A powerful pair of glutes are a top priority, not only for their visual appeal, but the benefits of reduced injury and likelihood of low back pain. Whether you’re an athlete looking to benefit from greater speed, agility, and power, or just a casual gym-goer looking to move better, everyone can benefit from a stronger butt.
The beautiful thing about glute workouts is that many of the workouts it incorporates are excellent for other parts of the lower body, which means you’ll be knocking out multiple targets in a single workout.
Before you hit the gym it’s important to go armed with the right knowledge and exercises to make your glute workout count. There are three muscles that make up the butt; the gluteus minimus, medius, and Maximus. In a moment we’ll go over important points about each muscle group and some of the best exercises to use to develop each one. So without further adu, let’s jump into it!
Gluteus Maximus Exercises
This is one muscle that needs no introduction, and for good reason. It lives up to the hype as one of the largest and strongest muscles in the body, and is one of the major players in keeping the body upright.
The primary function of the gluteus Maximus is extend and externally rotate the thigh. It also acts as an extensor in situations like rising from a seated position, walking up stairs, and running. It also works in coordination with the pelvis, supporting it and the trunk in taxing positions such as standing on one leg (as you’ll see later).
The gluteus Maximus serves many roles in all realms of fitness- in the gym and on the field. For athletes, the gluteus Maximus is one of the most important muscles to train because of its role of extension at the hip joint and its correlation with explosive power. In fact a study examining the tie between the gluteus Maximus muscle to quadriceps femoris ratio in faster athletes compared to slower athletes. It found that the larger the ratio, the faster the athlete (2).
Gluteus Maximus Weakness
Just as the GM contributes to better overall fitness, weakness in the muscle can have just as much of a negative impact. Even when the GM is dysfunctional, it doesn’t necessarily stop moving or show signs of injury as the body attempts to compensate. However an imbalance in the GM could lead to chronic “bio mechanical overload” type injuries or acute issues like ACL injuries for instance. A weak gluteus Maximus has been responsible for numerous injuries such as;
-anterior knee pain
-low back pain
-femoral acetabular impingement syndrome
-anterior cruciate ligament injuries (3)
While most people won’t deal with anything nearly so severe because of dysfunctional glutes, it’s still very easy to develop weakened GMs in this day and age. The modern lifestyle for one is considered a major contributor to reduced use of the gluteus maximus. Prolonged sitting and inactivity that decreases use of the GM, which causes it to atrophy and grow weak. Some believe this weakness causes reliance on the secondary hip extensor muscles to create hip extension torque, otherwise known as synergistic dominance.
Poor posture changes the length tension relationship of the GMs, which as you can imagine weakens the muscle. Despite all of the instances and consequences of weakened/ injured GMs, the best way to it’s status is through gluteus Maximus exercises.
Step ups are a great exercise for developing the quads and thighs, but they play a large role for your backside as well. Another plus is they build strength in each leg individually rather than both in bilateral movements. This can help address imbalances in power, balance, or stabilization that would otherwise go unnoticed.
The beauty is that this glute max exercise can be done virtually anywhere there’s an elevated surface. They can also be fairly challenging with or without weight depending on the amount of reps, so play around with that.
- stand a few inches in front of a box or chosen elevated surface (keep in mind the shorter the surface, the easier the exercise will be).
- hold dumbbells on either side of your body or place a barbell across your shoulders
- step up to the box with your preferred foot
- bring your opposing foot up on top of the box as well, straightening the first leg into a standing position
- bring the first foot back down to the floor, then step down with the opposing foot back into the starting position.
Quadruped Hip Extension w/ Knee Flexion
Quadruped hip extension with knee flexion is a classic gluteus maximus exercise everyone should have in their arsenal. For those that have a hard time with compound movements but still want to target the glutes, this isolation exercise is just for you. It’s a very effective in the way it activates the glutes without the necessary balance, range of motion, or strength squats, deadlifts, and lunges require.
- get on all fours, positioning your knees hip width apart and your hands directly under your shoulders. Make sure your spine is in a neutral position with no dip in your back.
- while contracting your core, squeeze your glutes to raise the left leg while keeping your leg bent. Raise your leg until it is parallel with the floor, feeling the contraction all the while in your GM.
