The gluteus maximus — that’s your butt for the uninitiated — is the largest muscle in your body. Even if filling out a pair of jeans isn’t at the top of your priority list, bigger, stronger 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 direct glute training is more effective than the old “well, glutes are involved in squats and deads, so that should be enough.” If you really want to boost your performance in and out of the gym, you need the right glute exercises.
But how do you know which glute exercises are best? You read this list and put the movements into action. Here are 17 of the best strength-and-muscle-building glute movements you can try on your next leg day.
17 Best Glutes Exercises
- Conventional Deadlift
- Back Squat
- Hip Thrust
- Belt Squat
- Banded Romanian Deadlift
- Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
- Sumo Deadlift
- Modified Curtsy Lunge
- Walking Lunge
- Cable Glute Kickback
- Smith Machine Reverse Lunge
- Lateral Lunge
- Goblet Squat
- Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- Good Morning
- Kettlebell Swing
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
The conventional deadlift — the king of all deadlift variations — is one of the most popular exercises around, and rightfully so. It challenges the muscles around the hip, knee, and ankle. It also taxes the muscles surrounding your wrist, elbow, and shoulder to hold the barbell, but those joints do not contribute directly to the range of motion.
As it has a primary focus on hip extension, you can do deadlifts while training back, legs, or anywhere else it fits nicely in your programming. The raw mechanical tension applied to your backside is unrivaled by most other weight room exercises as well.
How to Do It
- Set up for the deadlift by taking a hip-width stance, hinging at the hips, shooting your butt back, and reaching down to the barbell.
- Grab the bar with a close grip, just outside your shins.
- Flatten your back, pull your chest up, and take a breath in.
- Push into the floor with your legs to break the bar off the ground.
- As the bar passes your knees, thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to come to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: Take some time to experiment with your starting position to find something that really engages your glutes.
Sets and Reps: For glute growth specifically, try 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps.
The back squat is a compound exercise that challenges every muscle in the legs, especially the glutes. Its primary use in training is to challenge hip extension, driving the lower body up from the bottom position and placing a high amount of tension on the glutes.
The back squat leads to strength and muscle gain and reinforces other exercises like the deadlift, split squat, and lunge. It also recruits the core and strengthens your postural muscles.
How to Do It
- Unrack a bar from a squat rack by placing it on your upper back with a close grip and taking one or two steps back.
- Take a comfortable stance; place your feet between hip and shoulder-width apart and turn your feet outward to whatever angle feels natural.
- From here, inhale into your belly and feel your weight distribute evenly across your feet.
- Squat by breaking at your knees and hips simultaneously and sitting down as low as you’re able.
- Once you reach the bottom, reverse the motion and stand back up by contracting your quads.
Coach’s Tip: Squat depth is the most important factor when it comes to engaging your glutes. Try to squat as low as you can with good form.
Sets and Reps: Go for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps with a challenging weight.
This exercise is very effective at loading the glutes in their shortened position, without the need to load the spine. What separates the glute bridge from the hip thrust is the range of motion.
Folks typically perform glute bridges on the floor, which limits how much you can flex your hips and makes using heavy weights somewhat awkward. Hip thrusts require you to sit up against a bench and offer more range of motion to blast your glutes with. What’s more, thrusts let you apply lots of heavy tension to your glutes while leaving your lower back almost entirely out of the equation.
How to Do It
- Sit with your upper back against a weight bench and a loaded barbell in front of you. Roll the bar back until it brushes up your hips.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor to seal the bar into your hip crease. Grab the bar with a wide grip.
- Initiate the thrust by pushing your hips upward until your body forms a straight line from your kneecaps to your shoulders.
Coach’s Tip: You should absolutely place a protective pad on the barbell here to avoid crushing your hips and groin.
Sets and Reps: Do 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps here to grow your glutes.
This unique squat variation uses a machine to help load the lower body, without the need to place more load on the low back and spine. It’s popular across all levels of fitness, including among bodybuilders, powerlifters, and weightlifters for building muscle and strength in the quads and glutes.
The positioning of the load in the belt squat allows for a more vertical spine, taking some of the load off the low back, and increased training volume without more wear and tear since the weight is pulling your hips down rather than pressing on your torso.
How to Do It
- Stand on the platform and fasten the belt around your hips.
- Place your feet to the left and right of the pulley in the platform and place your hands on the handles in front of you.
- Engage the pulley system and find your balance. Take a breath into your belly.
- Sit straight down, allowing the pulley to guide your movement.
- Squat as low as you comfortably can and then push back up to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: Think about allowing the pulley system to pull your hips straight down into the bottom of the squat.
