The first benefit of strong, well-trained glutes is obvious – they look damn good in a pair of jeans. But there are many other reasons why you should ensure glute exercises feature in your workouts.
The glutes play a key role in keeping your body aligned correctly, which helps you avoid injuries, and provide the power for many movements, especially walking or running up hills or stairs. If your day-to-day involves sitting behind a desk there’s a good chance your glutes aren’t firing as efficiently as they should, and this can contribute to the type of lower back pain that plagues office workers.
To help you get to work on your glutes we asked Andy Macaulay, trainer and ambassador for Virgin Active, and Toby Lynes, The Fitting Rooms Gym personal trainer, to pick and explain the best beginner, intermediate and advanced glute exercises, and we’ve thrown in a few of our favourites, too.
Naturally you should warm up before attempting any exercise, but if you’re about to attempt a move that will take you out of your comfort zone it’s crucial to warm up thoroughly because it’s annoyingly easy to injure your glutes. Both jogging and light stretching will help, as will doing bodyweight versions of the glute exercises you’ve already mastered.
Beginner Glute Exercises
“This is a great move for beginners, activating the glutes while giving a good stretch without the need for equipment,” says Macaulay.
“Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep both arms on the floor by your sides with palms facing up. Before lifting your hips, check your heels are close to your butt and your feet are hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips until you form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Pause at the top and squeeze your glutes again to make sure they’re still active, then lower slowly.”
“Stand with your feet hip-width apart,” says Macaulay. “Step one leg straight back and lower your torso by bending your knees until both are at 90°Ensure your front heel is grounded, your hips don’t rotate and your chest remains upright throughout. Rise back to standing by pushing down through your front heel and squeezing your glutes.”
“One of the most popular and versatile exercises for glute and leg training, the squat is highly effective if done correctly,” says Macaulay. “It can also help improve your strength, power, speed and endurance, as well as weight loss.
“Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lower your hips, pushing your knees out over your toes – this takes the pressure off your lower back while promoting glute activation. Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then push back up through your heels. When starting out, focus on mobility – if you find your heels lift, try shortening the range of the squat so that they stay down.”
Floor hip extension
“This is a simple yet effective exercise for working your glutes,” says Lynes. “Get into a press-up position and bring one knee to your chest. Then extend the same leg behind you until it’s completely straight and parallel to the floor. Try to limit the arch in your lower back when extending your leg.”
Cable hip abductions
“This simple movement will work the muscles on the side of your bum,” says Lynes. “Attach a pulley from a cable machine to one ankle. Hold on to something for support and raise the leg attached to the machine out to the side. The most effective approach is long sets – keep going until you feel the burn.”
Not only will this terrific move strengthen your glutes, you can also use it to loosen them up ahead of a run, a tough weights session or a long day at your desk. Lie on your side with your hips and legs stacked one on top of the other and your knees bent at a 90° angle. Rest your head on one arm, and place the other hand on the floor in front of your chest to improve stability and stop your hips rotating during the exercise.
Keeping your feet together, rotate the hip of your top leg so your knee rises towards the ceiling. Lift only as far as you can without your pelvis starting to turn or the lower knee rising off the floor. Then rotate back down.
Let’s not overcomplicate this. You’ll need a stable platform at roughly knee height to step onto.
If you’re going for a duration of time then you should aim to alternate your lead leg after every step. If you’re working in sets, try to do an even number of sets and alternate the lead leg from set to set.
As well as working the glutes, this bodyweight move will also strengthen your hamstrings, lower back and core. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Simultaneously lift and extend your right arm in front of you and your left leg behind you. Slowly come back to the starting position, and then extend the opposite limbs. Keep your back straight and your movements controlled throughout, and ensure your hips stay level.
This isometric exercise is absolute murder on your thighs, but also hits the glutes and the tricky-to-target calf muscles hard. Stand about 60cm from a wall, facing away, and lean back and press your torso against it. Slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your knees should be bent at 90° and directly above your ankles, while your upper back and shoulders should be pressed into the wall. Then it’s as simple as holding this position for a set time. It’ll feel fine at first, but the burning sensation in your lower body will build quickly.
You might not immediately associate the plank with your glutes, but when maintaining proper form with the exercise, you engage your entire core including the glutes and lower back. Get into position with your weight on the balls of your feet and your forearms, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Engage your abs and glutes to make sure your hips don’t move up or down during the hold.
Intermediate Glute Exercises
“This is not only is a great way to activate the glutes but also improves your lower-body stability, plyometric ability and mobility,” says Macaulay.
“Stand facing away from a bench, then raise one leg behind you and rest the top of the foot on the bench. Keep your torso upright and brace your abdominals to help keep your hips square to the bench. Bend your knees to lower slowly until the rear knee nearly touches the floor and the front thigh is parallel to the ground. Pause at the bottom, then squeeze your glutes to push back up explosively.”
Sumo squat with kettlebell
“The wider foot position of the sumo squat allows more external rotation of the hips which improves glute activation,” says Macaulay. “It really burns! Holding a kettlebell is a great way to progress to back squats.
