Forgotten Exercises: The Butt Punch

Admittedly a strange name for an even stranger looking exercise, the Butt Punch came to the weightlifting community’s attention in the late 1990s thanks to the late Jerry Telle. Telle, for those unaware of him, was briefly touted as one of the freshest thinking minds in the Iron Community. Bursting onto the scene with a host of new ideas and, more importantly, interesting exercise, Telle is perhaps best known owing to his fondness for drop sets.

Nevertheless, Telle contributed a number of exercise variations, the Butt Punch being one of them. Aimed primarily at, you guessed it….the glutes. The Butt Punch hits the glutes and lower back like it’s nobody’s business. Having spent the last month playing around with the exercise, it’s a great substitute for Good Mornings and Romanian Deadlifts. But before we get into its applicability, we’ll let Telle do the talking.

Well-developed, strong hamstrings are a must for all athletes, including bodybuilders, yet in years’ past the reason given for poor hamstring training was attributed to the well known “Out of sight, out of mind” principal.

Compare this “no hindsight” principal with its twin, “lack of knowledge,” and hamstring training was/is a mess. Lying leg curls are about as effective for building hamstrings as dumbbell tricep kickbacks are for triceps. Yes, they’ll burn and even give a good pump. No one knows why since they’re about as useful for developing tension as a Sesame Street episode.

What Is The Best Hamstring Exercise?

Answer: The one that creates the greatest muscle fiber tension over the greatest number of fibers. There are basically two ways to insure that this happens:

  1. Start the exercise in a position where the muscle is longest, and
  2. Use an exercise that most closely mimics the function of the muscle.

The Current State of Knowing

The good morning exercise, stiff legged and Romanian deadlifts are recognized by intelligent coaches as probably the best hamstring exercises.

Yet these outstanding exercises have one problem in common: they are performed with flat feet. The feet are pushed down in to the floor. It’s more of a jumping than running exercise.

The Problem Solved

Butt Punches(TK) require a Smith machine in order to execute the exercise properly. One that inclines slightly seems preferable, although both can be used.

The athlete stands inside the rack with bar positioned on the traps as if to perform a back squat. The feet are not directly under the shoulders but slightly ahead by about three inches. Thus in an inclining Smith machine, the athlete’s backside should face outward and lean back slightly.

Strangely enough the movement most closely resembles a good morning exercise. The knees are flexed at about 10 to 15 degrees and the back is locked in a neutral position. Then the hips are pushed back and the hip joints are allowed to flex as the weight and athlete descend into the hole.

The key — the BIG difference with this exercise — is that the balls of the feet are elevated off the floor (in dorsiflexion) and the weight is shifted to the back EDGE of the heel as the athlete progresses to the bottom position.

As lowering continues the athlete rocks back more and more on to the EDGE of the heels. The Smith Machine will keep you from falling.

Prior to putting any load on the bar at all, make certain you can work the stops whenever you need to. Different Smith Machines have different stop systems. Make certain you know how they work before beginning.

From the standing position all movement occurs at the hip joints. The athlete is simply bent in half by the time he/she reaches the bottom with the butt is sticking nearly straight back, thus the name “Butt Punch(TK).”

In addition, the chest is close to the knees, the legs are almost straight, the back is in neutral and the individual is entirely on the EDGE of the heels. The foot/toes are elevated about 45 to 60 degrees. It looks dangerous, as though the person were about to break in half although many trainees have, to this point, disproved this. The positive movement is a reversal of the negative.

The Butt Punch(TK) seems to have a better geometry than Romanian deadlifts, perhaps because of the plantar flexion at the bottom position of the deadlifts. One philosophical reason for the heel edge emphasis is that glute-hamstring recruitment is, in part, a function of dorsiflexion. The higher the heels are plantar flexed/elevated in squatting, the less the glutes and hamstrings are recruited.

If you’ve ever done a fairly narrow squat with your heels on a board, you can tell by the feel of the movement that you’ve thrown all the tension onto the muscles of the quad and away from the glutes and hamstrings, although not entirely. Rocking back on your heels does just the opposite.

This very effective hamstring/glute exercise also appears to work these muscles independently of any significant patellar involvement.

I’m at a loss to explain why there is apparently so little patellar stress during this exercise. The only thing I can intuit is that the fixed hamstring/ileotibital band (ITB) and foot-edge of the heel form a rigid enough closed chain to necessitate only a modicum of quadricep activity. Then again, maybe because the quads are nearly fully contracted, little tension is even possible, i.e. a force length concept.

In any event, it seems to be a great glute hamstring exercise regardless of knee involvement, primarily because the edge of the heel is the force-imparting link.

In the beginning, the tendency is to round the back which may have certain applications with certain loads. However the best bet is to start light and have someone watch your back for any lumbar flattening or rounding.

I’ve used it with clients for approximately five years with no problem except lower back tightness in some females which is ameliorated with stretching.


Using the Butt Punch

So discarding Telle’s admirable but slightly confusing drawings, the good folks at The Elite Trainer provided a clearer example, shown below


While this is a good start, I found with time that I could get my torso almost parallel to the floor with my chest touching, or close to touching my knees, as outlined in Telle’s own drawings. This may be a matter of personal preference but I found doing it this way, with a straight back, increased the stretch dramatically.

In terms of applicability, the Butt Punch is a great method of strengthening the posterior chain and for me, was a welcomed variation on the standard exercises.

So what are you waiting for? Try out the Butt Punch and let us know your experience in the comments below!

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