Sets and Reps: Try 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps here with a moderate weight.
This variation helps add tension to the glutes in the standing position — a position where there is usually no resistance. The resistance band helps give a counterbalance to your torso and allows you to lean forward into the movement. It also gives you an external cue to help you bend your hips rather than rounding at the low back, improving your hip-hinging abilities.
The horizontal band position can help increase the load placed on the muscles across the range of motion. You can also use the band as a tactile cue — it pulls your hips backward, naturally encouraging you to fall into a picture-perfect hip hinge, and adds some much-needed tension to the top portion of the exercise.
How to Do It
- Fasten a resistance band to a support structure at waist height behind you, wrap it around your hips, and step forward until there is moderate tension in the band.
- Bend over to pick up a lightly-loaded barbell and assume a close hip-width stance.
- Hinge at the hips, allowing the band to pull your pelvis backward until you feel a strong stretch in your posterior chain. Let the barbell glide down your thighs.
- Fight the band and thrust your hips forward to return to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: The band should not be tense enough that you lose your balance. Use it to cue forceful hip extension.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 sets of 12-15 reps here with a moderate weight.
A close relative to the Bulgarian split squat, this variation isolates one leg at a time, which also allows a weaker leg the ability to catch up in terms of size and strength.
The rear foot elevation allows you to sink down into hip flexion more, placing more muscular tension on the glute of the front leg. It’s also a phenomenal exercise for identifying and attacking any side-to-side discrepancies in strength or motor control, improving your balance as you beef up your backside.
How to Do It
- Place your non-working leg onto a knee-height bench or box about two feet behind you.
- Balance yourself on your working leg with a weight in each hand.
- From here, sink your hips down and back, allowing your working leg knee to bend and travel forward as needed.
- Reverse the motion by pushing into the floor until your leg is straight.
Coach’s Tip: To emphasize your glutes even more, limit how far forward your knee travels over your toes.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps with as much weight as you can maintain good form with.
The sumo deadlift is a widely-used exercise with many benefits, especially when it comes to adding strength and size to the lower body. This deadlift variation requires a wider stance compared to the conventional setup, with the feet turned out quite significantly in some cases. Powerlifters “pull sumo” to lift the heaviest weights possible in competition, but it’s a darn good exercise for shaping your glutes even if you aren’t a strength athlete.
The ultra-wide stance places the hips into external rotation, placing tension on the adductor and glute muscles — most notably the smaller glute medius and minimus. Most people can maintain a more upright torso with the sumo deadlift as well, which is beneficial if you want to minimize loading on your lumbar spine.
How to Do It
- Address a loaded barbell by taking a very wide, toes-turned-out stance. Point your feet towards the plates and open your hips.
- From here, break at the hips and sink down until you can grab the bar with both hands.
- Brace for the pull by inhaling air into your stomach, pushing your knees out to the sides, and pulling your chest up.
- Initiate the movement by pushing into the floor with your legs and standing up until you can lock your hips out.
Coach’s Tip: The sumo deadlift has no eccentric phase. Keep your hands on the bar but allow it to fall freely to the floor between reps.
Sets and Reps: Try 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps with a heavy weight.
The modified curtsy lunge is a lunge variation that reinforces glute medius and minimus engagement. In this exercise, the lifter sets up in a modified split squat stance with an elevated back foot and the lead foot rotated internally around 10-20 degrees.
The glute medius is worked through a greater range of motion while better aligning the body with the desired movement pattern. Additionally, the rear foot elevation increases hip flexion and allows you to place more load on your front leg than during a standard lunge.
How to Do It
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, and place one foot, toes down, on an elevated surface behind you.
- The lead foot rotated internally around 10-20 degrees, aligning with the toes of the lead foot with the knee of the back leg.
- With a slight lean forward in your torso, squat down until both of your legs bend to around 90 degrees.
- Stand back up by driving your front foot through the floor.
Coach’s Tip: Balance should be your priority here. If you can’t balance yourself, you can’t focus on engaging your glutes.
Sets and Reps: Try 1 or 2 sets of 10-15 reps depending on how well you can balance yourself.
The walking lunge is a great variation to employ because the step adds a level of focus on balance and coordination, so athletes will often use this exercise as a dynamic lower body training option to train the muscles of the posterior chain.
Alongside its myriad of benefits for balance and coordination, it challenges the glutes through a large and dynamic range of motion, making it a go-to glute builder. What’s more, the walking lunge is effective using bodyweight only, making it beginner-friendly. Advanced lifters can load up this lunge variation using a variety of free weights: Dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, sandbags, or a safety squat bar.
