The gluteus maximus — that is your butt for the uninitiated — is the largest muscle in the body. Even if filling out a pair of Wranglers isn’t at the top of your training priorities list, developing strong glutes will help you build better squats, deadlifts, and everything in between (yes, even overhead lifts). If you can’t figure out the most efficient way to activate your glutes, you’re just not going to be able to maximize your gains.
Here, you’ll learn why glute training is often more effective than the old “well, glutes are involved in squats and deads, so that should be enough” (spoiler: if you really want to boost your lifts, include at least some glute-specific training). But how do you know which glute exercises are best? We’ve also included the 10 best strength-building glute moves for you to fold into your training program.
Best Glute Exercises
- Banded Side Plank Clamshell
- Banded Side-Lying Hip Abduction
- Banded Hip Raise
- Monster Walk
- Hip Thrust
- Sumo Deadlift
- Belt Squats
- Step Up
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Reverse Crossover Lunge
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 flexed, such as squats. You can regress this move by performing a banded clamshell, omitting the side plank if needed.
Benefits of the Banded Side Plank Clamshell
- Isolates smaller glute muscles (the medius and minimus) that can get overlooked and underworked during your compound lifts.
- Improves knee valgus, AKA that (dangerous) internal swerve of your knees during squats.
- Enhances gluteal symmetry, which helps your glute maximus not overtake everything and will help you with your next bodybuilding show.
How to Do the Banded Side Plank Clamshell
Place a miniband around the lower shins., and then get onto your side. 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). 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. If you need to modify the move, that’s okay — place your knees on the ground to take the side plank out of the equation if necessary.
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.
Benefits of the Banded Side-Lying Hip Abduction
- Improve your deadlift by targeting your glute medius and minimus, which stabilize your hips during your big lifts. The more stable these puppies are, the more force your glutes maximus can exert (and the more plates you can rip off the ground).
- Engage your glutes while your running by learning to activate your medius and minimus — that way, your knees won’t cave in while jogging, and you won’t need that extra time off training to recover.
- Gift yourself with some glute dimples by targeting your smaller glute muscles.
How to Do the Banded Side-Lying Hip Abduction
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. With the hip and knees fully extended, lift the top leg against the band tension, making sure the knee remains fully extended. Once at the top of your range of motion, pause and flex the glute, and slowly return to the start position. Repeat.
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. Make sure you’re not just blasting through these mindlessly — the more focus you put into the move, the more your exercise will translate into gains for your bigger lifts.
Benefits of the Banded Hip Raise
- Dial-in your deadlift form by practicing hip extensions without hyperextending your low back. Lockout trouble? These should be one of your go-to’s.
- Isolate the gluteus maximus, which can be difficult with big compound lifts that feature a lot of moving parts. By isolating your body’s biggest muscle, you’re getting in essential training without adding load and strain to your low back.
- Practice recruiting all of your gluteal muscles for big lifts. The more you learn to engage your glutes in the deadlift, the less you’ll be tempted to yank at the bar and pull from your back (a recipe for more pain and less PRs).
How to Do the Banded Hip Raise
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. 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. Use the glutes to extend the hips, focusing on not overextending the lower back as you extend the hip. Pause and hold briefly at the top position, lower under control, and repeat.
The monster walk is a glute activation exercise that targets the entire glute muscle during dynamic movement. This can be done laterally, forwards, and backward in both standing and in the athletic-stance position — and you definitely want to get in all those variations to make sure you’re maintaining strength and coordination from all angles.
Benefits of the Monster Walk
- If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly glute activator, monster walks are your new gym buddy. These will train you to stabilize your glutes and your core while moving around in everyday motions (not to mention setting up on the platform).
- Perform movement prep and glute-specific warmups with these walks — you’ll build stability and turn on the muscles you need for massive squats and deads.
- Reinforce your core stability and alignment by moving while keeping your pelvis in a neutral position.
