Mild spoilers below for Avengers: Endgame. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, or don’t want to be even slightly spoiled, stop reading right now!
The “it” we are talking about of course is Captain America’s butt, a.k.a. The Most Valuable Posterior, which is lionized in Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel blockbuster still setting records at a theater near you.
The first butt reference in Endgame drops when during one of the many time-travel sequences, Tony Stark hides in Stark Tower, spying on the original Avengers team as it deals with Loki and his recovered scepter. Stark spots Cap and comments via headset, “Mr. Rogers, that old suit design did nothing for your ass.” Ant-Man, also on headset, disagrees, saying. “You look great, Cap. As far as I’m concerned, that’s America’s ass.”
The scriptwriters spank the joke again a few scenes later, when Cap is fighting his past self (yup, one of the weird aspects of time travel probably inspired by Back to The Future). The current Cap bests the old Cap and as he’s standing over his own prone body he comments, “That is America’s ass.”
The quip is a light moment in a movie and in the larger Marvel universe, where pop culture references illuminate every conversation and gender stereotypes are (sometimes) flipped. But it also speaks to this moment in America, the Age of Ass. Thank you Kim Kardashian, whose curves even the almighty Thanos can’t match. At Men’s Health we’ve appreciated the importance of glutes long before Kim and Cap, even for guys who are not breaking the Internet or not saving the universe.
“Your glutes are your body’s largest and most powerful muscle group,” says Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health fitness director. “But because so many guys spend all day sitting, their glutes are weak.”
That sedentary lifestyle can cause a cascade of issues from back pain and weight gain to diminished athletic performance and poor posture—or even worse, cause dead butt syndrome (a.k.a. gluteal amnesia), which means your gluteus medius stops “firing” and can’t initiate contractions. Strong glutes also help you move your hips, powering you up, down, forward, backward, and side-to-side, and since they’re big muscles, working them can increase your metabolic rate, helping you burn calories and lose weight.
When Men’s Health broke out the 25 best workout moves to build your butt, we spoke to Brett Conteraras, C.S.C.S., a sports biomechanist known in the fitness industry as the Glute Guy. Mix these 3 Contreras-approved exercises into your leg day to get the glute growth you’re going for to make Cap proud.
Captain America’s Glute-Maxing Moves
Barbell Hip Thrust
3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, 90 seconds rest
The number one exercise he recommends for glue gains: the barbell hip thrust.
“The barbell hip thrust activates your upper and lower glutes to a greater degree than any other exercise,” he says.
To do it, place your upper back against a box or bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put a padded—the thicker the padding, the better, says Contreras—loaded barbell across your hips so your glutes are near the floor. Use an unloaded bar to familiarize yourself with the movement if need be. Then squeeze your glutes and raise your hips until they’re in line with your body. Keep your back in neutral the entire time, making sure not to arch your lower back during the movement. Return to the starting position and repeat.
4-3-1 Sumo Dumbbell Squat
3 sets of 5 to 6 reps, 60 seconds rest
Contreras also recommended the dumbbell sumo squat, especially this variation which uses tempo to max out the gains.
Hold a dumbbell at waist height. Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder width and flare them out (sumo stance). Plant your weight firmly on your heels and lean your torso about 30 degrees forward, which Contreras suggests should be maintained throughout the set.
Bend your knees and squat down on a four count, keeping the slight torso lean constant as you hold the weight. You should reach the bottom of the movement on four, where you’ll hold the squat position. Pause for a three count, squeezing your glutes, before standing back up to your starting point.
Quadruped Hip Extension
3 sets of 25 to 30 reps, 45 seconds rest
Grab a miniband for this exercise, which uses a high volume of reps to build up your backside.
Get on all fours, with your spine aligned and back flat. Keep one leg firmly on the ground as you raise the other, turning your foot out slightly for an external hip rotation. Maintain your spine’s alignment and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. After a moment, return your knee to the ground.
To add an extra element of difficulty to quadruped hip extensions, add a miniband for more resistance, or longer pauses to accentuate the squeeze at the top of the movement.