The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, so it would make sense why strong glutes are essential for a bigger deadlift, stronger squat, and athletic physique. The glutes are made up of three muscles, each providing stability and strength in nearly everything we do both in the gym and out.
In this Best Glute Exercises Guide, we will discuss:
- What are the gluteal muscles?
- Why is glute training important and who can benefit?
- 10 Best Glutes Exercises Guides
The Gluteal Muscles
Strong glutes are key for maximal strength, athletic performance, and lower body function. Below are the three muscle groups that make up the gluteal muscles along with the specific joint actions they promote.
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body and is primarily responsible for hip extension. This joint action is key for nearly every strength, power, fitness exercise. Strong glutes can increase squatting, deadlifting, and overall athletic potential.
The gluteus medius performs both external rotation and internal rotation of the femur (thigh), depending on the position of the body. With the legs extended, the gluteus medius create hip abduction, which results in the leg moving laterally out from the midline.
With the hips in extension, the gluteus medius is responsible for external rotation. Lastly, the glute medius can also perform internal rotation of the hip when the hip is flexed.
All of these are key for stabilizing the knee in both closed and open chain movements, such as squatting, running, jumping, and walking.
The gluteus minimus performs many of the same joint actions as the medius and is often trained in similar movement patterns.
Why Train the Glutes
Strong and engaged glutes are necessary for ones and hip joint health and optimal force output in nearly all strength and power movements. Movements like deadlifts, squats, Olympic lifts, and even the bench press are all dependent on the gluteus maximus for forceful hip extension.
In addition, the gluteus medius and minimus are responsible for increasing hip and knee stability in squatting, lunging, nearly all forms of leg depending movements.
Aside from the above strength, performance, and injury prevention benefits, glute training can help to develop nearly all other muscle building movements. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, aiding in the proper execution and safety of the most compound, muscle building movements one can do (squats, deadlifts, plyometrics, athletics, etc).
Strong glutes help to stabilize the knees and hips, promote healthy hip extension, and support the other structures surrounding the spine. Weak glutes, in addition to decreased training capacity and strength, can leave the lower back muscles to take on the blunt of stress during workouts, posture control, and life; often resulting in lower back stiffness and/or injury.
Aging Individuals and/or Desk Bound Folks
Aging and deskbound individuals can benefit from development stronger, more functioning glutes in the same way as other lifters. As we age, muscle wasting occurs, often limiting our ability to move, protect ourselves from injury, and ultimately impacting our quality of life.
By improving glute strength, aging and deskbound folks can improve lower body function, help to decrease lower back pain and stiffness, and increase their capacity for a more active lifestyle.
10 Best Glutes Exercises
1.Banded Side Plank Clamshell
The banded side plank clamshell is an advanced glute activation exercise that targets the gluteus medius and minimus. This exercise is helpful for promoting knee stabilization and glute engagement in situations where the knees and hips are flex, such as squats. You can regress this exercise by performing a banded clamshell, omitting the side plank if needed.
3 Benefits of the Banded Side Plank Clamshell
Below are three benefits of the banded side plank clamshell that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this glute activation exercise to training programs.
1. Isolates Smaller Glute Muscles
The gluteus medius and minimus are smaller, less powerful muscles than the gluteus maximus, and therefore can be outworked during other compound lifts. By adding this activation exercise into training routines, you can isolate the gluteus medius and minimus making sure to development gluteal symmetry.
2. Improves Knee Valgus
Knee valgus is when the knees collapse inwards during running, squatting, landing, and other human gait and locomotive movements. Valgus at the knees can create pain at the knee and additional stress on the ligaments to stabilize the knee; which could result in ligament damage in more serious cases.
3. Improves External Rotation at the Hip
Improving external rotation of the thigh/femur at the hip joint is key for promoting strength and stability in lower body-based movements. During training, the glutes are responsible for powerful hip extension in the squat, deadlift, weightlifting movements, jumping, and running.
By using the banded side plank clamshell, you are able to attack the smaller muscles of the glutes without allowing the larger, more powerful gluteus maximus to take over.
How to Perform the Banded Side Plank Clamshell
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the banded side plank clamshell.
- Step 1: While lying on your side, place a miniband around the lower shins.
- Step 2: With the knees and hips both flexed at 45 degrees, assume a side plank position with your weight supported on the bottom forearm and bottom knee (instead of the toes).
- Step 3: With the hips elevated in the side plank, lift your top leg against the bands, making sure that your top knee and ankle rise together.
