Many of the AMAZING glute activation exercises that we should all be doing are those funny looking moves that Jane Fonda used to do in her leotard with ankle weights.
They are the moves that most people, especially guys, avoid.
However, everyone from the professional athlete to the guy or gal sitting behind the desk for 9 hours a day, should do those funny looking glute activation moves!
By activating your glutes, you reduce your risk of injury and can even alleviate the back pain you may be suffering from because of sitting hunched over all day.
You can also improve your speed, lift more and have strong, sexy legs all by doing those stupid looking moves.
Glute activation exercises should be included in your warm up to get your butt ready and activated for the bigger exercises you plan to do in your workout so that your low back doesn’t try and take over.
They can also be included in your actual workout to make sure your glutes continue to work.
Below are 10 Must-Do Glute Activation Exercises:
1. Glute Bridge – The glute bridge is a versatile move that can be used for activation as well as developing great glute strength. It is a great move to strengthen your glutes and open up your hips. You can do it with just your own bodyweight or even add weight! A great variation of the glute bridge for activation is the mini band glute bridge shown below. Just make sure that as you do the glute bridge, you don’t hyperextend your low back to get your hips up higher. You want your glutes to really have to work to raise your hips up.
If you are using the glute bridge for activation, make sure to slow down the tempo and even hold for a few seconds at the top of the bridge.
Click here for the basic glute bridge, which is great for activation, as well as some other variations like the Bridge with Curl or Barbell Hip Thruster that are great strength moves.
Another great glute bridge variation to use in your warm up is the Thoracic Bridge. This move activates your glutes while also stretching your thoracic spine. Below is the Sit Thru to Thoracic Bridge. To learn how to do this great bridge variations, click here.
2. Donkey Kick – This move will wake up your entire core, activating your glutes and warming up your abs and shoulders.
To do the donkey kick, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Flex your feet.
Then keeping the knee bent close to 90 and the foot flexed, kick one leg back and drive the heel up toward the ceiling. Don’t let the low back arch and make sure you draw your belly button in toward your spine. Make sure that as you lift you are squeezing the glute of the leg you are raising.
The foot should drive straight up to the ceiling and the knee shouldn’t flare out. Do not let your elbows bend to get the leg higher. Hold at the top and squeeze the glute then lower and repeat. Make sure you are driving straight back and that the knee of the raised leg is bent to 90 and isn’t flaring in or out.
There is no need to weight down this move if you are using it in your warm up, although you can if you really want to use it to develop strength. To get the most out of this activation move, hold at the top for 2-5 seconds. Do not rush through the reps.
3. Fire Hydrant – The fire hydrant is a great way to wake up the glute medius, which is a critical muscle for maintaining balance and preventing knee and ankle injuries. Strengthening your glute medius will also improve your hip’s stability as well as help you run faster and change direction more quickly.
To do the fire hydrant, place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Flex your feet and keep both your feet flexed even as you raise one leg.
Then raise one leg out to the side, keeping the knee bent to 90 degrees. Lift it as high as you can while keeping your arms straight. Try to not let the foot get higher than the knee or the knee get higher than the foot. Really squeeze the butt cheek as you lift.
Hold for a second or two at the top. Lower down and then repeat. Complete all reps on one side before switching.
4. Hip Circles – This move combines the donkey kick with the fire hydrant while also adding in a great ab activation movement. To prevent and even ease your low back pain, you need your glutes AND your abs to be active. This move activates both.
To do hip circles, setup on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Flex your feet.
Then drive one heel back toward the ceiling, keeping the knee bent to 90 and the foot flexed (this is the donkey kick). Then without lowering to the ground, bring that same leg out to the side, keeping the knee bent to 90 and the foot flexed. It should look like the top of the fire hydrant move.
Then without setting the knee down, drive it forward into the elbow. Keep the foot flexed the entire time and your elbows straight. When you drive into the elbow, you should really feel your abs engage. Then lower the knee down and repeat.
5. Posterior Plank – The posterior plank is a great glute activation move as well as a great stretch for your chest and hips. This is a tougher move because your legs are out straight. You can also regress this move by bending your knees and bringing your feet in closer to your butt.
To do the posterior plank, start seated on the ground with your legs out straight in front of you and your hands on the ground behind your butt. Your fingertips should be pointing toward your butt or out to the side.
Drive through your hands and heels and raise your hips up off the ground toward the ceiling, keeping your legs straight. Press your chest up and out as you raise your hips. Keep your legs straight as you bridge up and relax your head back. Your body should be in a nice straight line at the top.
