There are a lot of glute exercises out there, but some give you more bang for your buck than others. Many people turn to squats when they want to work their butt, but squats (and even deadlifts) aren’t necessarily the best options. And what exercise is best also depends on exactly what you are using it for.
There are three different gluteal muscles, each with a different function. And different exercises pinpoint different aspect of your glutes. A glute exercise that strengthens your glute maximus, may not strengthen your glute medius. And if you have IT Band Syndrome, it is very important that you get your glute medius activated and stronger.
Therefore an exercise that is great for you glute maximus isn’t really beneficial for you because you need to targe the glute medius. So before you just randomly string together exercises, think about what you are using them for.
Below I’ve broken down glute exercises by the gluteal muscle they work. Here are some of the best glute exercises to work your three gluteal muscles – the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. Gluteus Maximus
The glute maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It is also the muscle primarily responsible for hip extension. When we want to work our glutes, we often turn to squats and deadlifts, which are great options. However, there are some quadrupe, prone and supine positions that are even better for glute activation than those standing options.
Check out the best glute exercises to activate and work the Glute Maximus below:
1. Donkey Kick – This bent-knee quadrupe move is a great way to target your glute maximus and get the muscle activated. Because the knee is bent the focus is more on the glute than the hamstring (if you did a straight leg variation, you could work your hamstring more). And even though you won’t use super heavy weights with this quadrupe move, it actually helps you activate MORE glute muscle fibers than a deadlift or squat would.
To do the Donkey Kick, start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Flex your feet. Then, keeping your arms straight and your right knee bent, drive your right foot up and back toward the ceiling. Keep your core braced and squeeze your glutes as you kick your heel up and back. Do not let your right knee flare out as you lift. Hold for a second or two at the top and lower back down. You can add weight to this move or slow down the temp to make it more challenging. If you are using it to warm up, do it with only very light weight. If it is part of your workout, feel free to weight it down!
2. Reverse Hyper – This is a great prone glute exercise. At full hip extension, is where we get the most muscle fiber activation and this move allows us to achieve full extension and hold that position under tension. Just like the donkey kick, the Reverse Hyper can be done with bent knees or straight legs.
To do a straight leg Reverse Hyper, lie face down on a bench or box. Place your hips right on the edge of the bench and hold on to the bench or something in front of you. Place your heels together. You can choose to turn your toes out to hit a slightly different aspect of your glutes as well. Then, keeping your legs straight, raise your heels up toward the ceiling. Squeeze your glutes as you lift. Lift to about parallel and lower down. Only lift higher if you don’t feel your lower back take over. You want to focus on and make sure your glutes are working to lift NOT your low back. Hold at the top and lower back down. You can also add weight to make this move harder.
3. Hip Thruster/Glute Bridge – Whether you’re doing a basic bodyweight glute bridge or weighting down a hip thruster, this supine glute exercise is one of the BEST, if not the single best exercise, for the glutes. This can be a great heavy lift or a great activation move. For a variety of glute bridge variations (including the barbell hip thruster), check out this Glute Bridge post.
You can also add a barbell to the basic glute bridge or do a bodyweight variation of the hip thruster with both your feet and your back up on a bench. This bodyweight thruster can also be done as a single leg hip thruster. There are a ton of supine bridging variations, which are all amazing and should be included in your routine!
Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus
The Medius and Minimus perform similar functions. They can assist in abduction, stabilization and both internal and external rotation depending on the position of the hip and knee joints.
The best glute exercises to activate and work the Glute Medius and Minimus are:
1. Fire Hydrant – This move needs no weight to really challenge the glute. The Fire Hydrant doesn’t involve a huge range of motion so don’t compensate to try to get your leg higher. Focus on squeezing your glute as you lift.
To do the Fire Hydrant, start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Make sure your feet are flexed. Then raise your right leg out to the side, keeping your foot flexed and knee bent to 90 degrees. Keep your knee and ankle in line. Do not let your foot get above your knee or your knee go up above your foot. Your lower leg should stay in line and be parallel to the ground. Hold at the top then lower back down. Make sure you do not bend your arms or lean away from the leg being raised just to get the leg up higher. Squeeze your butt and make sure you feel it activate. Lower back down and complete all reps on one side before switching. Hold at the top. Do not rush through the move.
2. Clams – A great abduction exercise that is extra important for anyone with a hip or lower back injury. This move can be done with just bodyweight or with a mini band.
To do the Clam exercise, lie on your side propped up on your forearm with your knees bent and your feet together. You can place your other hand on the ground in front of you or on your side. Steady yourself so you don’t rock when you lift. You may even want to set up with a wall behind you so that you don’t rock back when you lift. We tend to rock back to try to get the leg up higher, but that doesn’t force our glute medius to work as hard. And the range of motion isn’t important. Activating the glute is important! Without rocking back, lift your top knee up as high as you can, squeezing your glute as you lift. Hold at the top then lower back down. If you use a mini band, place it around your knees.
3. Band Walks – Lateral Band Walks and Monster Band Walks are a great way to work the muscles that stabilize your knees and hips to prevent injury. They are part of our warm up routine especially on leg days!
For a complete guide to band walks as well as other great band moves to work the glutes, check out these 10 Mini Band Moves!
While there are a ton of great glute exercises out there, these moves are some of the best glute exercises to work all three muscles. They work your glutes to help prevent injury, activate and strengthen the most powerful muscle in your body!
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