Interest in glute training has been growing steadily for the last 10 years and considering the glutes—the anatomically correct name for the muscles in your butt—are the biggest muscle group in your body, that’s no bad thing.
The glutes are actually made up of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Together, they are responsible for powering a variety of movements, including leg extension (lifting your leg back), abduction (moving your leg out to the side), and internal rotation of the hips (turning your foot inwards). The glutes also play an important role in maintaining your posture and stabilizing the hip joint and pelvis to keep you balanced, as well as walking and running.
While there is a long list of glute exercises to choose from, and anyone’s training benefits from variety, research earlier this year identified the exercises that stimulated each glute muscle the most.
A study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal ranked a range of hip-focused exercises by their peak muscle force for each gluteal muscle. The study found that the loaded split squat, bodyweight side plank and loaded single-leg Romanian deadlift are the best exercises for targeting the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus respectively. They beat unloaded and 12-rep-max loaded versions of the single-leg squat, single-leg hip thrust, banded side step, hip hike, and side-lying leg raise.
It caught the eye of physiotherapist and strength coach Alec Hewstone who shared those three top exercises for the glutes in an Instagram Reel, writing that it’s “a nice blueprint for some programming essentials to hopefully keep you out of the physio clinic and performing your best!”
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I asked Hewstone to tell me more about each movement. “The split squat is putting the glute max into its lengthened phase, which stimulates maximal hypertrophy and strength changes,” says Hewstone, comparing the exercise to the glute bridge, where the gluteus maximus is in its shortened range.
“With the split squat, the torso needs to move straight up and down. A cue that I often use is to imagine that your torso is trapped in a tube,” says Hewstone. “Think about touching your back knee towards the floor rather than arbitrarily bending both knees at the same time. Go as low down as you feel like you can while maintaining a good pelvic position.”
The second exercise is the side plank, which ranked highest in the study for strengthening the gluteus medius.
“The side plank is one of the best exercises that people can do in terms of hip, lower-body and back health, and prevention of muscular and skeletal pain and symptoms,” says Hewstone, who adds that you get the most activation with the top leg raised.
Finally, the study found that the single-leg Romanian deadlift is the best exercise for working the gluteus minimus. “The single-leg Romanian deadlift requires you to stabilize the pelvis while leaning the trunk forward,” says Hewstone.
“Hold the dumbbell in the opposite hand to the working leg for maximal muscle engagement,” is Hewstone's top tip for good form.
According to Hewstone, strengthening the glutes is not just for gym-goers. It’s also important for people who work desk jobs and spend a lot of time sitting down. “When sitting down, the glute muscles are in slightly lengthened ranges for prolonged periods, which is a long-term, gentle chronic passive stretch to that muscle,” Hewstone explains. “This can lead to relative glute weakness.”
Are you looking for more glute-focused workouts? If you are a member of the gym, try this glute workout or booty workout, or alternatively, buy a set of booty bands and use this resistance band glute workout.
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Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.