Before we consider the most effective ways of training the muscles in your butt, let’s spend a moment determining exactly what makes up your derriere and why strong and effective glute muscles are so important to your day to day lives as well as your training goals.
Your ‘glutes’ are the largest muscle group in the body and are formed, in most part by the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus as highlighted in the drawing below.
The Gluteus Maximus is the largest and most powerful of the 3 and is mainly responsible for hip extension and outward rotation as well as general hip stabilisation. Pretty important then! It also makes up a large part of the shape and appearance of your bottom. So if you’re looking for a muscular and well defined behind then you’re going to want to make sure this muscle is front and centre of any of your glute workouts.
The Gluteus Medius sits as a deeper layer of muscle beneath the larger Gluteus Maximus and is generally responsible for abduction (when you move your leg laterally away from your body) and medial rotation of the hip.
The Gluteus Minimus is the smallest of the three muscles helping with abduction and medial rotation of the hip. The Medius and Minimus are functionally one muscle group.
There are several reasons, both functional and performance related, why training your glutes is an absolute must.
- Injury prevention: strong and efficient glute muscles can help reduce the risk of discomfort and injury in the lower back, hamstrings, knees and adductors. A lack of strength in your glutes can lead to excessive medial rotation of the femur (i.e your knees collapsing towards the centre of your body) which can cause discomfort in the patella. Your glutes are the largest and most powerful muscle group in the body, yet if they aren’t firing properly then you leave both your lower back and hamstrings taking more of the strain. Neither are as well equipped as your butt for this stress, which means they are more susceptible to injury if overworked. As an elite field hockey player, the position of the lower back in almost permanent flexion meant that strong and active glutes were a vital component of my injury prevention strategy.
- Athletic performance: your glutes play an essential role in almost any sporting activity. They help you to accelerate, decelerate, change direction and produce power in jumping and sprinting. Stronger and more active glute muscles means an increased capacity to perform all of these aspects of physical activity.
- Improved posture: as a result of the increased time we spend as a society sitting; particularly at the office, a significant number of people suffer from poor posture. Strong glutes can help significantly to alleviate such issues.
- Increased bone density: activity that places mechanical stress on the bones can help postpone and even reverse losses in bone density related to ageing. Lower body weight training and in particular exercises which focus on your glute muscles are a great way of achieving this.
- Weight/Fat loss and maintenance: Losing weight and burning fat requires a calorie deficit. As muscle tissue is metabolically active even at rest, the more muscle bulk you have the more energy you will burn even at rest. Given that your glutes are the largest muscle group in the body, it makes perfect sense that their potential contribution to weight and indeed fat loss is significant.
There are a number of ways in which you can improve the strength and activation of your glute muscles. I’ve picked some of the most effective exercises out there to help you form killer butt workouts and start making gains today!
1. Hip Drive:
In a kneeling position with your bottom in contact with your heels, rise to a tall kneeling position by pushing your hips forwards and engaging your glutes. Lower slowly to the start position and repeat the movement.
2. Glute Bridge:
In a laying prone position flat on your back with your knees bent to approximately 90 degrees and the bottoms of your feet in contact with the ground, lift your hips towards the sky until you form a nice straight line with your ankles, hips and shoulders. Squeeze your glutes nice and tight at the top of the range and lower slowly back to the start position. Only tap the floor with your bottom before repeating the movement. Make sure you engage your core throughout the movement in order to keep the back from entering hyperextension. The best way of doing this is by trying to pull your belly button towards your spine.
3. Single Leg Glute Bridge:
Exactly the same setup as the standard double leg glute bridge but instead of performing the hip raise with both feet in contact with the ground, lift one foot off the ground and straighten that leg so that the bottom of your other foot remains in contact with the ground and your knee bent to approximately 90 degrees. Repeat the movement for a set number of repetitions before switching legs.
4. Bosu Glute Bridge:
Exactly the same setup and movement pattern as the standard glute bridge but instead of the bottom of your feet being in contact with the ground, they are in contact with the flat side of a bosu ball. This will provide a more unstable base for you to perform the glute bridge movement, which means both your glutes and your core are going to be working double time to stabilize.
5. Bosu Single Leg Glute Bridge:
Again, the same setup as for the standard single leg glute bridge but with the bottom of your foot in contact with the flat side of a bosu ball rather than the floor.
6. Quadruped Hip Extensions:
Adopt a position on all fours with both knees and hands in contact with the ground and a flat back. Raise one knee slightly off the floor and push the heel of the same leg backwards and upwards until the hip is fully extended, keeping a bent knee position. Squeeze the glute at the top of the range and return to the start position. Alternate working legs whilst maintaining 3 points of contact with the floor throughout each rep.
7. Speed Skaters:
Standing with feet hip width apart in a very slight squat position, jump as far as you can to the side landing softly on your outside leg before immediately jumping the other way and landing on your other leg. Repeat the movement quickly but with control, alternating between jumping left and right.