- slowly return your left leg to the starting position and repeat the process with the right leg
One of the downsides to barbell exercises are their decreased tension on the hip extensors. But because the hip thrust is loaded horizontally, tension on the muscle of the hips remains constant and only increases as the pelvis locks out at a neutral or slightly overextended position at the top.
- lay face up on the floor with your knees bent at a 20 degree angle and your feet tucked close to your body.
- drive your hips upward until they are fully extended, creating a straight line between your knees, hips and torso.
- clench your core and glutes the entire time at the top and then slowly lower your hips back into the starting position.
Gluteus Medius Exercises
The gluteus medius is a thick muscle that lines the top, outer portion of the rear end, or what many know as the “side booty”. The upper portion of the muscle begins on the, the large protruding bone of the pelvis. It then travels down the hip and is broken down into 3 portions:
– the rear section, which has fibers arranged forward and downward
-the mid section, with fibers facing downward only
-the front section, with fibers arranged backwards and downwards
Gluteus Medius Function
The majority of this muscle is covered by the glute maximus, and because of its placement is tasked with controlling and stabilizing the hips. However if you thought this was all the glute medius was good for, you’d be mistaken. This muscle also
- Is the key contributor for hip abduction. This movement happens when you move your leg away from your body laterally, activating the front and rear portions of the gluteus medius.
- Is responsible for keeping the hips even when in motion. Maintaining a leveled pelvis is called frontal plane control. When you think about it, this is one of the Eason why single leg exercises like lunges and kickbacks are so good for building the glutes (as they work harder to keep the hips leveled).
- Works for hip flexion and extension
There are plenty of reasons to focus on growing this glamorous muscle outside of looks. A well trained glute medius will protect your body from hip imbalances, as well as help in sports performance (changing direction, deceleration, jumping, etc.). A strong gluteus medius also relieves the symptoms of knee pain as its weakened state causes the torso to lean on its unsupported leg. This imbalance and lack of control of the frontal plane is called Trendelenburg gait and contributes to many lower body injuries.
There are plenty of exercises that work well for the glute medius, and shortly I’ll give you a few examples.
Results of a study found that quadruped hip extension, step ups and lunges generated much higher muscle activity than the squat in the gluteus medius specifically. These exercises are also excellent for the gluteus maximus as well, but they produced even more activity in the gluteus medius.
Lateral Band Walk
The lateral band walk is a great exercise for stabilizing the pelvis by strengthening the gluteus medius and developing the hip abductors on the outside of the leg. The lateral band walk is often used as a warm up, and with the right pacing and execution, it will definitely serve to fire up the glutes at any point of the workout- start or finish.
- put the resistance band between your legs just above your ankles. Keep your feet spaced far enough apart, about shoulder-width, so there is no slack in the band (causing some form of resistance throughout the entire set.)
- sit into a half-squat position by bending tour knees slightly, going deep enough to feel the burn on either side of your glutes.
- keep your feet in sync with your shoulders, spreading them wide enough apart as you step to feel the tension from the resistance band.
- holding the squat position, shift your weight to the opposite foot as you step forward and sideways with the other foot. Keep your hips low and balanced throughout the entire set. It’s important to remain in the half-squat position to keep the intensity high on the legs and glutes.
Single Leg Squat
While single leg squats are great for the gluteus medius, it’s important to note that this is definitely an intermediate to advanced exercise. The glute medius benefits from trying to lower the torso and stabilize the lower body while balancing on one leg. However to accomplish this, a tremendous a mount of control and coordination has to be developed, which in most cases is out of the average gym-goer’s skill set.
But don’t sweat it, if you’re not quite ready for the single leg squat, there are simpler variations that can offer similar benefits like the single-leg squat with a chair.
- start by standing on your right foot. Keep the majority of your weight on this leg while keeping your upper body erect.
- begin to sit into the movement by bringing your hips back into a squat position. Continue to lower your body until your legs are or about parallel with the floor.
- clench your glutes and drive upward with your performing leg until you return to the starting position at the top.
The clamshell exercise, named for its peculiar movement pattern, is a staple to any glute workout session. The clamshell is great for strengthening the hips and is often used during physical therapy to help patients dealing with back complications, back pain, and sciatica.
This exercise can still accomplish a lot using simply body weight, but to achieve the most tension throughout the entire exercise, it may be a good idea to use resistance bands.
