Working out to build muscle in one body part/area only
February 2, 2020 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Well, two - glutes & hamstrings. Do I have to do full body workouts for results? Mid-30s cis woman here if it matters.

I'm at a healthy maintainable weight, and I do about 30 mins of moderate cardio most days. The number on scale means little to me. I just want the most efficient route to bigger, more visibly noticeable, defined glutes/hamstrings (and maybe hips if that's a part that can be built up via strength training).

I naturally have a more rectangle/straight body shape. I eat plenty of 'good fats' (avocado, nuts, seeds, fish, olives) and calories in general, but this doesn't translate to my lower body ever getting thicker, so I'm looking to change it via exercise.

I've met with a few trainers who insist that I need to train all my muscle groups - and have me doing arm, shoulders and back work, abs, etc - in addition to the lower body ones. Is this true, or just a ploy to book more sessions? I have limited time for the gym (and money for training) so I really only want to do exactly what will yield the specific results I want. Could this look something like 3x week of targeting hamstrings/glutes (squats, deadlifts, bridges, hip thrusts, cable pull throughs, etc)? Can I skip everything else (including the suggestion to eat more protein)?

Give me the truth, I can handle it!
posted by CancerSucks to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could [my workout] look something like 3x week of targeting hamstrings/glutes (squats, deadlifts, bridges, hip thrusts, cable pull throughs, etc)?
Yes, to some extent. After some period of success with such an approach you should start worrying about overdeveloping one side of a muscle group pair. One reason that's not a huge concern is that squats and deadlifts are already nearly whole-body exercises. At least one counter-movement would be a very good idea but isn't literally mandatory unless you're seeing excellent results from your targeted work.

Can I skip everything else (including the suggestion to eat more protein)?
You lost me. You can skip upper-body exercises if you don't want your arms and shoulders to be stronger and healthier. You can skip the myriad ab exercises that many gym-goers are obsessed with. But avoiding protein is a bit of a non-sequitur here. High protein diets are extremely effective for performance and well-being. More directly relevant to your question, building muscle demands food and protein. You want to build muscle. Therefore you should eat plenty of food, especially protein.

In general, people who skip the "eat plenty of food, especially protein" part tend to have a hard time building noticeable muscle. Often they see moderate results for a brief initial period and then it stops working. This is especially true for people who do a lot of cardio, since their body needs to allocate so much of its resources to recovering from that. It's also especially true for people who are not hormonally predisposed to building muscle, meaning most women and many men.
posted by daveliepmann at 4:01 AM on February 2, 2020 [8 favorites]

If you completely neglect your core / upper body then I think you’d be risking injury if you massively strengthen your glutes alone. At least do some core work.

If you want to build muscle as quickly as possible, then eating those calories & getting enough protein is part of the deal. You’ve got to eat to gain.
posted by pharm at 4:05 AM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I mean, you could easily do half an hour twice a week of heavy squats, heavy deads, and probably some core work and you'll get all the muscle growth in those areas that you're going to get. If you're just working out for aesthetics, then yeah, I think that's totally doable. You'd only need a trainer to perfect your form on those two barbell lifts, really, and then you can do them on your own (assuming your gym has some kind of squat rack that you can safely dump a bar into.)

If you really want to maximize your potential, however, you'd probably want to do some chest/back work, because the limiting factor on deadlifts (which are the exercise that are going to build your hamstrings) can quickly become your grip and middle back, and you don't want to overdevelop your middle back compared to your pecs or you risk injury. So call it half an hour three days a week, or 45 minutes twice a week (squats/rows, deads/bench.) Learn the lifts and then you can do it on your own - I personally found the Wendler 531 a more effective program than a bodybuilding program for strength/size, and I suspect that might be true for women in general.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:55 AM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Re exercises, I agree with the above that you can focus on the movements you listed especially since deadlifts and squats are bigger movements that involve more of your body, but that you should be aware of potential muscle imbalances and of ensuring that your core is strong enough to avoid injury as you progress.

Re nutrition, it depends on what you're eating now. If you already eat relatively high protein, you may be fine; there's a limit to how quickly people (especially women) can add muscle anyway. Adding more protein to your diet has diminishing returns beyond a certain point. But if you have a lower protein diet now, you could see a big benefit by increasing protein.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:33 AM on February 2, 2020

I wouldn't neglect the abdominal/back muscles too much: a ton of my physical therapy has boiled down to "yes you have those really strong big glute/leg muscles, and you're trying to do everything with them to compensate for comparatively weak core muscles." Plus, abdominal/back muscles look trimmer when exercised, not bulkier*, which is only going to help accentuate your lower parts.