How to Do It
- Stand with your feet together, and then take a step forward roughly 18 to 24 inches and plant your foot firmly to the ground.
- From there, you will allow your front knee to track forward — aiming between the first and second toe — while your back knee drops straight down to the ground.
- While driving through the floor with your front foot, move your body forward to a standing position, where your back foot will meet the position of the front one.
Coach’s Tip: Pace yourself here and don’t rush your steps, walking lunges challenge your cardio as much as anything else.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 or 3 rounds of lunges walking for about 10 steps per leg.
Glute kickbacks are devilishly effective at growing your glutes because they isolate the muscle; a quality you can’t often find without turning to machines or cables. Depending on your set up, you can effectively challenge the glute medius or glute maximus.
In this variation, your setup and technique are crucial to the success of the exercise and placing maximal tension where it needs to be. If you can get the angle right, the glute kickback offers unparalleled isolation to your behind through its entire contractile range of motion. Kickbacks make for top-tier finishers at the end of a workout.
How to Do It
- Place a strap attached to the cable around the ankle. Keep your back in a neutral position with your abs engaged.
- Tilt your body forward and kick your leg out behind you while maintaining a very slight bend in the knee.
- Raise your leg until you fully contract your working glute while keeping your non-working leg relaxed.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your knee straight — but not locked out — for the duration of your set.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 or 3 sets of as many as 15 repetitions to isolate your glutes.
If you aren’t keen for lunges or split squats but want to train your glutes unilaterally, you can grab a plyometric box or weight bench and smash some step-ups.
Due to the alignment of this exercise, you can place a lot of muscular tension on the glute max without external load. This is an exercise with many benefits and can be performed with little to no equipment. All you will need is a step-up box or bench.
How to Do It
- Start with one foot close to the edge of a knee-height step-up box or bench, ensuring the whole foot is in contact with the surface, with the other foot hanging off.
- Drop the foot to the ground, controlling your body weight with the opposite leg.
- Tap the heel of the foot to the ground and drive through the step with the working leg to return back to the starting position.
Coach’s Tip: The higher the surface you step to, the more you’ll engage your glutes due to the added range of motion.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 or 3 sets of as many as 12 to 15 repetitions.
The smith machine reverse lunge is a stable lunge variation, allowing you to control the technique and better bias the target muscles.
The stability of this lunge makes it great for both beginners and advanced trainees who want to add weight to the movement — you’ll have an easier time loading this reverse lunge variation. As such, you can work your glutes through a large range of motion both safely and effectively.
How to Do It
- Stand with your feet together on an elevated surface, and position your body under the bar in the Smith machine.
- Unrack the weight and take a step back with one leg until it’s behind you and your knee is an inch or so above the floor.
- Your front leg should bend at a 90-degree angle as well. Drive through your front foot and stand back up with control.
Coach’s Tip: There’s no need to raise your non-working leg up at the top of each rep; there’s no load on that leg anyway.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps with a decently challenging weight.
The lateral lunge is performed by stepping directly out to the side, then standing up to return to the starting position. The lateral lunge is awesome because it challenges the muscles around the hip that are responsible for internal and external rotation of the leg — most notably the glute medius and minimus.
This exercise is also particularly valuable for strength athletes who tend to work in one plane of motion (the sagittal plane) exclusively. The lateral lunge can help diversify your lower-body stimulation and make you a more resilient athlete. You’ll also work one side of your body at a time, allowing lagging muscles to catch up.
How to Do It
- Take a step out to the side roughly 18 to 24 inches and plant your foot firmly to the ground.
- From there, allow your front knee to track forward while your body tracks outward to one side.
- Then, while driving through the floor with your lead foot, move your body back to the starting position.
Coach’s Tip: Your best bet is to work with a pair of dumbbells at first for stability.
Sets and Reps: Try to complete 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps.
This front-loaded squat variation ensures that the lifter stays upright and is done with either dumbbells or kettlebells, making it manageable and more beginner-friendly. After mastering the bodyweight squat, the goblet version is an excellent transition into weighted squats for newer lifters.
Goblet squats can be added to a larger group of exercises for more leg muscle and endurance for more advanced trainees. But the benefits for beginners are nearly endless; it’s easy to perform, encourages good posture, and serves as a great handshake to squatting in general.
How to Do It
- Stand with your feet around shoulder width apart with a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold the weight directly under your chin with your elbows tucked in.
- Brace your core, tense your back, and ensure that you feel stable.
- Keep your chest up and squat down until both of your legs bend to around 90 degrees. Stand back up by driving through the floor.
Sets and Reps: Go for 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps here.