Laying on your side with your ankles, hips and elbow in contact with the ground; legs together and knees bent approximately 45 degrees, raise one leg away from the other by externally rotating at the hip. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement swapping sides after a set number of reps. For extra resistance why not introduce a rubber band placed around the knees.
9. Bird Dog:
Adopt the same start position as for the quadruped hip extensions on all fours with both knees and hands in contact with the ground and a flat back. Simultaneously extend one arm out in front of your body and the opposite leg behind your body, maintaining contact with the ground with the other hand and knee. Return to the start position and alternate which arm and leg is extended during each rep. Ensure you squeeze your glute at the end of range and try to maintain a flat back throughout the movement by engaging your core and pulling your belly button towards your spine.
10. Side Leg Abductions:
Adopting the same position as for the clam but with your legs straight rather than bent at the knee, lift your top leg towards the ceiling and away from the other. Lower your leg slowly to the start position, maintaining a straight leg throughout all stages of the movement. Repeat a number of times before swapping sides and performing the same movement pattern with the other leg.
11. Fire Hydrant:
Adopt the same position as for the bird dog and quadruped hip extensions, on all fours. Lift one knee slightly off the floor and move your leg away from your body to the side (abduction) whilst maintaining a bent knee. Lower the leg back to the start position and repeat the same movement for a number of repetitions, before swapping sides.
12. Lateral Band Walk:
With a large elastic gym band around your knees, adopt a very slight squat position with your feet hip width apart. Keeping your left foot in contact with the ground move your right leg away from your left leg so that your feet are now at least shoulder width apart. Then bring your left leg back towards the middle of your body so that your feet are back to shoulder width apart. Be sure to complete these movements with as much control as possible. As you move your feet from hip to shoulder width apart you will be pushing out against the resistance of the band. As you move your feet back to hip width apart you will be fighting against the resistance of the band trying to bring your knees back together. This is a great activation exercise to complete pre lifting.
13. Barbell Hip Thrusts:
Sit on the ground with a bench directly behind you and your knees bent at approximately 90 degrees. With a loaded barbell over your hips, lean back against the bench so that your shoulder blades are in contact with it. Drive your hips upwards into the bar until they are fully extended and your ankles, hips and shoulders are in a nice straight line. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the range and lower the bar back to the starting position before repeating the movement. You may want to use a pad on the bar as it should be resting on your hip bones (which can be pretty painful). If your gym doesn’t have a pad then you can always wrap a yoga mat or towel around the barbell.
14. Step- up:
Standing in front of a bench or chair with your feet hip width apart, place your left foot on the chair and step up, bringing your right leg through and up until your knee is level with your hips (leg should be bent at approx 90 degrees). During the step phase, be sure that your weight is over your working leg and you squeeze your glutes and hamstrings rather than pushing off the foot of your stance leg. The intensity of this exercise can be easily increased by adding dumbbells or a barbell depending on your training experience.
15. Walking Lunges:
Stand with your feet hip width apart. Take a large stride in front of your body with your right foot and plant firmly on the sole of your foot. Bend the knee of your front leg until your thigh is parallel with the ground. Your back (left) leg should remain fairly straight and your left knee should not quite come into contact with the ground. Once you reach the bottom of the range, drive your front foot into the floor and straighten the knee whilst bringing your left leg through and taking a long stride with this leg, repeating the same movement pattern as above but with the opposite leg. This exercise can be performed with both body weight resistance (if you’re just starting out) or with dumbbells in either hand or a barbell on your shoulders to make the movement a little tougher.
16. Single Leg RDL:
Standing on one leg with a slightly bent knee, reach down towards the ground with your hands in front of your body, keeping as flat a back as possible and maintaining the same knee angle throughout the movement. Once you have reached the bottom of your range (this may depend on your hamstring flexibility) return to the start position by standing tall again. Be sure to really squeeze your glutes at the top of the range by fully extending your hips. When you have completed a certain number of reps on one leg, switch sides and repeat. Much like with the walking lunges the intensity of this exercise can be increased fairly easily with the addition of dumbbells or a barbell depending on your level of experience.
17. Kettlebell Swings:
Start with the kettlebell on the floor between your feet which should be shoulder width apart. Bend slightly at the knees and hinge forward at the hips maintaining a neutral lumbar spine position as much as possible. Take hold of the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs in order to generate some momentum. As the kettlebell reaches the apex of its backward motion, drive your hips forward and straighten your back and knees so that you are in an upright position with hips fully extended. This movement will cause the kettlebell to move forwards and upwards to around shoulder height as you keep your arms straight. Let gravity return the kettlebell to the start position between your legs as you bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips again. Repeat the movement.
