Top 8 Glute Exercises to Strengthen and Shape Your Behind
I won’t be surprising anyone if I say that the rounded and well-developed bottoms are incredibly trendy these days, especially on social media. Apart from the obviously desirable aesthetics of them, strengthening your glutes will repay you in many positive ways, since it’s such an important muscle group with multiple vital functions. So, I decided to share with you this list of some of the very best and essential butt exercises. But first – let’s talk anatomy.
Straight to the point – before I go further and share with you the exercises, let’s have a few words about the anatomy of that glorious area and the reasons why it is so important for the balance of your body. I’m going to keep it short and sweet and just point out the most important things we all need to know.
Let’s start by clarifying that when we talk about glutes, we often just refer to the gluteus maximus. It is by far the biggest, most superficial muscle out of all the gluteal muscles (the biggest muscle overall actually) and it is the one that gives the prominence of your buttocks. It plays a significant role in our moving patterns and the way our posture looks. Three of its main functions are: 1) hip extension (for example by walking), 2) lateral rotation of the leg, and 3) stabilizing the sacroiliac joints (the joints that connect the spine to your pelvis). As the biggest muscle in our body, it requires special attention, in order to make sure that it develops proportionately to the rest of the musculature. Imbalances in the gluteal muscles can lead to back pain, bad posture, knee injuries, and strains.
The second biggest muscle out of the gluteal muscles is the gluteus medius. To visualize where it is actually located – it is on the sides of your hips and glutes. It plays a crucial role in stabilizing your pelvis, but its main function is hip abduction and hip internal and external rotation.
As you’ve probably already guessed it – this is the smallest muscle out of the three. It plays a secondary role and assists the gluteus medius with hip abduction and hip rotation.
What to remember:
- There are three gluteal muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus.
- Gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in the body.
- The glutes influence the mechanics of your whole body, thus making it extremely important to develop and strengthen them.
So, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s proceed to the actual exercises.
1. The Squat
The squat is one of the best compound and functional exercises that works not only your glutes but nearly the entire body. I am not going to talk further about it here since I already have an entire post, dedicated to it, where I explain everything you need to know about all the different variations of the squat. You can check it out here.
2. The Deadlift
Similar to the squat – it’s a must-do exercise that has many variations as well. They are all worth incorporating in your routine! I already shared all the cues and tips you might need, in order to perfect your deadlift form.
3. Hip Thrusts
I’ll start with this – if you are not doing hip thrusts…you should be. This is probably the number one exercise to develop and strengthen your glutes. Not only that, it is an excellent assistant exercise to help you improve your squat and increase your deadlift lockout power. Of course, there are many ways to put resistance on: a loaded barbell, a resistance band, a dumbbell, a sandbag…the list can go on, as long as you have the imagination for it.
As an example, I am using probably the most popular variation – the barbell hip thrust. The set up is fairly simple, and there are just a few things to keep in mind:
- Experiment to find the optimal height of the bench (or whatever elevated surface you are using), which feels the most comfortable for you.
- Because you have to roll the barbell over your quads and onto the hips, make sure the plates are high enough for that. If you still cannot go that high in weight and use the bigger size plates, use bumper plates (they all come in the same size). If you don’t have access to those – either have a partner assist you or first deadlift the bar, sit on the bench and then slide down (I know, it’s annoying).
- Your pivot point with the bench should be right under your shoulder blades.
- The bar is positioned in the crease of the hips.
- The feet, in general, should be shoulder-width apart, shins vertical to each other. Toes can point slightly out.
- Your knees should be at a 90 degrees angle at lockout.
- Focus on that mind-muscle connection, and try to move the weight with your glutes.
- At the end of the movement, squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward, WITHOUT overextending your spine.
- Keep the control, while lowering the weight and don’t lose the tension in your glutes.
Note: Protect your hips! Use whatever padding you can find in your gym – a squatting pad or an Airex pad, worst case scenario – a folded mat.
Finally, don’t be afraid to go heavy, but build up to it slowly and over time. Same as for the squats, you know…
Whew, these are far less technical compared to the hip thrusts! Some points stay the same though – there are multiple ways to put more resistance on: with a bar, dumbbells, kettlebells. It’s a movement that we basically do on a daily basis (climbing stairs). Obviously, the higher the step or bench that you are using, the more difficult the exercise, so again – experiment to find the right height for you.
Focus on pushing off with the top leg, instead of with the one on the ground, thus engaging the hamstrings and glutes. Keep your core stable throughout the whole movement. Alternate the legs until you reach the desired reps.
The clamshell is a very underrated exercise that targets mostly the gluteus medius. Putting this movement in your training plan on a regular basis can help you with hip stabilization and hip strengthening. Weak hips can cause a series of injuries and pain even in your feet, knees or ankles, especially if you are a regular runner or you practice sports that involve a lot of running.
How to perform it:
- Begin by lying on your side, legs are closed together and knees are bent at about 45-degree angle. Rest your head on your lower arm.
- Engage your core, and while keeping your feet together, start raising your upper knee up as far as you can, without shifting your hips or lifting your lower leg off the floor.
- Repeat the same number of reps on both sides.
To make the exercise a bit more challenging, put a resistance band right above your knees. The rest stays the same.
6. Reverse lunge
I am a big fan of the reverse lunge, regardless of the way you load them – with a bar, kettlebells, dumbbells or just your bodyweight. You would feel them much more in your glutes compared to regular lunges, but if you want to make them even more butt-focused, here’s a little twist you could do:
- You start with the usual lunge setup – feet are hip-width apart, standing tall and holding dumbbells/kettlebells at your sides.
- Make a step backward, but instead of keeping your torso upright, you lean forward by hinging at the hips, while keeping the spine straight (don’t round your back!). As the weights reach each side of your front calf and you reach the depth of your lunge, come out of the lunge and bring your back foot forward.
- Repeat the same movement on the opposite leg.
Note: Do not step too far back, in a way that will make it hard to perform the exercise smooth and controlled.
7. Banded Glute March
Well, this one is interesting. There are several possible setups for this exercise, but here I will share with you the simplest one. It might look a bit weird, but believe me – you’ll feel the burn quite quickly. All you need is an elastic band and a lifting belt.
Here’s how to perform it:
- Put the belt on with the band equally pulled over it and cantered in front of your body.
- Place your feet inside each side of the band.
- Start marching back and forth until fatigued.
Note: To make it harder you can hold kettlebells in a front rack position.
8. Banded Side-walk
Oh, those mighty resistance bands! Here’s another exercise to target the gluteus medius and strengthen your hips. It’s a great way to warm up and activate your glutes before heavy squats or use them like a burner at the end of your leg/glutes workout. I also love to use them as part of a superset with another glute-focused exercise.
Here’s how to perform it:
- Position the resistance band either right under your knees or just above your ankles.
- Starting stance is with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and hips hinged slightly forward. The back is straight, chest and head up.
- Staying in that low position, make a sideways step first with one foot then with the opposite one, while maintaining the tension in the band.
- Continue the lateral walk until you reach your goal repetitions and then repeat the same in the opposite direction.
What about you?
- Which of these exercises have you tried?
- Which is your favorite glute exercise?
- How often do you train legs/glutes?