Single-leg, or unilateral, training is mighty difficult. Add some weight into the mix and things can get hairy, fast. The benefits of working on one leg can’t be overstated, though, particularly for the glutes.
If split squats or curtsy lunges are more trouble than they’re worth, you might want to take things back to basics and try the single-leg bridge instead. This movement is equal parts glute-builder and technical drill, meant to teach you how to activate one individual glute at a time.
How to Do It
- Lie flat on your back on the floor with one leg bent and one leg straight.
- Push your bent-leg foot into the ground hard to raise your hips up into the air.
- Pause at the top, ensuring that there’s a straight line from your kneecap to your shoulders.
Coach’s Tip: You can bend your non-working knee while it is in the air to make the exercise a bit easier.
Sets and Reps: Try 1 to 2 sets of 5 to 10 reps with a slow tempo.
Hinge movements like the Romanian deadlift are diabolically effective at building your glutes. However, oftentimes you must use heavy weights to get the most value out of those movements.
This isn’t the case for the good morning. By placing the barbell on your back (instead of in your hands), the resistance ends up much further away from your glutes — making the reps much, much harder. This provides a two-for-one benefit — light weights feel heavy and stimulative, while also teaching you how to hinge properly with a braced core.
How to Do It
- Unrack a barbell from a squat or power rack as if you were going to perform a standard back squat.
- Take a close, hip-width stance, then slowly shoot your hips back behind you and descend into a low bow.
- Your torso should end up nearly parallel to the floor before you reverse the motion and squeeze your glutes to return to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: Avoid training too close to failure on this exercise, as there’s no way to safely dump the weight off your back.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 sets of 8-12 reps with a moderate weight and slow tempo.
Kettlebells are renowned for their utility as a conditioning tool, but in the right hands, they can be amazing for building your glutes. The kettlebell swing is a two-for-one — you can break a gnarly sweat and get the glute pump of your life in the process.
Swings pull you into a hinged position and require you to generate heaps of explosive power through your hips to finish the rep. This teaches you to flex your glutes rapidly, forcing blood into the muscle and accumulating tons of metabolic stress. The kettlebell swing works well as both a conditioning tool or for active recovery.
How to Do It
- Set up with a kettlebell between your feet with a shoulder-width stance or slightly wider.
- Hinge down to grab the kettlebell and sweep it back between your legs, and then rapidly thrust your hips forward.
- The momentum should naturally elevate the kettlebell upward to around belly button height. Allow the bell to fall naturally and kick your hips backward to recycle into the next repetition.
- String your reps together smoothly and you’re off to the races.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your arms relaxed and tucked to your sides. The height of the kettlebell is irrelevant to training your glutes.
Sets and Reps: Warm up your glutes with 4 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.
Don’t dive into your glute training without first diving into some proper mobility work. When you’re doing them right (slow, steady, deliberate, and possibly with a band), there’s nothing easy about glute work.
One of the most effective warm-ups for any muscle group is going to be the exercises you are performing in that day’s training session. For example, if you’re performing back squats, you can warm up by performing light reps and increase intensity as you proceed towards your working sets.
This ensures that the appropriate muscles and joints are being primed, reducing the risk of injury and improving your overall training performance. Here’s a sample warm-up you can use on your next glute-focused workout:
- 5-10 minutes on the incline treadmill, stair-stepper, or elliptical
- 2 sets of 15-20 banded side shuffles, unweighted step-ups, or bridges
- 1-2 sets of your first compound exercise with the empty bar or light dumbbells
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. Here’s what you need to know about glute programming.
Sets and Reps
Performing 12 to 16 sets per week is likely a great starting point for anyone looking to grow their glutes. More advanced trainees could potentially do more each week if their goal is to grow and break past training plateaus.
Choose three to four exercises from this list and divide up your training sets equally among them. Try to have a balance between movements that challenge flexion and extension and internal and external rotation of the hip.
Remember, there is a limit to how much you can do per workout while still being productive. If you notice your performance dropping off, it may help to split up some of the training volume to a day later in the week. A training frequency of two to three sessions a week has been recommended to help maximize muscle growth. (1)
The exercises you choose play a significant role in the muscles being worked. Muscles of the leg work in synchronicity to achieve a wide range of movement patterns. Therefore, different muscles will be biased more depending on the actions being performed.
When choosing exercises to perform, you want to pick exercises that:
- Give sufficient load to the muscle without excessive stress on the surrounding joints.
- Line up the resistance with the muscle(s) you want to train.
- Work around injuries or limitations.
- Can be performed with the equipment in your gym space.