- Want more glute activation exercises? Take a look at our Best Glute Activation Exercises Guide to improve squat performance and knee health.
2. Banded Side Lying Hip Abduction
This glute activation exercise is done similarly to the side plank clamshell, with the exception that the knees and hips are extended rather than fixed in a flexed position. This exercise targets the gluteus medius and minimus, and helps to reinforce abduction at the hip.
3 Benefits of the Banded Side Lying Hip Abduction
Below are three benefits of the banded side lying hip abduction that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this banded glute exercise to training programs.
1. Better Stability in the Deadlift
The glutes are a key muscle group in the deadlift. The gluteus maximus is the primary muscle involved in the heavy lifting (hip extension), however the smaller muscles of the glutes (medius and minimus) promote stability at the hip to allow the gluteus maximus to promote high amounts of force.
2. Glute Dimples
For aesthetic purposes, lifters and gym goers may desire to have a great set of glute dimples to accompany them throughout their daily life. This exercise specifically targets the gluteus medius and minimus, both of which are responsible for such physiques.
3. Glute Engagement while Running
During the gait cycle, the gluteus medius and minus work to resist knee valgus (legs moving inwards, increasing the Q angle). This exercise can be helpful for runners and sprinters who find their legs move inwards when they run; which can be responsible for pain and tightness on the lateral aspect of the knee.
How to Perform the Banded Side Lying Hip Abduction
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the banded side lying hip abduction.
- Step 1: Start by lying on your side with the legs stacked on top of one another, and a mini-band secured around the middle to lower shin. The higher the mini-band is on the leg (closer to the hip), the easier the movement becomes.
- Step 2: With the hip and knees fully extended, lift the top leg against the band tension, making sure the knee remains fully extended.
- Step 3: Once at the top of your range of motion, pause and flex the glute, and slowly return to the start position. Repeat.
3. Banded Hip Raise
The banded hip raise is an exercise that targets the gluteus maximus. In addition, the added band tension can also increase activation of the gluteus medius and minimus.
3 Benefits of the Banded Hip Raise
Below are three benefits of the banded hip raise that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this glute exercise to training programs.
1. Prerequisite for Deadlifts
Proper hip extension mechanics is a necessary aspect of deadlift technique, with many beginners and even more experienced lifters under-utilizing their glutes in the lockout of the deadlift. For some, it may be a strength issue, but for others it could also be a recruitment and/or patterning issue. The banded hip raise is a good movement to reinforce proper hip extension while limiting lumbar extension.
2. Isolate the Gluteus Maximus
The banded hip raise can be used to target the gluteus maximus, which is responsible for hip extension. This exercise can be done to add additional volume to the glutes and/or promote strength and muscle hypertrophy without having to load the lower back.
3. Increases Muscle Recruitment
The banded hip raise can be used to increase muscular recruitment. Like most banded movements, the band will increase resistance as the hips open towards full extension, with maximal tension at the lockout. This forces the glutes to stay contracted and increases overall time under tension resulting in greater degrees of muscular recruitment and stress.
How to Perform the Banded Hip Raise
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the banded hip raise.
- Step 1: While lying perpendicular to a bench, place your upper back on the pad, and flex your knees so that they are at about 45 degrees. Firmly plant your feet on the floor about hip width apart,with the toes slightly turned out to maximize glute engagement.
- Step 2: Place a resistance band over the hip, with the ends attached to the floor or using rack attachments. You should be able to extend the hips against tension as you rise upwards.
- Step 3: Use the glutes to extend the hips, focusing on not overextending the lumbar spine as you extend the hip. Pause and hold briefly at the top position, lower under control, and repeat.
4. Monster Walk
The monster walk is a glute activation exercise that targets the gluteus medius and minimus during dynamic movement. This can be done laterally, forwards, and backwards in both standing and in the athletic-stance position.
3 Benefits of the Monster Walk
Below are three benefits of the monster walk that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this dynamic glute activation exercises into training programs.
1. Good for Beginners
The monster walk is a good exercise to educate beginner lifters and athletes how to properly utilize the glutes for stabilization during everyday activities. Many beginners may also find it difficult to stabilize the core while moving, making this a great training movement to increase awareness.
2. Movement Prep for Running and Athletics
The monster walk is a good activation exercise for athletes and runners. The dynamic nature of this exercise allows lifters/athletes/runners the opportunity to promote glute stability and engagement while moving in an open-chained, dynamic environment.