How to Do the Monster Walk
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. Assume either a standing or athletic stance, with the pelvis neutral and core stacked on top of the hips. Move in any direction, focusing on keeping band tension while taking small, controlled, choppy steps. You should do this moving forwards, backward, and sideways to fully target the glutes and hips.
There are so many forms of hip thrusts, it can make you dizzy. This exercise can be done with a barbell, bands, or other forms of resistance. It primarily targets the gluteus maximus, and — when performed properly — can translate directly into a stronger deadlift.
Benefits of the Hip Thrust
- 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, deadlift, and bench press.
- Strengthen your gluteus maximus without adding extra squats or deadlifts to your program, which can take a toll on your central nervous system.
- Lift relatively heavy loads (if you’re doing a barbell variation) for strength and hypertrophy training without taxing your low back.
How to Do the Hip Thrust
Place your upper back onto the bench, so that your body is perpendicular to the bench. If you’re using bands, adjust them on your thighs. If you’re using a barbell, start by placing the barbell in the hip crease. You can add a pad or mat in the hip crease to minimize any painful pressing of the barbell into the pelvis/hip flexors. 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 is a crowbar/level. There should be no instability across the core when performing this movement. Slowly bring your hips back down, pause, and repeat.
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.
Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift
- Reduce stress on your lower back when deadlifting heavier weights. By bringing more knee flexion into the movement, sumo deadlifts reduce the strain on your lower back, targeting your quads and glutes a bit more.
- Lift heavier weights than you might normally be able to, since you won’t be compromising your low back to do so — you’ll build incredible glute strength with the types of external loads sumo deadlifts allow for.
- Improve your conventional deadlift by minimizing overuse injuries, strengthening your glutes, quads, and upper back, and diversifying your deadlift pattern portfolio.
How to Do the Sumo Deadlift
Depending on your limb length, your exact stance will vary — so feel free to experiment a little to find what works best for you. In general, 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). Take the slack out of the bar, then drive through your feet and drag the bar up your body to lockout.
It’s natural to think “legs” when you think “squats,” but belt squats take your back a little bit out of the equation, putting more emphasis on your glutes. 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.
Benefits of the Belt Squat
- Decrease the strain on your spine (especially your lower back) while still squatting heavy weights. This is particularly useful whether you’re looking to recoup from a back injury or go for a new PR.
- Improve your squat patterning by being forced to keep your torso relatively upright during the back squat — it’s a lot harder to “good morning” your squat up while belted (and that’s a good thing).
- Enhance your high volume leg training by going hard on volume without compromising your form or your spinal loading capacity.
How to Do the Belt Squat
Stand on the belt squat platform (if you are using a belt squat machine). 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 that you can always vary your squat stance to target various aspects of the glutes and quadriceps. Squat to full depth, as the deeper you squat the more glutes you will target. Then, stand up, keeping the chest near vertical, and repeat.
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 — this can result in greater demands on the glute muscles to extend the hip.
Benefits of the Step Up
- Improve unilateral strength and hypertrophy by training one side at a time. This way, you can avoid both strength and aesthetic asymmetries in your legs and hips.
- Enhance your control and coordination by moving dynamically in a way that forces you to develop stability in your ankles, knees, and hips.
- Improve running and other athletic patterns through step ups emphasis on movement patterns that you might use every day to run, walk, and climb stairs.
How to Do the Step Up
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. 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. 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 challenge unilateral stability, balance, and strength.
The Bulgarian 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.
Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
- Promote hip and knee stability by requiring the gluteus medius and minimus to help stabilize your knees and hips.
- Train for muscular hypertrophy by using the Bulgarian split squat to increase time under tension and develop strength at new end ranges (since the range of motion is much broader than you might normally access in your program).
- Increase leg strength by focusing on one leg at a time while minimizing stress and strain on other parts of your body (your low back, for example).
How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat
Place your back foot on a bench or other raised stable surface, with the majority of your weight on your lead leg. Descend into a split squat so that your 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. Stand up using your front leg, making sure to place as little amount of weight on the back leg as you can.
The reverse crossover lunge is a 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.
