Isolating and increasing activation of our glute muscles has several major benefits.
First, studies have shown increased glute activation can reduce injuries to other muscles and joints, being particularly protective against knee injuries. Also, strong glutes improve posture and help protect against lordosis in the lower back.
The exercises on this list come from research that has shown the greatest amounts of muscle fiber activation in the gluteal muscles. Moves like the single-leg squat and side bridge, as well as single-leg deadlifts and side-lying hip abductions, elicited the greatest response from these hip muscles.
1. Forward step-up
The first glute exercise we have for you has been shown in multiple studies to recruit the highest muscle activation from the gluteal muscle responsible for hip extension – the gluteus maximus. Different from a traditional lunge, the forward step-up results in stronger glutes because of the increased hip flexion at the bottom of the movement. Try it with bodyweight, or add weight with dumbbells for more resistance.
- Assume the starting position standing with one foot on a step or box, ideally with the hip and knee bent at least 90 degrees.
- Using this as a single leg glute activation exercise, consciously engage the glute complex before pushing through the step and stepping up into a fully extended position.
- Slowly lower yourself down to the start, and complete all reps on one side before switching legs.
2. Single-leg deadlift
While the Romanian deadlift is one of the favorite glute exercises, we can get even more glute development by taking it onto one leg. The glute muscle fibers are much more highly activated with a single foot position, which is a much more athletic position. It can be done either as a bodyweight balance focus or as a dumbbell deadlift for glute strength and mass.
- Stand with one foot slightly off the ground, holding a dumbbell in each hand, either side of the stance leg.
- While using the core muscles and hamstring muscles to stabilize, focus on engaging the glutes to lower forward until you feel a good stretch.
- Focus on strong glutes as you return to the starting position, repeating all reps while keeping the feet flat on the ground.
3. Single-leg squat
Another popular exercise for glutes is the traditional squat. But, if you want more complete glute activation, the single-leg version has been found to be a more effective glute mass exercise. Many people find this alternative to squats difficult, but they can be easily modified with a higher box, increasing the range of motion as you become stronger in the movement.
- Stand facing away from an appropriately sized box or bench.
- Keeping a neutral position in the spine and the foot position narrow, extend one leg out to the front and sit back, just touching the box with your butt.
- Keep the chest upright as you drive up through the gluteus maximus.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for as many reps as you can do with good form.
This is a great exercise for challenging the gluteus muscles in an isometric position. If you suffer from bad knees, you may be able to find a good glute contraction here without aggravating your injury. Training in static positions has unique glute-building benefits, so use your mind-muscle connection to turn this into a great glute isolation exercise.
- Pressing your upper body against a wall, squat down until your knees and hips are bent 90 degrees.
- For a greater burn on the hip extensors, drop the hips slightly lower than the knees.
- Utilizing bodyweight glute isolation, hold this position for as long as possible.
- The main factor for glute activation here is focusing on squeezing the muscle hard, not letting other muscles take over.
This great exercise is similar to a glute kickback, only on all fours on a yoga mat. By incorporating the upper body, this exercise makes the glutes work extra hard against gravity while remaining stable. You can add a resistance band for extra work on the hip joint.
- The starting position is a quadruped position on the floor or a mat for extra padding for folks with knee issues.
- Keeping a neutral spinal position, raise the opposite arm and leg parallel to the ground.
- Use your core strength as well as your glute to hold for a couple of seconds, then lower to the starting position.
- For an extra butt burn, try a small circular motion with the feet at shoulder level.
6. Side plank
The side plank is a popular exercise for core strength, but most people don’t realize it’s also an amazing bodyweight glute exercise. The gluteus medius is the main muscle that holds up the hips from the side, and the side plank is the perfect way to get that glute burn-out feeling.
- Lying on your side with your bottom elbow directly under the shoulder, squeeze your butt, and lift up so there is a straight line from your head to your feet.
- Hold for the desired time, and slowly lower to the starting position.
- If doing this exercise from your feet is too difficult, it can be done from the knees with your knees bent.
7. Pelvic drops
This next exercise may not be one you’ve seen in the gym before, but it definitely has a place in this list. Since one of the main jobs of the glutes is to keep the hip joint level during walking, this exercise helps activate the glute from a single-leg standing position.
- Stand on the edge of a step or box with one foot hanging over the edge.
- Keeping the knees straight, slowly lower the hip of the hanging leg.
- Then, squeeze the glutes on the standing leg to lift the hip back to the starting position.
- Perform reps until fatigue makes it hard to perform with good technique.
8. Side-lying hip abduction
This exercise is great for beginners or those who want to work their glutes with a non-weight-bearing exercise. You can use ankle weights or a resistance band to increase the tension, or get creative with different movement patterns with the foot for an extra burn.
- Lay on your side, supporting your head with your hand.
- Keeping the legs straight out and the trunk tilted slightly forward, engage the glutes on your top leg before raising the foot.
- Control the movement with the muscles rather than swinging up and down, and avoid turning the toes up or leaning back to help cheat the movement.
9. Transverse lunge
While the traditional side lunge is also a great glute exercise, the transverse lunge actually stimulates more glute activation. Check out the video below if you haven’t seen this move before, and make sure to add it to your glute workout!
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, or holding a weight at chest height.
- From a shoulder-width stance, step one foot back, turning to the same side.
- Keep the upper body in line with the stepping leg as you squat down, before pressing up and turning back to the front.
- Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other leg.
This exercise is unique on this list, as it focuses on hip external rotation rather than extension or abduction. One of the primary movers of this movement is the gluteus minimus, a smaller glute muscle underlying the larger ones. Although this exercise looks easy at first glance, when done properly it will burn your butt muscles like nothing else!
- Lay on your side in the same position as the side-lying leg raise, but with the knees bent 30 degrees.
- Keeping the heels together and the torso rolled slightly forward, lift your top knee upward.
- Lower down with control, keeping the glutes activated for the entire set.
We hope this article has given you some good ideas for glute exercises to add to your leg workout! With these moves in your repertoire, you’ll have a strong, toned butt in no time.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should you train glutes?
Glute training can be done at different frequencies depending on your goals. For injury prevention and hip stability, certain exercises can be done daily. If your goal is awesome glute strength as part of a strong posterior chain, two to three times a week with higher load and volume may be more optimal. Glute mass building can be done with slightly lighter weight, but higher reps and sets.
What is glute activation?
Glute muscle activation is the ability to independently engage the gluteal muscles through their full range of motion. People with weak glutes may be able to perform compound exercises but rely more on other muscles to perform the action. The exercises in this article will target the butt muscles, but it is still important to focus on engaging the muscle the entire time.
Should I include lunges in my glute workout?
Absolutely! Although not strictly an isolation exercise because they work muscles across multiple joints, lunges are one of my favorite glute activation exercises. They also provide an excellent glute stretch when done through a deep range of motion. Don’t forget to lunge through multiple directions, too. Forward lunges will focus more on the gluteus maximus, while side lunges will activate the glute medius.