3. Reinforces Core Stability and Alignment
When done correctly, the monster walk reinforces proper core and spinal stability. By having the lifter/athlete keep the pelvis in a neutral position, they will be forced to flex the hips and knees to sit into the athletic stance. In doing so, they will ignite the gluteus medius and minimus as they move laterally, forwards or backwards.
How to Perform the Monster Walk
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the monster walk.
- Step 1: Set a mini-band around the lower body, either at the knee, shins, or ankles. Note, that the lower the band is, the greater degree of difficulty and glute involvement there is.
- Step 2: Assume either a standing or athletic stance, with the pelvis neutral and core stacked on top of the hips.
- Step 3: Move in any direction, focusing on keeping band tension while taking small, controlled, choppy steps. You can also do this moving forwards or backwards as well to fully target the glutes and hips.
5. Hip Thrust
3 Benefits of the Hip Thrust
Below are three benefits of the hip thrust that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this glute strengthening exercises to training programs.
1. Stronger Deadlift
The hip thrust can allow you to add additional training volume to the biggest muscle in the body (gluteus maximus). In doing so, you can boost the overall performance of the gluteus maximus which happens to be a key contributor in the most profound strength lifts out there; the squat and deadlift.
2. Targets the Gluteus Maximus
The hip thrust specifically targets the gluteus maximus, the main muscles involved in hip extension. This muscle is used in other movements like squats and deadlifts, however can be limited by the performance and health of the lower back, quads, etc. By using the hip thrust you can specifically target the gluteus maximus and build strength and hypertrophy.
3. Minimizes Lower Back Stress
The hip thrust can be a great accessory and/or main strength movement for lifters who not be able to deadlift and/or do not want to add additional strain to the lower back. By using the hip thrust, especially the barbell variation, lifters and athletes may find they can still load the bar with high amounts of external loading and stress the gluteus maximus to a very high degree.
How to Perform the Hip Thrust
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the barbell hip thrust.
1.Place the loaded bar in the hip crease.
Start by placing the barbell in the hip crease, making sure to adjust yourself if need to get comfortable. You can add a pad or mat in the hip crease to minimize any painful pressing of the barbell into the pelvis/hip flexors.
Once you have assumed a flexed hip position, secure the barbell in the hip crease so that your back is flat and flexed, with the feet pushing downwards into the heels, with bent knees.
Coach’s Tip: Your knee joints should be about 90 degrees. This will help increase stability.
2.Stabilize the upper back on the bench.
Place your upper back onto the bench, so that your body is perpendicular to the bench angle.
The shoulderblades should be pushing into the bench, with the head and upper back on the bench, or slightly behind the bench.
Coach’s Tip: At the top of the hip thrust, you should be able to lift your hips upwards so that the torso is parallel to the floor. If you feel like you cannot, you may also need to readjust your positioning on the bench/upper back.
3.Press through the heels and lift the hips.
Once you are set, pull the belly tight and keep the back flat. Often, lifters will arch the lower back and miss-load the hips at the bottom of the position.
Lock your torso in so that the hips move up and down almost as if your torso as a crowbar/level. There should be no instability across the core when performing this movement.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your abs tight and pinch you glutes together as you lift. Avoid arching your back.
- Take a look at our Hip Thrust Exercise Guide and learn why this glute strengthening exercise is one of the most powerful hip strengtheners you can do to boost your deadlift and squat!
6. Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift is a deadlift variation that has the lifter take a wide stance with the feet turned out roughly 30-45 degrees. In doing so, the glutes are targeted as they are responsible for maintaining external rotation at the hip in addition to lifting heavy loads via hip extension. This is one of the main deadlifting styles in the sport of powerlifting as well.
3 Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift
Below are three benefits of the sumo deadlift that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this deadlift variation to training programs.
1. Less Lower Back Stress
The sumo deadlift places a lifter in a more upright torso position, as the wide stance limits overall hip flexion. In doing so, the knees must flex slightly more in addition the hips externally rotating, resulting in greater loads being placed on the quadriceps and the glutes rather than the lower back and hamstrings. This can be helpful for lifters who have lower back concerns and/or those looking to limit overall stress on the erectors and lumbar spine.
2. Serious Glute Strength
The sumo deadlift places a great deal of loading on the glutes. The sumo deadlift, along with other deadlift variations, often is able to be trained with high external loading; making it a great movement to limit lower back stress yet maximize strength development of the glutes and body as a whole.
3. Builds a Stronger Deadlift
For those of you who conventional deadlift, integrating the sumo deadlift into your accessory can do wonders for overall glute, quadriceps, and upper back strength. The ability to train the deadlift pattern in a less lower back demanding manner can often allow lifters to diversify their overall pulling strength while minimizing overuse injuries.
How to Perform the Sumo Deadlift
Start by assuming a wide stance with the toes pointed out. The stance itself should be wide enough to allow the arms to be extended downwards, inside the knees (elbows inside the knees).
The stance width will vary, however generally speaking, the width should allow for the athlete to have the shins perpendicular to the floor with the back flat and shoulders directly above the bar.
Coach’s Tip: Think about pulling the hips down to the bar, keeping to core tight and braced. The knees themselves need to be pushed out wide to allow the torso to stay slightly more vertical than a conventional deadlift.
Once you have set your positions, start to build pressure throughout the body to minimize any slack in the arms, legs, and back.
This can be done by slightly pulling up on the bar and pressing the legs through the floor (without moving the bar yet). Once you have found your best tension position, set the breathe once more and proceed to step 3.
Coach’s Tip: Visualize pressure rising in the body before every pull, with all the muscles being engaged and ready to fire at once.
3.Push with Legs and Pull Up
Now that you are in the correct positions and have no slack in the body, its time to attack the barbell by simultaneously driving through the feet and pulling up on the bar.
The key here is to not allow the chest to fall or the hips to rise in the pull, but rather to have the barbell stay close to the body as you stand up.
Coach’s Tip: Keep the chest up, the bar close, and pull.
- Take a look at our Sumo Deadlift Exercise Guide and learn how the sumo deadlift differs from other deadlifting forms; like the conventional, trap bar, and Romanian deadlift.
7. Belt Squats
The belt squat is an accessory exercise that can target the glutes and quadriceps without adding additional loading to the spine. This is a great accessory exercise for weightlifters and powerlifters, as well as anyone looking to add lower body strength and hypertrophy while decreasing stress on the lower back and hips.
3 Benefits of the Belt Squat
Below are three benefits of the belt squat that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this squatting variation to training programs.
1. Decreased Lower Back Stress
The belt squat places loads directly at the hip via a belt around the waist, which results in little to no additional loading and compression forces on the spine. This is key for lifters who may be recovering from lower back injury or are attempting to minimize stress to the lower back.
2. Improved Squat Patterning
The belt squat helps to reinforce an upright torso position in the squat, making it ideal for weightlifters and/or individuals looking to improve squat patterning.
Similar to the high bar squat, goblet squat, and narrow stance squat, the belt squat forces high degrees of hip and knee flexion; all of which build stronger glutes and quadriceps.
3. Perfect foo High Volume Leg Training
The belt squat is a great exercise to add into accessory training blocks focused on higher volume training to add muscle size. The belt squat is loaded in a way the minimizes lower back and spinal loading, placing all the stress on the glutes and quadriceps (and some hamstrings). This allows strength, power, fitness athletes to maximize leg growth without overstressing the joints, connective tissues, spine, and central nervous system.
How to Perform the Belt Squat
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the belt squat.
- Step 1: Stand on the belt squat platform (if you are using a belt squat machine). Be sure to refer to the guide below if you are looking to perform belt squats without a specialty machine.
- Step 2: With the feet in the squat stance and the weight belt secured around the hips, squat downwards. You should feel the tension pull your hips down towards the platform. Note, you can vary your squat stance to target various aspects of the glutes and quadriceps.
- Step 3: Squat to full depth, as the deeper you squat the more glutes you will target. Then, stand up keeping the chest vertical and repeat.
- Take a look at our Belt Squat Guide and learn how you can master this movement and boost squat strength and hip health!
8. Step Up
The step up is a unilateral leg exercise that targets the gluteus maximus (hip extension), gluteus medius and minimus (stabilization of the hip and knee), and quadriceps. This exercise is good to establish unilateral strength, address any asymmetries, and increase glute strength and hypertrophy. Note, that the higher the step up, the deeper degrees of hip flexion there are; which can result in greater demands on the glute muscles to extend the hip.
3 Benefits of the Step Up
Below are three benefits of the step up that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this unilateral squat variation to training programs.
1. Unilateral Strength and Hypertrophy
The step up, especially the high step up variations, can promote gluteal and quadriceps muscular strength and hypertrophy. Unilateral exercises have been shown to increase muscle engagement, making the step up a great accessory movement to boost the squat and lower body development.
2. Improved Control and Coordination
The step up requires balance and coordination as the lifter must move dynamically underload. The unilateral nature of this exercise challenges the leg individually to establish ankle, knee, and hip stability.