18. Barbell Deadlift:
With your feet around hip width apart and the barbell directly in front of you, bend at the hips and knees to grip the bar whilst maintaining a neutral lumbar spine position. Pulling your shoulders back (by squeezing your shoulder blades together) and pushing your chest forwards should help in achieving this. Lower your hips and flex at the knees until your shins come into contact with the bar. Drive your heels into the ground, straightening at the knee and pushing your hips forwards in order to move the bar upwards. Be sure to really squeeze your glutes at the top of the range and fully extend at the hip. Once at the top of the movement, return the bar slowly to the ground by bending at the knees and hinging at the hips until the bar returns to the ground. Repeat the movement for a certain number of repetitions.
19. Barbell Squat:
With the bar resting across your shoulders and behind your neck place your feet somewhere between hip and shoulder width apart toes facing forwards. Keeping a nice flat back, bend the knees and fold at the hip pushing your bottom backwards and downwards as if you are sitting on a chair behind you. When you reach the bottom of your range, somewhere around 90 degree knee bend, drive into the floor through your heels,straightening your knees and pushing your hips forwards.To really maintain control throughout the lift and maximise its benefits, imagine you are trying to rip a piece of paper in half with your feet as you bend your knees. When you get back to the top of the movement, stand tall and squeeze your glutes together.
20. Bulgarian Squat:
With a bench or chair behind you, stand on your left leg and place the top of your right foot on the raised surface so that your back leg is almost straight and you are in a kind of lunge position. Bend your front knee and lower your body to the ground, being sure the movement is as vertical as possible rather than over your front knee. Once you reach the bottom of the range (when your front thigh is parallel with the ground), drive your front heel into the floor and straighten your knee so that your body returns to the starting position. Repeat the movement for a set number of reps before switching legs.
21. Band Standing Abduction:
Tie a band to the bottom of a squat rack if you’re in the gym or table leg for those happier working out at home. Standing side on to your point of anchor, with your legs hip width apart, attach the other end of the band to your outside ankle. Holding the table or squat rack for balance, move your outside leg away from your centre line against the resistance of the band. Return the leg to the start position slowly, fighting against the inward force applied by the band. Repeat the movement for a number of repetitions before switching sides.
22. Band Seated Abduction:
Sitting on a bench or chair, place a band around your legs at the knee. With your feet remaining in contact with the ground at around hip width apart, move your knees outwards (away from each other) against the resistance of the band. Return slowly to the start position, fighting against the inward force applied by the band. Repeat the movement for a certain number of repetitions.
23. Band External Rotations:
Tie a band to a squat rack or door handle at home (ideally somewhere between hip and shoulder height). Standing side on to your anchor point, with your feet shoulder width apart, take hold of the other end of the band with both hands. Pull the band across the front of your body whilst rotating at the hips in the direction in which you are pulling. Return slowly to the start position, fighting hard against the resistance of the band. Repeat the movement a number of times before switching sides.
24. Goblet squat:
With your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with the heel of both hands under the end of the weight and your fingers pointing outwards. Then perform a squat pattern like you normally would for a bodyweight or barbell squat. The position of the weight in front of your chest makes this more similar to a front squat in terms of loading so be sure to really push that chest forward and pull your shoulder blades together to help maintain a nice flat back.
25. Lateral pistol squats on rower:
Standing parallel to a rowing machine with your left leg snugg up against the end of the slider, place your right foot on the seat. Perform a single leg squat on your left leg whilst allowing your right foot to slide away from the centre line of your body on the rower seat. Return to the starting position by driving into the floor through your left heel and pulling your right foot back towards the middle of your body. Repeat the movement a number of times before switching legs.
26. Side to Side Bosu Squat:
With your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and one foot planted on top of the rounded side of a bosu ball perform a bodyweight squat. Once you have returned to the top of the range step sideways so that your outside foot is now in contact with the bosu and your other foot is on the outside. Repeat the same squat pattern, alternating which foot is on the bosu and which is in contact with the ground.
27. Curtsy Lunge:
With your feet between hip and shoulder width apart bring your left leg behind and to the outside of your right leg, bending at the knee in a curtsy type motion. Return to the start position and perform the movement in the opposite direction, alternating the working leg each repetition.
28. Single Leg Glute Bridge with Abduction:
Perform a single leg glute bridge as explained above. At the top of the range, when your ankles, hips and shoulders are in a nice straight line, move your straight swing leg outwards, away from the centre line of your body (this is hip abduction). Return the leg to the centre, and lower back to the start position. Repeat the bridge movement, each time, abducting at the hip when you reach the top of the range.
29. Butterfly Bridge:
Laying flat on your back bring the soles of your feet together so that your knees fall out to the side. Keeping your feet in contact with each other, raise your hips towards the ceiling, so that the only point of contact with the floor is your feet and shoulders. Lower yourself slowly to the start position and repeat the movement.
30. Dolphin Kick:
Lay on a bench on your front with your hips at the edge of the bench and your legs hanging off, heels facing the ceiling. Grip the outsides of the bench with your hands and lift your legs towards the ceiling whilst maintaining contact with the bench through your torso. Lower your legs slowly to parallel and repeat the movement. This exercise is essentially a double leg lower in reverse, using your glutes, hamstrings and lower back to raise your legs, rather than your abdominals.