*For normal-person quantities of exercise, particularly in, for example, mid-30s cis women without noticably high testosterone levels
posted by teremala at 7:42 AM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Disclaimer: I'm a cis-woman who goes to the gym and I try to build muscle all over.

You definitely don't need to focus on arms/shoulders like your trainer may be implying. For the most part, you could also get away with not focusing on abs/back because these will be worked through your compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. But, I would recommend doing a back exercise on the days where you don't deadlift.

If you want to build muscle, you'll need to eat protein. And chances are you are probably not getting enough right now as it is to see the results you would like, unless you consume protein shakes/bars outside of regular meals. While the exact recommendation will depend on your size, it would be a good starting point to aim for 100g per day with meals/snacks having 20-25g each.
posted by Robocat at 8:15 AM on February 2, 2020

Short answer: yes, you can attain hypertrophy in one muscle group by working only on the muscles in that group.

As to what excercises to do to reach your aesthetic goals, or whether working out this way is "healthy" or balanced, it gets a bit more complicated.

I think I have recommended him here before, but I swear by Bret Contreras's Strong Curves program. It's an aesthetics -oriented workout program that focuses on the glutes. The book is annoying, the workouts have stupid names, but it works and you don't have to include upper body if you don't want to.

However depending on your aesthetic goals, it might be advisable (E.g. your glutes and hips will look rounder and more pronounced with a more defined waist, your waist will similarly appear narrower with changes to the bulk and resting posture of your upper body, etc).

This is probably one reason some trainers are trying to steer you towards full body work. The other is functional imbalances as others have mentioned.

A good trainer should be able to explain to you whether pushing you to full-body work is a matter of functional imbalances they want to address, or specifically how their workout is part of achieving your aesthetic goal.

Unfortunately, some trainers just aren't very good at their jobs. They don't all listen well to their clients' wishes. They don't all know how to build the kind of workout you are asking for. They might have a one-size-fits-all, standardized approach to training (this seems to be especially true of trainers at big gym chains). And yeah, some are just trying to book more sessions.

But yes, tldr: you can make one muscle bigger by excercising just that muscle.
posted by windykites at 9:32 AM on February 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

nb r/xxfitness has some suggestions for glute-targetting. They also link to r/strongcurves which is a reddit based around the book windykites mentioned. (And yes, apparently it is kind of sexist, but lots of people seem to like the programs.)
posted by pharm at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2020

To basically remix what everyone else said - it's safe to workout just abs / lower back and on down. Anything more targeted isn't going to kill you or anything but it'll be a little more risky injury wise both from the workouts and just everyday living. The exercises you called out will work abs / lower back and on down, although deadlift does work your upper body a bit, and your upper body strength will very quickly become what limits you from progressing on that lift as restless_nomad noted.

I'd center your workouts around squats and treat the other exercises (glute bridges, lunges, etc) as accessories. Squats will come with quad muscles too. I'd experiment with deadlift as another primary lift (it's an interesting and difficult lift to master) and decide if you want to keep it long term later.

In addition to aesthetics, your body will thank you for doing this stuff consistently as you age. I'm 42 and if I hadn't gotten into consistent weightlifting in my mid 30s I'd already be limited in what I can do just on a regular life day-to-day basis versus my younger days.

Regarding protein - it has been covered but I'll just add that to build muscle you not only need protein but you generally need to eat a surplus amount of calories as well. No need to go crazy there and that is the sort of thing you can figure out as you go along. You won't need that when you start but if you find you aren't progressing week to week that is one of the first places to look.

I agree on trainers being a very mixed bag. You are getting good advice in this thread so if you have a trainer who is saying things that sound significantly different don't use them. Even the good ones from what I've seen will often steer their clients toward building the sort of body they'd want you to have or the body they want to have for themselves.
posted by MillMan at 1:49 PM on February 2, 2020

I'll also 2nd r/xxfitness as a good place to check out, not only for advice but people post progress updates which will usually contain info on diet, workout routine, and photos before and after X amount of time so you can start getting an idea of what's feasible.
posted by MillMan at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Squats, and especially dreads, are full body exercises and do not just target your glutes and hammies. I don't think you should avoid other muscle groups but if that is really what you want to do you should do things like hip thrusts, leg curls, abductor and straight legged deadlifts with lower weights.

Don't do so much steady state cardio. You should do HIIT a few times a week instead.

Don't forget that to a certain extent it is genetic. I had an ass when I ran half marathons and I have an ass now that I lift. You can build it a bit, sure.
posted by thereader at 11:42 AM on February 3, 2020

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