It’s not only about what you do and how you do it, it matters when. Placing compound exercises first in your workout is preferred, especially for beginners. This is because the more fatigued you get, the worse your technique will become, potentially increasing the risk of injury later in the workout.
Placing exercises like sumo deadlifts and back squats — that demand more from your body — toward the start of your workout will increase the effectiveness of your training. Here’s an example of how you may order the exercises in your next glute-focused workout:
- Back Squat
- Glute Bridge
- Walking Lunge
- Cable Glute Kickback
The heavier, more challenging compound lifts are performed first while you’re nice and fresh, tapering down to targeted isolation work towards the end.
Glute Training Tips
To get the most out of your glute-focused workouts (and seize the growth and strength you’re after), you need to do more than simply coast through your exercises. The right training tips can elevate your glute exercises and amplify your results in the process.
Stretch and Squeeze
Most people think of the glutes as a muscle that squeezes together tightly at the top of a squat or deadlift. While that’s true, you shouldn’t only perform movements that load your glutes in a shortened position. At the end of a squat or deadlift, you may be able to squeeze your butt hard, but there’s actually limited tension on the muscle there.
You should include movements that are hardest when the glutes are stretched — think Romanian deadlifts or deep lunges — and when they’re fully contracted, like hip thrusts. This offers the most comprehensive stimulation, and the most bang for your training buck.
All good training programs should contain at least a handful of single-leg (or single-arm) exercises. These movements are indispensable for maintaining proper joint functionality and remedying side-to-side weaknesses. What’s more, they allow you to focus on one glute at a time, improving your mind-muscle connection in the process.
You might see fitness influencers on social media spreading the good word of unweighted glute kickbacks on a yoga mat or swearing that hitting the stair-stepper is enough to build a mountainous backside. But the reality is that most people, barring genetic blessings or plastic surgery, will need to hit the weights to beef up their butts.
Your glutes are a muscle just like any other. They respond to the demands placed upon them. Low-intensity glute exercises are great for the mind-muscle connection, but are simply not challenging enough to really encourage muscle growth in most situations.
Benefits of Training Your Glutes
A bigger, beefier backside is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to glute training (though there’s no shame in your game if you’re just after more junk in your trunk). Here’s what you can expect from adding some extra glute work into your training plan.
A Bigger Backside
Training a muscle properly will encourage it to adapt and grow. This is as true for your glutes as any other muscle group. Glute-specific training is also the best way to encourage your backside to beef up, particularly if you use the right exercises and appropriate resistance.
Hitting the stair-stepper or doing some weightless movements are great for getting your feet wet, but if you really want to grow your behind, you’ll have to work with weights eventually.
Better Lifting Performance
Your glutes are the prime movers during the biomechanical of hip extension; straightening your legs and torso. You extend your hips every time you stand up from a chair, pick up a box off the floor, or, specifically to the gym, perform most lower-body exercises.
Therefore, training your glutes directly should bleed over into almost all other types of exercises you perform — even upper-body lifts. After all, to do an overhead press you need a strong foundation, which means having enough glute strength to support your legs while your shoulders do the work.
May Reduce Joint Pain
Your glutes play a tremendous role in supporting how your body manages external load. In simple terms, strong glutes can bear some of the weight you place on your lower back when you exercise or perform any type of physical activity.
Consequently, weak or undeveloped glutes may place more strain on surrounding structures like your lumbar spine. This isn’t to say that, if you skip glute training, you’re automatically exposing yourself to the possibility of an injury. Research does demonstrate that glute-specific exercises can help prevent or rehab certain physical ailments, though. (3)
What Muscles Make Up the 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, or fitness exercise. Strong glutes can increase squatting, deadlifting, and overall athletic potential.
The gluteus medius and minimus — two more muscles that make up your glutes — are key for stabilizing the hip 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.
- Gluteus Maximus: This large and powerful muscle helps keep the hip stable during walking or running, and is the primary hip extensor. It can also play a more low-key role in some acute hip stability patterns. (2)
- Gluteus Medius: This small muscle abducts and medially and laterally rotates the thigh. Your glute medius is responsible for general hip stability.
- Gluteus Minimus: The deepest and smallest of the superficial gluteal muscles. It secures and helps steady the pelvis when the opposite foot is raised off the ground during walking and running.
More Training Content
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.
- 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
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697.
- Elzanie, A., & Borger, J. (2022). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Maximus Muscle. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
- Buckthorpe, M., Stride, M., & Villa, F. D. (2019). ASSESSING AND TREATING GLUTEUS MAXIMUS WEAKNESS – A CLINICAL COMMENTARY. International journal of sports physical therapy, 14(4), 655–669.
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