You might have heard that squats and deadlifts are all you need to pack on some glute gains. While there’s absolutely no doubt that they’re both amazing exercises, and are definitely ones you should consider including in your training for better looking, stronger glutes, there’s no guarantee they’re the only exercises that you, personally need for the best results.
We’re all unique – that’s a given; from the length of our bodies and limbs, to our lifestyles, to our genetics. These and many other factors will all have an impact on the best possible training for your glutes (i.e. one size doesn’t fit all). What worked for one person may or may not work for you.
What we do know however, based on a combination of scientific research and anecdotal evidence, is that a variety of movements, covering the different functions of the gluteal muscles will give you the best chances of success.
Why Should I Train Glutes?
Your glutes are one of the largest muscle groups in your body, and aside from just looking good, are incredibly important for your general health.
Unfortunately, most of us sit on them for the majority of the day, and they sort of ‘forget’ how to work properly (called ‘gluteal amnesia’). In fact, whatever you’re doing right now, I want you to try to squeeze your bum as hard as you can – imagine trying to pinch a penny between your cheeks.
If it didn’t feel like a very hard squeeze, yours are probably quite inactive at the moment, but don’t worry we can do something to improve that, just keep reading on to find out how…
Benefits of Glute Training
Does your lower back ache at all?
That’s a really common result of weak/inactive glutes, because it can compensate for that weakness. By training them to be stronger you may find that pain is reduced, and day-to-day activities become much easier.
Another reason training your glutes is so important comes down to how often we tend to use the front half of our body compared to the back half (A.K.A. the posterior chain). Whenever we get up from a chair, or walk up stairs we mainly use the muscles in our thighs (quads), therefore they’re much more likely to be stronger than the muscles on the back half of our bodies.
This is something we’ve got the power to change, by training our posterior chain (especially glutes), more so than our quads.
There’s so many exercises I could have recommended in this list; the ones I’ve picked for you here are less common but have been proven to be really effective for both sculpting and strengthening!
Exercise 1: Hip Thrust
This has got to be my favourite glute exercise. It might look and feel a little odd to do at first, but believe me, from experience with my clients and myself, it’s well worth it! The burn you’ll get from doing it properly, is probably going to be like no burn you’ve ever felt before!
I’ll talk you through how to do the barbell hip thrust, but there’s so many other variations of it to try, including bodyweight, single-leg and band.
I’d always advise getting used to this with your bodyweight first, before using a bar across your hips.
You may have to improvise with the set up if using a barbell, as you’ll need support behind the bench or step, to avoid it tipping over (bodyweight/band variations tend to be okay). There is a specific piece of equipment called The Hip Thruster for this, but they’re not very common in gyms at the moment.
a) Place/roll a bar across your hips – you might want to use a foam pad around the bar for comfort, and position your upper back on top of a bench or step.
b) Move your feet out so when flat, your shin is approximately vertical. If you feel the hamstrings working in the top position (image B), bring your feet slightly closer to the bench. On the other hand, if your weight pushes through the balls of your feet rather than your heels, move your feet slightly further away.
In terms of foot width, start around shoulder-width and adjust from there. Again, due to people being different, some people will feel it better with a wider stance, and some with a narrower one. You may also want to try comparing how it feels with your toes pointing forwards, or out at 45 degrees.
c) From here, tense your abs and squeeze your glutes. Now push as hard as you can through your heels and lift the bar up with your hips until your body is in line with the top of the bench and your shin is vertical. Make sure you squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top, rather than using your lower back and over-arching.
d) Do the reverse to lower the bar back to the ground under control.
Sets: 4 – Reps: 8-12
Exercise 2: High Step/Reverse Lunge Combo
While single-leg exercises aren’t solely focused on your glutes, they can be very useful for development and strength.
a) Place one heel on a step/bench and lean forward at a 45 degree angle (this forward lean increases glute activation, in comparison to standing upright).
