Imagine this scenario: you’re sitting at work all day and hit the gym after for some squats and other lower-body training. Your training plan calls for you to hit heavier percentages, but your legs don’t seem to have that oomph necessary to hit those lifts successfully. Perhaps your mechanics feel off at the hip, or there’s a lack of power when driving out of the hole of the squat.
Possible mobility issues aside, it could be that your glutes lack a proper warm-up. This can stop the glutes from reaching their full potential during lower body exercises, which is sometimes known as “misfire.” Inactive glutes can shift force into the knee and lower back muscles, which tend to be common issues with populations that spend much of their time seated and cause injuries.
So we’ve laid out 12 different movements below that you can add to your warm-up routine before taking on the heavy squats and deadlifts during lower body day at the gym.
[Related: 3 Ways To Find Your 1-Rep Max (Beginner, Intermediate, And Advanced)]
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. None of these supplements are meant to treat or cure any disease. If you feel you may be deficient in a particular nutrient or nutrients, please seek out a medical professional.
Anatomy of Your Glutes
The glutes are the three primary gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Combinations of these muscles are prime movers in hip extension and play an important role in producing force in lower-body movements.
In general, the gluteus maximus is the prime mover for hip extension, while the glute medius works in tandem with the gluteus maximus. The medius also works with the minimus to abduct the hip — a reminder that abduction is external rotation and adduction is internal rotation.
[Related: Best Macros Calculator For Tracking Muscle Gain And Fat Loss]
Glute Activation Checklist
A key to efficiently warming-up the glutes is to prep the muscles around the glutes as well. Doing so will help support proper hip extension, which is vital for successful and safe squats, deadlifts, and more.
- Foam roll the hips and back briefly to ensure fascia isn’t excessively tight from extended periods of flexion (sitting down).
- Perform hip-opening stretches to prevent the chances of hyper-extending the lower back when trying to achieve hip extension.
We will walk through some of the best hip-opening stretches, but first, a reminder that warming-up can take as long or as short as needed. The focus shouldn’t just be to get some blood flowing and prepare mentally to train towards your goals. The warm-up intends to make sure that all the muscles — in this case, the glutes and hips — are properly firing before you start lifting so that you can generate the best output possible.
12 Glute Warm-Up Movements
When creating a warm-up, it’s important to select movements that your body needs most. One does not need to perform all 12 movements before starting every workout. However, having this list at the ready can help determine which exercises you can add to your existing warm-up and adapt it as you progress.
1. Glute Bridge
Lie in a semi-supine position with your shoulders somewhat packed to perform a proper glute bridge — meaning shoulder blades are pulled down and back and packed together. Plant your feet and raise your hips to the sky, with your feet remaining flat until your knees reach a 90-degree angle. Squeeze the glutes together, externally rotate the knees (similar to when you squat), and engage the core.
[Related: How To Do The Romanian Deadlift For Lower-Body Size And Strength]
2. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
This movement has a similar initial setup to the regular glute bridge — maintaining a tight core along with the bridge motion — except one leg is raised straight or bent as one foot drives the hips up. The hips should remain square throughout the movement the same way they would in a standard glute bridge. Do not let the hips dip to one side.
Lay on your side with your legs comfortably bent (knees at 90 degrees and placed slightly in front of your torso). Extend your bottom arm on the floor for support. While keeping your feet together, raise the top knee (externally rotate it as far as possible) and then return to the starting position. You should feel the burn with this one. Do the proper number of reps, usually in the range of 10 to 20, and switch sides.
[Related: The 3 Most Common Types Of Training Periodization (And When To Use Them)]
4. Modified Clam
This movement’s setup is similar to the regular clam, except the bottom leg is extended, and the top leg makes contact with the floor. From this position, raise the top leg in the clam-like motion (external rotation).
5. Reverse Glute Bridge
While lying supine, bring the hands under the shoulders and turn them in whichever direction is most comfortable (mobility issues can come into play here). This movement is similar to a glute bridge, except the knees are kept straight, the shoulders open, and the focus should be on the hip hinge. Drive through the heels until your body is straight. Your body, arms, and floor should create a right triangle at the top of this position.
[Related: Nutrition For Bulking — 10 Tips For Intelligent Muscle Gain]
6. Side Plank With Dip
Assume a side plank position and slowly let the hip dip while maintaining straight arms and straight legs. As you raise the hip from the dipped position, squeeze your glutes until your body is in the shape of a “T.” From there, raise your top leg with a full glute squeeze to maintain your sideways posture. Return to the starting position, and you have completed one rep.
7. Donkey Kickback
Get into a quadruped position — hands under the shoulders and knees under the hip. While maintaining a tight core, raise one leg to the sky. Focus on only allowing the glutes to elevate the leg and not the lower back. If the back starts to move into extension, it is a signal that your core is not engaged.
8. Resisted Donkey Kickback
Grab a light resistance band and bring it around both wrists or under both hands. Wrap the band around your mid-foot and perform a donkey kickback with a slightly flexed leg focusing on making the glutes the prime mover.
[Related: Hypertrophy Training Sets And Reps]
9. Bird Dog
Assume a hollow quadruped position, engaging the core. Keeping the torso stiff, extend the opposing arm and leg. Squeeze the glutes and core until you establish a straight line from the heel to the hand of the respective raised arm and leg. Hold that line for a few moments before returning to the starting position.
10. Bodyweight Squat with Thrust
Perform a normal bodyweight squat with a slow eccentric tempo (lowering phase) — eternally rotate the knees, use the cue of “sitting back into the glutes.” As you stand, contract the glutes and finish the movement by squeezing them in a thrusting motion. Throughout the entire movement, the core should be engaged enough to keep your torso in a straight line as it would during a squat or deadlift.
11. Glute External Rotation
Grab a mini band and place it around both legs right above the knees. Stand in an athletic stance with your knees bent, toes turned slightly out, and your torso forward with the feet flat. Knees should track over the toes.
Without moving your hips, externally rotate one leg and only using the glute to do so. This movement should start at the hip, not the knee. From an outsider’s point of view, it may look like you are just wiggling your knee. However, the move should be focused and controlled on the abduction of the hip.
[Related: The 3 Most Effective Workouts Splits For Strength Training]
12. Monster Walk
Move that mini band down until it is around your ankles — feel free to leave it above the knees if you prefer. Maintain an athlete stance and take a step laterally. Focus on forcing the hips back and initiating the side step with the hips and glutes. Control the second step by pushing weight into the hips, as you would with a squat. Walk several lengths in both directions.
Activated glutes are only one piece to the puzzle of successful lower body training days. They’re the prime mover in hip extension and play a major role in producing force at the hip. Design a warm-up and workout that encompasses your needs with a variety of movements.
If you don’t know where to begin, give all of these exercises a try (maybe not all at once ) and see what works best for you in your warm-up. After all, there’s more than one way to skin the cat when it comes to prepping your body.