Glute training is key for squat strength, deadlift performance, and overall posterior chain development for most strength, power, and fitness based movements. Increased glute activation, muscle hypertrophy, and strength can be developed through a combination of activation exercises (little to no loaded movements) and weighted exercises that employ barbells, dumbbells, bands, and more.
In this article, we will discuss:
- The Importance of Glute Activation Exercise
- 6 Glute Activation Exercises to Try
- 8 Glute Hypertrophy and Strength Exercises to Try
The Importance of Glute Activation Exercises
To build powerful glutes, lifting weights is just one aspect coaches and athletes should focus on. More importantly however, is the necessity for proper glute activation and awareness of the athlete/lifter, which can often be overlooked when looking to build stronger, more powerful and aesthetically appealing glutes.
It is important to note that glute activation and development may also be limited by an athlete’s/lifter’s ability to properly extend the hips. Hip flexor flexibility should also be assessed and addressed to ensure full extension of the hip rather than suboptimal hip extension masked by spinal lumbar extension.
6 Glute Activation and Awareness Exercises
Below is a list of exercises that coaches and athletes can use to target the gluteal muscles, help increase muscle activation, and enhance an athlete’s ability to contract the glutes without the need for additional loading. Once mastered, athletes can then take this newly developed glute activation capacity to the below exercises found in the glute strength and hypertrophy section.
Quadruped Hip Extensions
As you can see in the graph above, the American Council on Exercise concluded that the quadruped hip extension elicited the highest amounts of glute activation when compared with many of the other glute exercise found in this article (1). These can be done with no load for maximal isometric contractions, against bands or manual resistance, or even done underneath a reverse hyperextension machine. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per leg.
Quadruped Hip Circles
Quadruped hip circles are a common glute activation exercise that is done by strength, power, and fitness athletes prior to movements like squats, deadlifts, and other compound lifts. The key on these should be to activate the glutes, as the loading is limited in this specific exercise. Once mastered, in which lifters can demonstrate hip flexibility (especially hip flexor flexibility) and spinal stability, they can proceed to take their newly developed glute activation ability to more strength and hypertrophy based movements. Start with 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions (per direction) per leg.
Standing/Seated Banded/Cable Abduction
This exercise can be done seated or standing, both with bands, against manual resistance, and/or using a cable weight stack. This exercise can help to increase glute activation and develop the gluteus medius, which is often responsible for pelvic stabilization and supporting the gluteus maximus. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per leg.
Mini-band walks are another common glute activation exercise that are done prior to squatting and deadlifting, and help to develop glute awareness and pelvic stability. The gluteus medius and minimis are both responsible for provide stability for the pelvis under load, which when done will allow the bigger muscles of the glute (gluteus maximus) the opportunity to produce force more efficiently and effectively. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions (lateral steps) per leg.
Banded Clam Shells
Banded clam shells are another exercise often found in glute activation series or in rehabilitations settings for its ability to develop the gluteus medius and minimis. This is often done using mini-bands and/or against manual resistance. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per leg.
Hip Thrusts/Raises (Unilateral and Bilateral)
The hip raise is an exercise that can be done to increase glute activation, hypertrophy, and strength, and therefore is often found in both glute activation warm-ups and strength/hy roep tgt blocks. Prior to increase loading with a barbell or other means of resistance (bands, chains, etc), lifters should be able to activate the glutes maxiamally using bodyweight and/or light band resistance hip raises (bilateral and unilateral variations). Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
8 Glute Hypertrophy and Strength-Building Exercise
The below list of exercise can increase glute hypertrophy and strength. Note, that all of these exercises below are limited however, by the athlete’s/lifter’s ability to properly activate and contract the gluteal muscles properly, which must be developed via the above glute activation exercise. Be sure to properly integrate and master the above exercises within glute activation warm-ups and/or superset them with with the hypertrophy and strength-based glute exercises below.
Romanian deadlifts target the glute, hamstrings, and low back, and are often used to strengthen the movement patterning necessary for weightlifting, powerlifting, and posterior chain dependent activities. This exercise should be integrated within glute training programs with high emphasis on maximal glute contraction at full hip extension. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg.
Deadlifts (Conventional and Sumo)
Both variations of the deadlift can be used a main strength and hypertrophy exercise for the glutes. It is important to note that there are differences between the conventional vs sumo deadlift, therefore coaches and athletes should adjust programs to fit the needs of the athlete. Furthermore, deadlifts often are highly taxing on the hamstrings, back, and other large muscle of the body, which may result in the glutes not receiving as much individualized training attention needed to promote glute hydrology and strength (more than the normal found with squats, deadlifts, etc). If glute hypertrophy and strength is a high priority, it is best to also included more isolated movements (such as the glute activation exercise below and/or hip raises) within a glute training program.
Bent-Leg Reverse Hyperextensions
Reverse hyperextensions, done with the knees bent, place nearly all of the loading on the glutes, as the hamstrings are not able to maximally contact due to knee flexion. In doing so, you can load the glutes to increase muscle hypertrophy without having the hamstrings get in the way of the movement. Generally speaking, lighter loads are used than during the straight knee version, and athletes lifters should be sure to not hyperextend the lumbar spine as well. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Walking lunges, as well as most other lunge variations, are all effective movements at targeting the glutes. As a general rule of thumb, the greater the hip flexion, the more the glutes are activated as they help promote hip extension. Additionally, most unilateral exercises require higher amounts of hip and knee stabilization, which is also one of the primary role of the glutes. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg (2).
Hip Thrusts/Raises (Unilateral and Bilateral)
The hip thrust/raise was shown to promote higher EMG-activity than squatting, which can be useful when programming lower body strength and hypertrophy exercises (3). Hip thrusts, which can also be done for glute activation purposes, can be loaded using a barbell, dumbbell, and/or bands to increase overall hypertrophy and strength of the gluteus maximus muscles. Start with 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Deep squats require deep angles of hip flexion, which place demands on the glutes to promote force to assist in squatting movement. The glutes help to (1) eccentrically control a lifter and the load as they descend into the squat and (2) help to extend the hips in the concentric phases of the squat. While we know that hip raises are one of the most effective exercises for increasing glute hypertrophy and strength, deep squats should also be included as they have high carry-over to most strength, power, and functional fitness-based movements. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats are a common unilateral leg exercise seen in most strength, power, and fitness training programs. This exercise targets primarily the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps as the lifter must promote both knee and hip extension. The glutes can be further targeted with loading and adjusting the degree of hip flexion in the split squat, as the glutes are both responsible for pelvic stabilization and hip extension. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg.
Russian Kettlebell Swings
Russian kettlebell swings are a ballistic-based movement that require high amounts of eccentric strength and explosive power of the glutes and hamstrings. These exercise can be used to target the glutes and promote the growth of the fast-twitch muscle fibers that make up the glutes, further increasing glute hypertrophy and performance. Start with 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Cable Pull Throughs
Cable pull throughs, like the glutes, target the glutes and hamstrings. This exercise, while less balalistic than the kettlebell swing, is a great way to increase muscle hydropathy and activation of the glutes, increase eccentric control, and enhance overall hip extension abilities. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
- Anders, M. (2006). Glutes to the Max. American Council on Exericse: ACE Fitness Matters. Retrieved from https://www.acefitness.org/getfit/glutesstudy2006.pdf.
- Distefano, L. J., Blackburn, J. T., Marshall, S. W., & Padua, D. A. (2009). Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 39(7), 532-540. doi:10.2519/jospt.2009.2796
- Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2015). A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 31(6), 452-458. doi:10.1123/jab.2014-0301
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