Benefits of the Reverse Crossover Lunge
- Enhance your lunge game by progressing from typical forward or reverse lunges, improving your overall coordination, balance, and stability in the frontal and transverse planes.
- Target your glutes by increasing your emphasis on the gluteus medius and minimus (since you’re dipping into that crossover position, you’ll need them even more than in your casual day-to-day lunge).
- Improve knee valgus by forcing your body to resist letting your knee cave inward, especially if that tends to be a problem for you when you’re squatting, running, jumping, or cruising around on roller skates.
How to Do the Reverse Crossover Lunge
Grab a pair of dumbbells (or use your bodyweight if you’re new to this move) 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. As you descend into the reverse lunge, do not allow the front knee to collapse inwards. Instead, use your glute muscles on the lead leg to keep the knee out over the front toes. Stand up using your lead leg, and repeat.
The Benefits of Training Your Glutes
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 and minimus — two muscles that make up your glutes — are key for stabilizing the knee in both closed and open chain movements, such as squatting, running, jumping, and walking. Basically, if you’re doing pretty much anything involving moving your body, your glutes are likely a primary player.
For strength athletes and general lifters, training your glutes should be an essential part of your training. It’s important to target your glutes specifically (as opposed to only training them passively during squat and deadlift sessions) because glute-specific training can mean the difference between eternal plateaus and busting through personal record. This doesn’t only apply to the lower body powerhouse moves like deadlifts and squats — strong glutes are foundational to a powerful overhead press, too.
And if you’re looking to improve your functional strength and tolerance of day-to-day activities, glute training is essential, too. Whether you’re bending to pick up after your dog or cat, or battling that last flight of stairs up to your fifth-floor walkup, strengthening your glutes can make your life a whole lot simpler.
How To Train Your Glutes
Yes, it’s a good idea to integrate glute-specific training into your lifting program — but how much you do so naturally depends on where you are in your lifting cycle and training experience. If you’re a newbie to glute-training or lifting in general, welcome aboard: you’ll want to start with bodyweight-only and then banded exercises (listed above), for several sets of 15-20 reps a couple of times a week.
If you’ve got more experience under your belt, give some careful thought to when and how you include your glute training. Consider switching out conventional deadlifts for sumo deadlifts for a cycle, or alternating each deadlifting session. Think about sprinkling Bulgarian split squats and reverse crossover lunges into pre-existing leg days, and try swapping out some front squats for belt squats. Program these lifts in a manner consistent with the rest of your programming — for example, are you working on hypertrophy? That’s where you should keep your glute-training rep range. And of course, if you’re in the final training cycle before a meet, keep it as competition-specific as possible (if you’re pulling conventional at the meet, the weeks prior are not the time to start lifting sumo).
Wherever you are in your training, make sure you’re not pre-exhausting compound lifts with glute training: you don’t want to program Bulgarian split squats right before heavy back squats, or heavy hip thrusts right before deadlifts. Be thoughtful about your integration, and don’t forget to integrate the banded work (think clamshells and monster walks) as a fundamental part of your warmups.
How to Warm-up Your Glutes Before Training
For the love of all things injury-prevention, don’t dive into your glute training without first diving into some proper mobility work. And sure, some of the best glute exercises above are “just” with bands — but don’t mistake heavy banded work for warm-ups in and of themselves. When you’re doing them right (slow, steady, deliberate, and possibly with a higher-resistance band), there’s nothing light about banded work.
To scale your glute workouts properly with warmups, make sure your entire body is ready to go (think the world’s greatest stretch and bear crawls). Then pare down your exercises into bodyweight-only and light resistance band versions of clamshells, glute bridges, and lateral monster walks.
More Glute Training Tips
Now that you’re ready to dive into the best glute exercises out there, make sure you’re also checking out these glute training articles to make the most out of your posterior chain.
- Glute Workouts for Mass
- Better Glutes, Better Pulls: How Powerlifters Should Approach Posterior Training
- Are You Leaving Glute Gains On The Table? Try This Two-Move Finisher
- 10 Glute Exercises You Can Do At Home
Feature image from Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock