Doing the right exercises for great glutes

Every woman wants a nice butt. She wants to look good in a swimsuit, feel strong, and move with confidence. The key to developing great-looking glutes is doing the right exercises – ones that are based on the function and activation of the glute muscles.

Here, we’re going to explain how the glutes work, why strong glutes are so important, and highlight some of the exercises you should be doing.

Understanding how the glutes work

The glutes aren’t just one muscle – they’re actually a group of three muscles in the lower region of the posterior chain that work together to help you move in all directions and, in collaboration with the back muscles, remain in an upright posture.

  • The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three muscles and is responsible for extending and externally rotating the hip. When you walk, the gluteus maximus is the prime mover muscle that pushes your leg back and propels you forward.

  • The gluteus medius sits under the maximus, on the outer surface of the pelvis. It’s main function is abduction, allowing you to abduct the leg away from the midline.

  • The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three muscles and is located under the medius. It helps abduct the leg away from the midline and works to stabilize the pelvis.

Why strong glutes are essential

Your glutes are necessary to perform normal activities of daily living such as walking, sitting, bending, lifting, and simply staying upright. Strong glutes promote better balance, agility, hip mobility and stability, and allow you to remain pain-free. For sports activities, having strong glutes means that you can run faster, jump higher, have more power, and avoid injuries.

When your glutes are weak, other parts of the body must compensate. This can result in muscle imbalances, excess stress being placed on the anterior hips and spine, and poor lower body alignment. It can also promote lower back and knee pain or injuries like runner’s knee and iliotibial band syndrome, as other muscles are recruited to do jobs they aren’t meant to do.

The top exercises for great glutes

To get strong glutes, you have to ensure you’re doing the right exercises. What does that mean?

  • Working the muscle the way it’s supposed to work. This requires understanding the function of the muscle.

  • Choosing exercises that require the most muscle activation for the glutes. This means either the glute muscle group as a whole, or just the intended target region (maximus, medius, or minimus).

  • Choosing exercises that best fit your body and abilities. If you’re unable to squat with good form and to parallel, it’s not a good exercise to engage the gluteus maximus. Instead, you can perform a quadruped hip extension and get great results.

Here are 7 of the best exercises to build and strengthen your glutes. They can be performed with or without load, at home or at the gym.

1. Quadruped hip extension


Get in a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips. Keep your back neutral and brace your core. Drive your right leg upwards, keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle throughout the movement so the thigh and knee are parallel to the floor. Hold the contraction, return to the starting position, and repeat for desired repetitions. Then, switch sides.

Tip: Make the exercise more challenging by adding a mini-resistance band above your knees or ankles.

2. Glute bridge


Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, hip distance apart. Keep your arms at your side with palms facing down. Engage your glutes and core, then push through your heels to lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line. Return to the starting position and repeat until fatigue sets in.

Tip: Progress to a single-leg bridge, and/or add a mini-band below your knees and abduct the hips to target the outer sides of the glutes.

3. Stability ball hip lift

Lie on your back with your legs extended and your feet resting on the stability ball. Keep your arms to the side with palms facing down. Brace your core, engage your glutes, and lift the hips up into extension. Hold for a second or two, then return to the starting position. Repeat until fatigue sets in.

4. Kettlebell swing


Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hinge from the hips while keeping your back flat and your core engaged. Lean forward and place both hands on the kettlebell. Maintain a slight bend in the knees and drive the hips back. Then, in a fluid motion, explosively drive the hips forward while swinging the kettlebell, keeping the glutes and core engaged into full hip extension. Repeat for the desired amounts of repetitions.

5. Squat to side leg lift


Stand tall with your feet hip or shoulder width distance apart. Brace your core and sit back by bending at the hips and knees. Lower until the thighs are parallel to the floor with a straight back. Press through the heels to stand up, then lift your right leg out to the side with your toes pointing forward. Bring your leg back and into the squat position, and repeat on the other side for the desired amount of repetitions.

  • Tip: Add a light resistance band above your knees to increase the intensity of this exercise.

6. Step ups

Stand tall in front of your step (or chair). Brace your core, lift your right leg, and place your entire foot on the step. Keep your hips level and your spine upright throughout the movement. Using your arms to balance, engage your right glutes and push down into your right foot to stand up on top of the step. Drive your opposite knee to hip level, and remain tall with your hips fully extended. Slowly step your left foot back onto the floor and repeat for the desired amount of repetitions. Then, switch sides.

7. Side lying clam shell with mini-band


Lie on your right side with your knees bent about 90 degrees and your feet on top of each other. Your feet should be in line with your glutes. Put your left hand on your hip for stability and your right arm under your head for support. Engage your core and rotate your left hip to lift your knee, while keeping your feet together and without rocking backwards. Squeeze your glutes for a second or two, then return to the starting position. Repeat until fatigue sets in, then switch sides.

Shaf Saeed