- start by lying on your side with your knees bent and the resistance band secured above both knees.
- rest your head on your elbow and keep your feet and knees together, this will be your starting position.
- leading with your top knee, rotate your leg upwards until it reaches about a 60 degree angle
- slowly return your leg to the starting position, controlling the leg’s descent while giving it enough time to feel the burn in the gluteus medius.
- when at the starting position, avoid making contact with both legs to ensure there is constant tension through the entire set.
Gluteus Minimus Exercises
Last but not least of the three muscles is the gluteus minimus. The the gluteus minimus is one of the 6 hip abductors and is very important for hip stabilization, especially when balancing on one leg. Along with the glute medius it also acts as one of the hip joint’s primary internal rotators.
Side Lying Hip Extension
Side lying hip abduction is essential for leg abduction and common daily activities like side stepping and standing up. Strengthening the abductors not only helps the gluteus minimus, but it also leads to improvements in core stability, knee health and overall athletic performance.
This is a great exercise for all fitness levels, but if you’re looking for a more challenging option I recommend adding a resistance band into the mix. Even a band with very slight tension will completely change the exercise, similar to the lateral band walk.
- rest on your side with your legs fully extended, keeping your neck, back and legs aligned.
- place the palm of your hand under your head, protecting it from contact with the floor.
- after exhaling, raise your upper leg just above your hip joint. When you start feeling tension in your glutes, pause at the top for a few seconds and feel the contraction before lowering your leg.
- repeat for as many reps are necessary and then alternate sides.
You don’t have to stretch your imagination to understand this exercise or why it’s named this way. As another hip abductor exercise, it is great for creating mobility in the hips and developing core strength.
Many exercises like the fire hydrant arm very simple in execution, so much so that if you’re not focused on what you’re doing you will perform the exercise in effectively. When doing the fire hydrant, really concentrate on what you feel in your gluteus minimus. If you have to make slight adjustments to your body position and movement pattern to get the most glute activation- do it.
- begin on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. (keeping the legs bent at a 90 degree angle)
- keeping your back and hips level- with consistent engagement in your core, lift your right knee to the right of you as high as possible (feeling the contraction at the top for 1 second).
- lower the right leg slowly to it’s original position and repeat the process for as many reps are necessary. After that switch to the left leg and repeat for the same number of reps.
The side lunge being a lower body exercise definitely works the muscles of the lower body- the quads, hamstrings, etc. However because it’s a lateral movement it also works the muscles of the inner leg and the gluteus minimus. It’s a worthwhile exercise for it’s practical applications; on a day-to-day basis it’s essential for tasks like standing, stopping falls, and side-stepping (obviously). It also translates very well for sports like basketball, football, skiing and exercise like yoga.
Some find that side lunges are much easier on the back than other weight loaded compound movements like deadlifts or squats without taking away from its difficulty or emphasis on the glutes. You can add weights (dumbbell, barbell, etc.) for a higher intensity, but starting out no equipment is necessary since it’s a body weight exercise.
- start in a standing position with your legs shoulder width apart
- place your hands in front of your chest, or if using weights place the barbell over your shoulders
- with your right leg, take a large step to your right side, sitting into the movement like a normal squat, but keeping your left leg unbent
- return to the start position by pushing off with your right leg and repeat this on your left side
Putting It All Together
There are many different ways to approach a glute workout, and depending on your fitness level, experience, mood etc., yours will look fairly different from the next guy. In my experience supersets work beautifully when working glutes, and is not only intense but time efficient. Regardless of how quickly you can finish each exercise, pace yourself at all cost. Doing so will ensure that you complete every rep and set without getting discouraged, but also allow you to get the most out of every contraction.
Example Glute Workout
EXERCISE SETS REPS REST
Side lunges 4 8-12 (each side) 60 sec
Step ups 4 8-12 (each side)
Lateral band walk 4 30-40 (steps) 60 sec
Single leg squat 4 8-12 (per leg)
Fire hydrant 4 8-12 (each side) 60 sec
Hip thrusts 4 8-12
Quadruped hip extension w/ knee flexion 4 12-15 (each side) 30-45 sec
All in all once you begin doing glute workouts consistently, you’ll find that results come very quickly. I hope this info and workout helps you on your fitness journey, and until next time, BE WELL!