When you’re working out, it’s important to hit all the major muscles in the body, from your arms and upper body down to your abs, back, and legs. In addition to feeling great, muscles play an important role in the movement of your body and contribute to your overall health.
Exercise in general can help keep your heart healthy, but you’ll want to pay close attention to building the large muscles in your body—the largest of which is your gluteus maximus, otherwise known as your glute muscles, or simply your glutes.
WHY FOCUS ON GLUTE MUSCLES?
Glute muscles assist in everyday life, helping you run, jump, climb stairs, bend down, and countless other activities. Having strong glute muscles is not only important for these movements, but also contributes to your overall fitness. When you work large muscles, you build muscle mass in larger parts of your body. Muscle tissue burns more calories, even at rest, than does body fat, so even when you’re not exercising, your muscle mass helps your body stay healthy.
There are many ways to work your glutes, so there’s no reason to do the same exercises over and over with no variety. Try some of our favorite glute exercises below, and be on your way to a tighter, more toned backside and a healthier body.
OUR FAVORITE GLUTE EXERCISES
Squats are probably the most well-known way to work your glutes. For a standard squat, start with your feet flat on the floor, slightly farther apart than your shoulders. As you bend your knees, make sure to keep them behind your toes, and push your glutes backward like you’re going to sit in a chair. Once your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, stand back up, keeping your chest up and eyes forward.
Variations of the standard squat include sumo squats, requiring a wider stance with the feet angled outward about 45-degrees, side squats which include stepping to one side and working each side separately, and Bulgarian split squats which involve putting one leg behind you elevated on a bench or step, and squatting on one leg.
Start with 12-15 squat reps and repeat for 1-2 sets. As you get stronger, add weight with dumbbells held at the shoulder or a barbell behind your neck, and move up to 3 sets.
Lunges are a wonderful exercise to work your glute muscles, and just like the squat, they have many variations.
Start with forward lunges. With feet together and abs held tight, take a large step forward with one foot, landing with the heel first (not the toe). Drop your hips straight down and try to get your rear knee as close to the floor as possible, while taking care not to extend your front knee over your front toes. Your front thigh should be parallel to the floor, and you should feel your glutes working. Then, push off with your front heel to return your front foot back to end with feet together. Repeat on the other side and continue alternating.
Reverse lunges work the same way as forward lunges, but instead of stepping forward, you step backward. With side (or lateral) lunges, you’ll step either right or left, shifting your bodyweight to the lunging leg while keeping that foot firmly on the floor. With curtsy lunges, you’ll start with your feet together, and instead of your right leg lunging to the right as in a lateral lunge, take it behind and to the left of your left leg. Bodyweight should be distributed evenly between both legs while lunging, to work both sides of the glutes. Repeat on the other side.
Start with 12-15 lunge reps per leg and repeat for 1-2 sets. As you get stronger, add weight with dumbbells and move up to 3 sets.
Another favorite glute exercise is step-ups. Your height and fitness level will help determine the right height of your step-up platform, but generally it should be 20-30 inches high. Starting with one foot on your step, put your arms straight out in front of you and lean slightly forward while stepping up slowly onto your front foot. Be careful not to use the back foot as a spring, as your focus muscles for this exercise will be on the front leg and glutes. Tap your rear toe on the platform instead of planting it next to the other foot, then step back down and repeat for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Once you’ve mastered the movement, challenge yourself by holding dumbbells at your sides.
4. DONKEY KICKS
Donkey kicks do “an excellent job of isolating the biggest and bulkiest glute muscle—the gluteus maximus,” says Keaton Ray, CSCS, trainer and co-founder of MovementX physical therapy.
Start on your hands and knees with shoulders directly above your hands, and hips directly above your knees. With a flat back and chin tucked, lift one leg straight back and toward the ceiling, keeping a 90-degree bend in your leg. Your thigh should not extend above the line of your body and your hips should remain squared to the floor. Return your leg to the ground. Repeat on the same leg for 15-20 reps, then switch to the other leg. Complete 2 sets on each side.
Deadlifts are great for multiple muscles like the hamstrings, glutes, back, hips, and core. To start, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell with your hands slightly wider than your hips. Keeping your back flat (not arched), bend forward slowly, letting the barbell lower to shin-height. Then, lift the barbell by driving your hips forward and returning to standing position. Aim for completing 12-15 reps and repeat for 1-2 sets.
As you master the movement and feel comfortable doing deadlifts, you can steadily increase the barbell weight to build muscle or strive for maximum reps in a set amount of time to focus on getting leaner.
6. GLUTE BRIDGES
Glute bridges are great for your glute muscles, and you can turn up the intensity as you get stronger. Lay on a mat with your back on the floor and hands at your sides, with your feet on the edge of a bench. Engage your core and glutes to lift yourself upward to straighten your body, driving your bodyweight through your heels. Hold the position for one second, then, slowly release your back down to the floor and repeat.
Start with 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps, then move up to 15 to 20 reps as you get stronger.
7. FIRE HYDRANTS
Round out your glute workout and your booty with fire hydrants. Start on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees together. Looking at the floor and keeping your back straight, lift one leg up and away from your body until it’s aligned with your hips. Make sure to keep your knee bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lower your leg back down to the floor and repeat with the other leg. Alternate legs in 3 sets of 12-15 reps per leg.
Challenge your glutes further by adding resistance bands above the knees or using ankle weights when performing your fire hydrants.
FORM COMES FIRST
As with any exercise routine, it’s important to master your form first to minimize injury and set yourself up for success in the gym. Once you’ve perfected your form, then work on increasing your weight, reps, and workout duration.
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