)
As you can see this workout is disproportionately butt focused. Even on the leg dominant lifts, the focus is still about the glutes! On squats and back extensions the focus should be on a strong mind muscle connection with your butt muscles. Yet we still include Pushes, Squats, Pulls, and Carries to build an balanced and effective total body strength and fat loss workout.
This is because regardless of your goals, it’s important to include all of the fundamental movements at some point during your training week.
- Push (Pec, tricep, or deltoid dominant)
- Pull (Upper back dominant)
- Squat (quad dominant)
- Hinge (hamstring or glute dominant)
- Carry (Everything dominant)
If you ignore any one those movements (usually hinges or carries), or do too much of a movement (usually pushes), you create a weak link in the system which will limit progress and could set yourself up for injury down the line.
Point is, don’t skip any of the fundamental movements otherwise you will make this puppy very sad.
More volume, and more intensity will make a muscle grow. Don’t give a muscle these things and it won’t grow. To make a specific muscle group grow more than others, train (target muscle) dominant exercises with more volume and intensity than the other exercises in your workout.
The fundamental movements are key to an effective workout program so you don’t want to avoid them as that is shooting yourself in the foot... or rather shooting yourself in whatever muscle you want to get bigger.
“What if I have a different goal than big glutes small legs? What if I have different muscles I want bigger and smaller?”
Well you’re in luck.
Here’s a list of muscles worked by the basic lifts, divided into main and secondary muscles used. To get this in visual form enter in your email address.
- Goblet Squat: Secondary - Glutes, Hamstrings, Abs
- Back Squat: Secondary - Glutes, Hamstrings
- Lunge: Secondary - Glutes, Hamstrings
- Bulgarian Split Squat: Secondary - Glutes, Hamstrings
- Back Extension: Secondary - Glutes
- Romanian Deadlift: Secondary - Glutes, Low back, Forearms
- Kettlebell Swing: Secondary - Glutes, Low back, Abs, Forearms
- Glute Bridge: Secondary - Hamstrings(minimal), Quads (minimal)
- Hip Thrust: Secondary - Hamstrings (minimal), Quads (minimal)
- Military Press: Secondary - Triceps, Traps, Pecs, Upper back
- Incline Press: Secondary - Triceps, Traps, Pecs, Upper back
- Barbell Bench Press: Secondary - Triceps, Deltoids,
- Dumbbell Bench Press: Secondary - Triceps, deltoids
- Push-Up: Secondary - Abs, Triceps, Deltoids
Upper Back/Lat Dominant
- Dumbbell Row: Secondary - Biceps, Forearms
- Chin-up/Pull-Up: Secondary - Biceps, Forearms, abs,
- Bent Over Row: Secondary -Biceps, lower back, Forearms
And of course, nutrition is an important part of the discussion. Always.
If you want a bigger butt, you need to eat the same way you would if you wanted to build bigger arms. Meaning you need to eat extra calories so the muscle will get bigger.
There’s two ends of the spectrum about how you can go about doing this.
“I’m bulking bro”
This means you eat a shitton knowing your muscles are going to grow. There’s no doubt in your mind your target muscles are getting enough fuel because you’re eating so damn much. However, this means you’ll probably put on a little fat in the process.
When you hear people say, “I’m bulking then I’m going to cut” this means they’re OK with putting on some fat, because after they’ve built enough muscle they’re going to go on a fat loss program to lean out and show off their new muscle.
This was popularised by bodybuilders, but is definitely not the only way to do things.
It’s not my go-to recommendation for my online clients, but I bring it up because it can work so long as you can transition from the “cut phase” into weight maintenance as well as being able to accept that you’re going to put on some fat during the bulking phase.
So being self aware about how you emotionally respond to dieting and weight gain is crucial in deciding whether or not this is a good tactic to try.
“I want to put on lean muscle”
With this strategy you only add a few extra calories each day, maybe just an extra protein shake or PB & J — just enough so you can fuel muscle growth, but not so much you risk putting on fat. You miss out on potential muscle growth so your body appears more lean and toned during the process.
You don’t build muscle as fast this way because you’re trying to maintain or improve your level of leanness and build muscle simultaneously.
Since this is a fat loss blog, you probably don’t want to put on any fat even if it means your butt would get bigger more quickly.
If that’s the case, this is the better option for you as it’s more stable — it’s not as conducive to yoyoing or post-diet weight gain. You probably don’t need more hard dieting phases, you probably need consistent healthy habits so you can stay lean for the long term.
However, I wanted to include both ends of the spectrum as different strategies work for different people.
If you’re worried about getting bigger in places other than your target muscle group, I’d recommend the lean mass gain option, you’ll find yourself leaner and more muscular in the places you want to be more muscular, without adding size to anywhere else.
It is possible to minimize leg growth while building a big bum. However, it takes longer to do so than if you weren’t worried about leg growth.
The body operates as a system, so we can only isolate muscle growth to a point.
“The body is one piece! Don’t think you have an upper body and a lower body. Stick a fork in someone’s thigh while they are benching and it will stop the lift, even though some think that bench presses are for the upper body.”-Dan John
At some point it will become really tough to continue to make booty gains without the legs getting at least a little bigger.
Now, if you weren’t worried about your legs getting bigger, you could get a bigger booty more quickly. Because this would mean you could push the leg dominant exercises (squats/lunges) harder, giving the glutes more work and causing more glute gains.
So it really depends on how big you want your butt/target muscle to be. If you want it to be freaking massive, that’s not really possible without putting at least some muscle onto the thighs. It’s rare you see someone with a huge bum who doesn’t also have sizeable thighs -- their thighs just look smaller because their butt is so big in comparison! Just something to think about. Body image is complicated like that.
But if you just want your butt to be a bit more shapely and “lifted”, then you can probably achieve that without adding much, if any, size to your thighs, depending on your genetics.
Muscle needs calories to grow.
No matter your workout, if you’re eating in a caloric deficit to make the scale go down, you’re not going to build muscle or get bigger.
So if you want to make a specific muscle group bigger, you need to eat enough and emphasize the muscle group in your training by giving that muscle group more sets, more reps, and with heavier weights.
A muscle will get bigger if:
- It’s put under enough tension (read: heavy weights) and for enough reps,
- Enough calories are consumed,
- And if enough recovery happens to allow the muscle to repair itself.
If any of these things do not happen, a muscle will not grow.
Just because you don’t want your legs to grow doesn’t mean you should avoid leg exercises. This will only stifle your training results. Instead, include those movements, but go light and put them later in your workout.
I avoided all things legs for years because I thought my thighs were too big for my body. I thought I looked to pear shaped so I was afraid of making myself look even more pear shaped! Consequently, I didn’t start liking the shape of my body until I started squatting and deadlifting.
A big reason I’m writing this is to convince you:
Strength training will make your goals and your life so much easier.
I’ve had so many clients who avoided strength training in the past. Then once they started lifting with me they saw really fast results.
This isn’t because my workouts use some magical, “secret” technique. It’s nothing new or cutting edge. I’m not pumping my clients full of supplements or making them drink unicorn tears for breakfast.
If you're like me, you may find that your fear of your body turning into something you don’t like, might actually be preventing you from building the body you want.