3. Application to Running and Athletics
The step up, along with other forms of unilateral exercises, has a broad application to movements like running, jumping, walking, and athletics. Unlike some unilateral exercises however (more stationary ones), the step up also requires a lifter to exhibit coordination and balance.
How to Perform the Step Up
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the dumbbell step up.
- Step 1: Grab a pair of dumbbells, holding them at the side of the body. You can also hold them in the front rack or overhead position.
- Step 2: Place one foot firmly at the center of the box, making sure that your hip crease is below the knee. You can vary the depth of the step up to place higher degrees of emphasis on the glutes and/or quadriceps.
- Step 3: Without jumping off the grounded leg, firmly stand up using the front leg, maintaining control at the top of the box while you fully extend the hip and knee. For added difficulty, try not to place the ground foot on top of the box to challenging unilateral stability, balance, and strength.
- Read more about the step up and how you can build strength and muscle mass with this unilateral leg exercise.
9. Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarain split squat is a split squat variation that requires greater balance and unilateral leg strength than a standard split squat. During this movement, the lifter places their back foot on a stable, raised object (weight bench, box, etc) and performs a split squat with most of their weight on the front leg.
3 Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
Below are three benefits of the Bulgarian split squat that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this challenging single-leg split squat variation to training programs.
1. Promotes Hip and Knee Stability
The Bulgarian split squat reinforces gluteus medius and minimis engagement to assist in the stabilization of the knee and hip. In addition, the gluteus maximus must forcefully contract to promote stability and strength to extend the hip and support the quadriceps as they extend the knee.
2. Muscular Hypertrophy
The Bulgarian split squat, like most unilateral exercises can increase muscle engagement and hypertrophy. Due to the vast range of motion, this exercise can also promote increased time under tension and develop knew movement coordination and strength in the end ranges.
3. Improved Leg Strength
The Bulgairan split squat can be used as an accessory movement or a main squatting movement for athletes and lifters alike. In instances where bilateral squatting may not be available; such as injury or with limited amounts of external loading (for stronger individuals), the Bulgrian split squat can be trained to increase the demands on the leg musculature while minimizing stress on surrounding areas.
How to Perform the Bulgarian Split Squats
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the bodyweight Bulgarian split squat.
- Step 1: Place your back foot on a bench or other raised stable surface, with the majority of your weight on your lead leg.
- Step 2: Descend into a split squat so that you hip stays back over the heel of your front foot, keeping the lead foot and heel flat (do not let your front heel raise). The front knee should end directly over the toe.
- Step 3: Stand up using your front leg, making sure to place as little amount of weight on the back leg as you can.
- Take a look at our Bulgarian Split Squat Guide to see how this unilateral leg exercise stacks up against squats, lunges, and more.
10. Reverse Crossover Lunge
The reverse crossover lunge is a reverse lunge variation that reinforces gluteus medius and minimus engagement. In the reverse crossover lunge, the lifter/athlete steps back on a diagonal, slightly crossing over the feet. In doing so, this lifter is forced to maintain external rotation with the glute to resist knee valgus.
3 Benefits of the Reverse Crossover Lunge
Below are three benefits of the reverse crossover lunge that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding this lunge variation to training programs.
1. Advanced Lunge Variation
For lifters and athletes who have progressed past the standard lunge, this can be a good progression to reinforce and further develop glute stability and strength. By having the individual cross their back leg behind them, they will need to stay engaged to forcefully resisted knee valgus (knees caving inwards).
2. Target the Glutes
While most lunges target the glutes already, the reverse crossover lunge places an even greater demand on the gluteus medius and minimus due to the unique crossover position.
3. Attacks Knee Valgus
This lunge variation can be used with individuals who have issues with the knees collapsing inwards during running, jumping, squatting, and other forms of movement. Inward tracking of the knees, referred to as valgus, is often a sign of poor glute engagement and/or strength. This increases the risks of ligament injuries to the knees if left untreated.
How to Perform the Reverse Crossover Lunge
Below is a brief guide on how to perform the dumbbell reverse crossover lunge.
- Step 1: Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand erect with the chest up and back flat. When ready, step a leg behind you so that the back knee crossed over a foot or two behind your lead leg.
- Step 2: As you descend into the reverse lunge, do not allow the front knee to collapse inwards. Rather, use your glute muscles on the lead leg to keep the knee out over the front toes.
- Step 3: Stand up using your lead leg, and repeat.
More Glute Training Tips!
Here are some articles that can help you improve glute activation, muscular hypertrophy, and boost glute performance!
Feature image from Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock