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HEMA Butts and Puffy Pants

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Chuck Gross

Nutrition and Fitness Coach (Pn1, ACE-PT, OTC) at HEMA Strong
Fitness Mentor – Broken Plow Western Martial Arts
Need nutrition/fitness help?: chuck@hemastrong.com
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As soon as HEMA Strong started publishing blog posts, comments started rolling in asking for a guide on how to “make my butt look good in my fencing pants/puffy pants”.

I initially thought “uh, well, I don’t know, that wasn’t what I had in mind”. But then I saw that “HEMA Butts” was a thing: https://hemabutts.tumblr.com/ and remembered that confidence is a part of performance psychology. So if your butt looking great in your fencing pants, puffy or not, makes you confident, then it can indirectly impact your performance when fighting.

Here we are then, a HEMA Strong guide on making your butt look good in your puffy pants.

For this one, I thought it would be fun to get the opinions of the fitness professionals that participate in the HEMA Strong Facebook group, so this will be a roundtable format with some suggestions/recommends from Michael, Steven, Jacob, and myself.

Chuck’s Recommendation: Romanian Deadlifts

I picked Romanian deadlifts as my exercise of choice for building up a nice round butt, specifically because if done correctly, they are going to have minimal impact on your lower back and knees.

What is a Romanian deadlift? Why are Romanians deadlifting different than everyone else? Well, that’s it exactly, they were. There was as an Olympic weightlifter from Romania named Nicu Vlad who is entirely responsible for making this lift popular. I’ll be referring to the movement as an RDL from here on out. Since the RDL doesn’t involve lifting the weight from the ground on every rep, it’s not really a deadlift. It’s still a hip hinge movement, which is important for hamstring flexibility, power, and improving your athletic ability. This isn’t the same thing as a squat. To quote one-half of the Hip&Shoulder mastery team:

“The hip hinge is a maximal hip bend with minimal knee bend, while the squat is a maximal hip bend with maximal knee bend.” -Tony Gentilcore

Some examples of hip hinges other than Romanian deadlifts are kettlebell swings, deadlifts, cable pull-throughs, good mornings, etc.

How do you do it? See this form video:

Concentrate on squeezing your butt cheeks as you do the movement. Don’t go too heavy at all, and for the purposes of adding size and muscle to your legs, use the dumbbell version in the high rep ranges.

For example, 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.

You can also use a resistance band, and go with super high reps at the end of your workouts, something in the area of 2 sets of 25-30 reps.

One thing that I think it’s important to mention is that building muscle relies on 1.) frequency, 2.) volume (amount of sets and reps over time), and 3.) nutrition. Getting enough good quality calories are a vital part of creating new, bigger, and stronger, muscles.

Lastly, while I know that yoga pants aren’t as historically accurate as puffy pants, they’ll help show off all of your hard work even better.

Michael’s Recommendation: Hip Thrusts

What is the best exercise to have an ass that screams “damn boy (or girl, bear, cat, whatever, cause poofy pants belong on everything), you are one majestic piece of work”? That is our great question. For this, I refer to the glute guy himself Bret Contreras. Bret leads the field in making glutes that pop and perform just as good as they look. His default go to? Hip thrusts. In all their posterior glory.

Now how do we do hip thrusts? There are several variations. The true key is not overloading it like you will see some do. EMG research done by Dr. Stuart McGill has shown that optimal loading for isolated hip extension style work is about 300lbs for most individuals. Loading this movement heavy will promote the body to recruit other muscles (think low back and hamstrings) into the movement, which takes the emphasis away from the glutes and could risk injury we don’t want. Keep in mind that you will want to work up to the heavier weights over time. Start light and build up, 5 to 10 lbs a week. The other half of this is slow eccentrics (lowering portion of the movement) and moderate to high reps (8 or more), your selection of sets should be between 3 and 10 depending how much you enjoy trying to sit the next day (and what you need in your training. Remember sometimes less is more).

You will have multiple loading options ranging from the traditional barbell (by far the least comfortable) to dumbbells, or resistance bands (resistance bands will require anchoring and can be hard to use in commercial gyms). Follow the links to see some examples by the master himself aka Bret.

First an article on the movement and his own research with a video on the variations:

Which variation produces greater glute activation: barbell hip thrusts, American hip thrusts, or band hip thrusts?

Or the video itself:

And lastly, the stop doing heavy stupid stuff video from Bret himself:

A few other things to remember. (Many of these should be credited to Dean Somerset and his unique brand of humor)

  1. Women like men with strong powerful glutes.
  2. Men like women with strong powerful glutes.
  3. Some men like men with strong powerful glutes.
  4. Some women like women with strong powerful glutes.
  5. The best things in life come at hip extension.
  6. No one ever complained their glutes were too strong.
  7. The biggest glutes move the most weight
  8. Gluteus Maximus is just fun to say and kinda sounds like a transformer, and transformers are awesome.

Lastly remember, stay fabulous, stay majestic, and always, always be proud of your hard work.

Steven’s Recommendation: Single-leg Deadlift

First, the brief I was given was that this post was to be about having a butt that looks good in poofy pants. But poofy pants don’t show off the butt. Modern spandex does. So wear fencing knickers to show off your hard work. Modern technology at it’s best.

Second, we should be clear that actually having a butt that looks good in the mainstream sense usually also takes a combination of genetics and nutrition changes. Not everyone’s genes will cooperate, no matter how hard you work.

Fundamentally though, the question that I want to answer is about the best ‘glute’ exercise(s) to contribute to HEMA success and to overall health.

In short though, everything listed here is part of succeeding at this goal. It’s not a pick-the-best-one scenario and only do that one. Nor is it a matter of just doing the one you like best and then inventing reasons why you don’t do the others (humans are great at this).

My contribution is the single-leg deadlift. This is a stiff legged, straight back exercise, so the only movement comes at the hip hinge.
Dumbbell: http://exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/DBSingleLegStiffLegDeadlift.html
Barbell: http://exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BBSingleLegStiffLegDeadlift.html

Stiff legged means that there is minimal to no motion at the knee and ankle. This makes it different from a typical deadlift or squat motion. There should, however, be a slight bend in the knee as with a typical athletic posture.

Straight back means just that, it is important to keep the spine in a neutral position to the get the most out this exercise. The primary purpose of the spinal/core muscles both in daily life and athletic activities and HEMA is to keep the spine still while limbs move around it. This exercise is intended to focus on just that.

When done with a dumbbell I recommend using just one dumbbell on the side opposite the stance leg. This increases the demand rotationally on the involved muscles which is a nice functional tweak to the exercise.

The barbell version allows a person to increase the weight used in this exercise substantially. With a single side of glute muscles as the limiting factor overload can be achieved with less stress on the back muscles.

Three key pieces of advice related to common errors:

  1. Keep the hips level – there is a tendency in some folks to rotate the free hip upwards which changes the exercise. I think it’s a subconscious strategy to make it easier by providing a counterbalance.
  2. Aim for your foot – as you hold the dumbbell it it’s easier to balance if you move as if you were going to put the weight down on your foot.
  3. The focus is the hip hinge – some individuals, especially those with a dance or other aesthetic background, will tend to kick the free foot up in the air. The point of the movement is to hinge on the stance hip and the excess motion with the free foot will tend to distort the motion in a variety of possible ways.

Lastly, this isn’t a row! Don’t pull the weight up with the arms. The arms play a basically static role in this exercise.


Start with no weight and groove the motion. Add a small weight at first just to get used to losing the hand for balance.

A typical progression starts at 12-15 reps and moves up to 8-10RM. I don’t recommend going higher than this for this particular exercise as it’s unnecessarily risky on the back.

2-3 sets is fine. And, when done in a rotation with all the other exercises here, it only needs to be done once a week. Though empty handed it makes a good component of a dynamic warm-up and helps to groove the motion that way.

Here’s wishing everyone butt dimples.