I’ve use the high step/reverse lunge combo as an example, but the same applies to other single-leg variations such as lunges (forward/reverse/walking) and the Bulgarian (or rear foot elevated) split squat.
b) Push through the heel of your front leg until you’re standing on the step. Make sure all of the work is being done by your front leg, and that you’re not using your back leg to help.
c) Lower yourself back to the ground under control, using the front leg as a brake against gravity.
Exercise 3: Hip Extension
This one is very similar to a back extension, with a slight twist – instead of targeting the lower back, here we’re just targeting your glutes.
In the example I’m using a Swiss Ball, but if you have access to a back extension machine you can use that instead.
a) Position yourself with your hips on top of the Swiss Ball (it could take you a couple of tries to get this exactly right – if the ball is too low i.e. on your legs, you’ll be more likely to tip over the top of it, and if it’s too high i.e. on your stomach, you’ll feel it more in your lower back that your glutes).
b) Place your feet against the wall, somewhere outside shoulder-width, flare your feet at around 45 degrees and slightly bend your knees.
c) Cross your arms across your chest, push your hips into the ball and squeeze your glutes hard to lift the upper half of your body off the ball. Make sure you keep your chest over the ground rather than arching your lower back and facing your chest to the wall (to make this harder, put your hands behind your head in the ‘prisoner’ position).
Sets: 3 – Reps: 12-15
Exercise 4: Kettlebell Swing
As well as being an awesome exercise for strengthening and building shape in your glutes, the swing can also act as an amazing cardio workout!
a) Stand with your feet around shoulder-width, with a slight bend at your knees.
b) Pull your shoulder blades back and squeeze them together, and start to swing the kettlebell between your legs, keeping a straight back through the whole movement.
c) Push your hips back (imagine there’s a wall you’re trying to touch with your bum behind you), and keep them at the same height through the swing, instead of ‘squatting’ the kettlebell up.
d) Drive your hips and the kettlebell forward to shoulder-height, as explosively as possible using your glutes (not your lower back).
The momentum you generate with your glutes should be enough to raise the kettlebell up to that height, without using your arms or shoulders (that’s not what we’re trying to target here).
Sets: 3 – Reps: 20
Exercise 5: Cable Pull-through
Use a rope connection at the bottom of a cable machine (you can also do this with a resistance band if you don’t have access to a cable machine).
a) Stand with your feet around shoulder-width, with a slight bend at your knees, with your back to the cable machine.
b) Holding the rope connection, walk forward from the machine.
c) Move your hips backwards towards the cable stack, passing the rope through your legs. Keep your hips at the same level and your back straight at all times.
d) Still holding onto the rope, drive your hips forwards away from the cable machine and squeeze at the end of the movement.
Make sure you use your hips and glutes to complete the movement, rather than using your arms to move the rope forwards.
Sets: 2 – Reps: 30
Exercise 6: Band/Side Lying Clam
All the exercises we’ve gone through so far have been in a forward motion using hip extension, however the glutes also have another function – abduction (moving your leg away from the centre line). Side lying clams cover this particular movement.
Wrap a resistance band around your legs, just below your knees. You can also do this without a band, but due to less tension I’d recommend doing more reps or sets.
a) Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder, supporting your upper body, place one foot on top of the other, and bend your knees.
b) Lift your knee back as far as possible, putting tension on the band, and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. You should feel this one in the top part of your bum, which will be different to any of the above exercises (that’s your glute medius as opposed to your gluteus maximus).
Alternatives to this would be fire hydrants or seated abduction.
Sets: 2 – Reps: 30 (per side)
Glute Workout Plan
Training your glutes will enhance improve your day-to-day life and reduce the risk or symptoms of lower back pain.
There are many, many different exercises and/or variations of the above which are also effective for the glutes, so this list is far from exhaustive. Notice how the title of this article isn’t ‘The BEST Glute Exercises’ – everyone’s different so while these are definitely very effective, they may not be best-suited for certain people. The best approach to discover this is trial and error.
For optimal results, its’ best to cover all bases by including a variety of different movements and different rep ranges in order to hit all muscle fibres!