“Stand with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out. Hold the kettlebell handle in both hands between your legs, with your palms facing in. Looking forwards and keeping your chest up, lower your body by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then push back up. Keep your back straight and heels on the ground throughout, and keep the pace slow and controlled.”
Single-leg glute bridge pulse
“This is a great progression from the beginner glute bridge,” says Macaulay. “Once you’ve gained the strength to keep your hips square this is what you should try next.
“Use the same form as a standard glute bridge until your hips are raised. Then raise one leg until it is stretched out straight. Squeeze the glute muscle on the side of the grounded foot while pushing down through the heel. Pulse your hips at the top ten times before swapping legs.”
This is a progression from the floor hip extension. Start on your hands and knees with your back straight. With one leg, keeping the 90° knee bend throughout, kick back and up so the sole of your shoe faces the ceiling, just like a disgruntled donkey – only you’re happy because you’re working on a great set of glutes.
Make sure the kicks are controlled and try to avoid grounding your knee throughout the set. Go for 30 seconds to one minute on a single leg, then swap.
This could easily make the advanced list, but you’re not going to make the mistake that many make, namely using your arms and back to move the weight. Oh no, you’re going to master the hip hinge using a light weight first.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees, with the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Keeping your arms and back straight, bend over to pick up the kettlebell, swinging it back between your legs to start generating momentum.
Drive your hips forwards to stand upright and swing the kettlebell up to eye level. Control the swing back down, allowing the kettlebell back through your legs and bending at your hips. Remember, if you’re predominantly using your upper body to move the kettlebell, you’re doing it wrong.
This explosive exercise hits all the major muscles in the lower body, building power that translates well to any sports that involve running and/or jumping, which is most sports come to think of it. Find yourself a box – don’t go too high at first, around 50cm should do it – and stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart. Drop into a shallow squat and swing your arms back, then swing them forwards and leap up onto the box, landing with both feet in the same quarter-squat position you used to take off. Then step back down and go again.
The deadlift is a terrific exercise and you’ll find another variation further down this list, but when you’re relatively new to weight training it’s one that’s easy to get wrong, and if your technique is off you can find that your back feels the strain in all the wrong ways. To reduce the risk of that, start with the sumo deadlift: not only does it reduce the load on your back, but it also shifts the focus of the move from your hamstrings to your glutes. Which is ideal for anyone interested in the best glutes exercises, right?
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed out at 45°. Bend at the hips to reach down and grab the bar, either with an overhand grip or a mixed grip, where one hand is underhand. Your back should be flat in this bottom position. Drive through your heels to extend your knees and push your hips forwards to raise the bar to mid-thigh level. Then lower the bar back to the start.
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Advanced Glute Exercises
"Once you’re confident with the dumbbell lunge, try this challenging progression,” says Lynes. “By eliminating the grip strength required for dumbbell lunges you can load more weight, making it a fantastic exercise to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
“Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding the bar behind your neck, resting on your traps. Inhale and take a big step forwards, keeping your torso as straight as possible. Bend your knees to lower your body until your front thigh is roughly horizontal. Exhale and return to the start position. If you take a small step the quadriceps will mostly be isolated, but we want to hit your glutes, so take a big step!”
“This move delivers fantastic posterior strength,” says Macaulay. “Sit with your upper back against a bench, a barbell over your hips, bent knees and your feet firmly on the ground close to your glutes. Drive up through your heels and push your upper back onto the bench to lift your hips and the barbell. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips up as high as possible. Pause for a second or two at the top, bracing your abs to maintain a strong neutral position, then lower back to the start. Make sure you are driving straight up through your heels and avoid pushing yourself backwards over the bench and arching your spine.”
“This move will improve your posture and set your glutes and hamstrings on fire!” says Macaulay. “Standing upright with your feet hip-width apart and your arms straight down, hold the bar with an overhand grip, palms facing you, so it’s resting against your thighs. Inhale and bend at the hips, lowering your upper body toward the floor. Tilt your tailbone back, keep your back straight and your knees soft but straight, and look forwards as you descend. Keep the bar close to your legs – if the bar moves away from your legs it places increased stress on your lower back. Stop the movement when you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. Exhale as you stand back up.”
“Head for the great outdoors to really fire up the glutes, but make sure you stay fast and explosive,” says Macaulay. “Running through fatigue can force your body to recruit other muscles and prevent the focused gains you’re after.
“Find a hill and sprint up it as fast as you can, driving your knees up and forwards. Push down with your feet as if you’re pushing the ground away from you. Once you start slowing down, stop, walk back down the hill and wait until you completely recover. Do three hill sprints at first and progress to ten.”
Sliding leg curl
A word to the wise: if you’re doing this properly it will feel hard very quickly, so take it slow. You will need two slider pads. Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your heels on the sliders. Extend your legs using the sliders while keeping your glutes off the ground, then drive them back again.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
- Jake StonesContributor