Jacob’s Recommendation: Step Up

So let me guess- you opened up that package from Eastern Europe, took out those fancy puffy pants, excitedly put them on, and ran to the mirror… only to find those pants are sagging in the back. Sad and disappointed you think to yourself “I need a bigger HEMA butt.” It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

A bigger HEMA butt gives us plenty of advantages. It fills out those pants, it’s distracting, it makes our first place tournament photos look glorious, but it also gives us more powerful explosions of movement such as lunges. But just how do we get there?

In order to get a bigger HEMA butt, you need to workout with hypertrophy in mind. Hypertrophy just simply means muscle growth and enlargement. So your exercises need to be focused on resistance training of the gluteal muscles. Cardio will not give you HEMA butt- at most, it can give you is a Ren Fair butt and no one really wants that.

In order to work on hypertrophy, we need to have a specific range of our reps, sets, rest, etc. I recommend that each of your exercises consist of the following: 8- 12 reps, 4 sets, 30-60 seconds of rest in-between exercises, and be done with a superset. A superset is doing two exercises back to back before taking your 30-60 rest. If you follow this with consistency (3 times a week), your muscles have no choice but to grow bigger.

So what exercises should you do following those guidelines. Well there are plenty of ones to choose from and many great ones have been listed, but my favorite is the step us. The step up is simple, easy to learn, and effectively engages the glutes.

How to do a step up

  1. Find a stable box, bench, or chair that creates a 90 degree angle in the knee when you place your foot on it.
  2. Place one foot in the middle of the box with your weight being directed towards the heel of the foot.
  3. Press down on your foot to bring your body to a standing position with one leg.
  4. Be sure to maintain a tall neutral posture and don’t let your bent knee go past your toes.
  5. Keep pressing on that foot until the leg is straight.
  6. Then at the top, bring the other free/ non-weight bearing leg up to create a 90 degree angle.
  7. Maintain control and balance, return the free leg back down to the ground, and then bring the foot off the box.
  8. Follow these steps again alternating between each foot until 8-12 reps are done for 4 sets.
  9. This can done holding dumbbells to add more resistance if you are not feeling the struggle by 8 reps.

Your Potential Workout

First start with a warm up such as this:
-5 minute light jog/ speed walk on the treadmill to get the blood flowing
-1 minute isometric supine bridge hold
-12 body weight squats
-30 second one legged stand on each leg

Resistance training:
-Exercise 1 (such as the step up): 8-12 reps
-Superset with Exercise 2 (such as a hip thrust): 8-12 reps
30-60 rest and done for 4 sets

-Exercise 3 (such as the Romanian deadlift): 8-12 reps
-Superset with Exercise 4 (such as squats): 8-12 reps
30-60 rest and done for 4 sets

-Exercise 5 (such as the single leg deadlift): 8-12 reps
-Superset with Exercise 6 (such as a leg press): 8-12 reps
30-60 rest and done for 4 sets

Need some help?

If you needed some help with these exercieses, or have questions, join the HEMA Strong Facebook group and ask! Hope to see you there!

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Modified under Creative Commons. Original: http://extrafabulouscomics.com/comic/160/


  1. If you have access to a gym with lots of machines then the hamstring curl machine (lie down on your stomach and curl your legs back against resistance like a bicep curl but.. You know.. Your leg) is spectacular. 4 sets of 10-12 reps will leave you both unable to comfortably sit on the toilet for a while, but also well on your way to that award winning booty.

    On the topic of HEMA (and just sport in general) related fitness of the pelvic area.. It may look silly at times but the hip abductor/adductor (the one that sort of looks like a thighmaster) is absolutely amazing prehab/rehab for a pulled groin. Low resistance but really high rep ranges, like 20-25, gets plenty of blood flow into those areas to really help with recovery.

    • Chuck

      August 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Hey Devon! Yes, leg curls are great too. The hip abductor/adductor was also a big help to me when I was dealing with some hip flexor tightness due to lots of travel and desk hours this summer.

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