Beginners may need to bend their legs a bit to hold the bridge at the top. Hold for a few seconds and then lower back down and repeat.
6. Band Monster Walks and Side Shuffle – Mini bands are a great tool to activate your glutes from every angle. Two of my favorite moves are the Monster Walks and Side Shuffle since they hit everything. If you even just include these two moves in your warm up, you are good to go in terms of glute activation!
The key with both of these moves is to keep your feet apart and the band tight. To make it easier, put the band around your knees. To make it harder, put the band around your feet. Do not let your knees cave in as you walk or your glutes won’t be forced to work.
7. Clams – This is another move to isolate the glute medius. This move is commonly used by people rehabbing hip injuries and low back pain BUT it is also a great move to activate the glutes and PREVENT those problems!
You can do this move without a mini band, however, the mini band does provide resistance. You can also push down with your own hand if you don’t have a band.
For tips on how to do the clam, click here!
8. Bird Dog – This is a great core stabilizer exercise. It wakes up everything from your shoulders to your knees.
The key with the bird dog is to move slowly. You can add a band connecting your hand to your heel if you want to add resistance.
You can also advance the bird dog by doing this from the push up position instead of from your hands and knees.
To do the basic bird dog, place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Flex your feet.
Kick one leg out straight back as if kicking it into the wall behind you while you reach the other arm out straight toward the wall in front of your head (reaching opposite arm and opposite leg in opposite directions). Don’t worry about lifting your leg or arm up high.
Really try to drive your arm and leg toward opposite walls. Squeeze your glutes and keep your belly button pulled in toward your spine.
As you lower your arm and leg, bend them and bring them together under your body. Try to touch your knee to your elbow before extending back out.
Repeat all reps on one side before switching to the other side. All reps should be done in a slow and controlled manner. You should even hold for a second or two at the top of the move.
9. Reverse Hypers (Single Leg Reverse Hypers) – Reverse Hypers are a great move to activate the glutes and strengthen them. I often use these in my workouts paired with a bigger, compound lift.
To do the basic two-leg reverse hyper, lie face down on a table, bench or box. Make sure your hips are right at the edge. Hold on to something in front of you if you want. Keep your upper body relaxed. Squeeze your legs together and point your toes out a bit if you are having trouble activating your glutes. Lift your legs to basically parallel to the ground, keeping your legs straight. Do not hyperextend your back and lift way higher than parallel. You do not want to feel this in your low back. Hold for 2-5 seconds and then lower down. Keep your core tight and really squeeze your glutes as you lift.
The two-leg reverse hyper can also be done from the ground, however, I prefer to do a single-leg reverse hyper (or lying kickback) from the ground.
I actually like doing the single-leg reverse hyper with a mini band, which is pictured below.
10. Side Plank with Leg Lift – You wouldn’t think of a plank as a glute activation exercise, necessarily, but it is. Especially a side plank with a leg lift!
The side plank with leg lift is an advanced move. You can regress this move and do a lying abductor lift.
To do the lying abductor lift, place the band around your ankle and lie on your side on the ground. You can support your head in your hand while lying on your side and place the other hand in front of you on the ground. Stack your feet on top of each other and then lift your top leg straight up as high as you can.
Do not lean forward or backward or let your hips rotate forward or backward. Keep your core engaged as you lift. Also, keep the foot that you lift parallel to the one on the ground. If you rotate the toe up toward the ceiling, you will be working your external rotators, which is a great variation that you can also include.
To do the side plank with leg raise, set up on your side. Prop yourself up with your forearm right below your shoulder (or your hand to advance the move) and stack your feet one on top of the other. Then lift your bottom hip up off the ground as high as possible while keeping your body in a nice straight line. Squeeze your belly button in toward your spine and keep your glutes tight.
Do not let your chest rotate forward toward the ground or your top hand touch the ground. Keep your top hand on your hip or reach it up toward the ceiling. Then lift and lower the top leg up toward the ceiling, keeping the bottom hip up and the body in a nice straight line. Even as you lift, do not let your chest rotate toward the ground. You can lift and lower straight back down or you can lift and then lower to touch the ground behind you and then in front of you.
Below are some workouts and warm ups using these 10 glute activation moves:
- Get Stronger Legs with Knee Pain
- A Great Warm Up for Cyclists
- Full Body Warm Up
- The Great Glutes Workout
NOTES: Do not use all of these moves with every single workout. Pick and choose just a couple to include with warm up and even during the workout. Doing all of them every workout may actually hinder your results.