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July 12, 2021 10 min read

Toning your glutes is one of the most straightforward ways to get your body looking summer-ready. No matter who you are, it’s hard to deny how important toned glutes are to your overall look, and, luckily, glute exercises are easy to slot into your workout routine. 

gluteus muscle anatomy 3d medical vector illustration on white background

Getting To Know Your Glutes

One of the most important things about toning a new muscle group is getting to know the muscles well. Your body isn’t just going to respond to whatever exercises you throw its way. You’re going to be wasting a lot of your at-home workout time if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Imagine how little you’d be toning your glutes if you accidentally spent week after week doing hamstring exercises. Taking the time to understand how your glutes work is going to beastly increase your gains, help you burn fat, and kick your toning efforts into overdrive. 

It’s also a lot of fun to learn about the mechanics of your body.

Beginning with the structure of your glutes, you may be surprised to find out that your glutes are a single large slab of muscle on each side of your butt, rather than something more shaped like your actual butt. They’re also much more complex than we might assume.

Often when we talk about our glutes we’re only talking about the gluteus maximus, but there are several layers of muscle that make up the entirety of your glutes. Your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus are the three distinct segments of muscle that make up your hips and butt. The three muscles work together to give your hips and this hinge section of your body.

Gluteus Maximus

There’s a reason these muscles come up the most when we talk about the muscles in our rear-end. Your gluteus maximus does a lot of the heavy lifting (literally, if you’re working out) in your hips. Without them, your range of motion would be severely limited, and you wouldn’t be able to make half the motions you do throughout the course of your day.

Your gluteus maximus, true to their name, are the largest muscles in the area. The most interesting aspect of them is how little they actually make up the shape of your butt. Your gluteus maximus is a large pair of muscles that stretch across the back of your pelvis.

This means they make up a good amount of the shape of your hips rather than specifically your butt. This doesn’t mean that you should neglect them, though. Toning your glutes should be an effort to tone ALL of your glutes so you get a nice, natural shape through your exercise.

Functionally, your gluteus maximus acts as your hip extensor. It’s hard to imagine your hip extending, but it’s a pretty easy set of muscles to isolate. If you stand on one leg, you can pretty  quickly see the work that your gluteus maximus is doing while you ambulate around during the day.

They’re key to keeping your body standing upright and steady. If you didn’t have your gluteus maximus in the place and orientation they’re in, then you’d be hunched over and crawling from place to place. In a weird way, your gluteus maximus are a lot like your abs.

They both hold a crucial role in keeping your body standing upright and they allow you to transfer power from one half of your body to the other without your pivot points collapsing as soon as you try to lift something heavy.

Think about the soreness you feel around your backside when you’re pushing your deadlift max. Your gluteus maximus is where a lot of that power is coming from. Deadlifts specifically, are designed to challenge your glutes, as you’ll see later.

Gluteus Medius

Going one layer deeping, you’ll find your gluteus medius. This muscle is just below the gluteus maximus. If you’re a little rusty when it comes to Latin (it’s a dead language after all) looking at that name might make you think that your gluteus medius is thinner than your gluteus maximus or less important somehow, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Your gluteus medius gets its name from their location in the “gluteus sandwich.” They reside right in the middle of the three glutes, which is the meaning of “medius” in this situation. They’re much thicker than your gluteus maximus, and they’re just as important to the key functions of your legs as your gluteus maximus.

Your gluteus medius are responsible for covering the lateral range of motion of your legs. Your Gluteus maximus keeps things in line front to back, while your gluteus medius are the muscles that give you the ability to kick away from your body as well as external rotation of your legs.

A lot of your ability to kick and dribble a soccer ball comes from the specific actions of your gluteus medius. Things like leg lifts isolate your gluteus medius, and if you have a resistance band handy, then you’re going to be well on your way to beefing up this pair of muscles.

Gluteus Minimus

One last stop on the glute tour. Your gluteus minimus is the smallest and farthest from the surface of the glute trio. It's easy to imagine your gluteus minimus as the deltoid of your pelvis. They have a remarkably similar function, shape, and position.

Your gluteus minimus sits on your pelvis and extends over the socket that attaches your upper leg to your hips. Your gluteus minimus serves to keep your legs in their joint as well as facilitating internal rotation of your legs, and adduction of the limbs. These relatively small muscles are crucial to keeping your legs in tip-top shape and allowing them an incredible range of motion and function.

Glute Groupies

Now that you have a decent understanding of the muscles we’re targeting, you’re ready to take on some of the most effective exercises for targeting them. You’re going to have a much easier time isolating your glutes and pushing them to meet their potential.

1. Hip Thrusts

  • Start by lying down on your back on the floor or a mat if one if available with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  • Keep your feet about hip-width apart, they should be comfortable and stable on the floor
  • Set your core and your glutes
  • Push your heels into the floor to thrust your hips up away from the floor or mat
  • Hold for a second a the apex of your thrust
  • Slowly lower your hips back to the starting position 
  • Repeat 8-10 reps per set

2. Banded Hip Thrusts

These are just like hip thrusts, but (surprise) with the addition of a resistance band. After you’ve become accustomed to the exercise, you’re going to want to start adding more resistance so you’re progressively overloading your body to build muscle.

  • Find a resistance band that will allow you to do a few sets before you tap out. You may need a range of bands as your muscles get used to the work
  • Slide the resistance band around your knees, you can place it just above or below your knees, whichever is more comfortable
  • Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  • Keep your feet about hip-width apart, and your knees should be perpendicular to the floor, pushing against the resistance band 
  • Use your hips to press your feet into the floor and thrust up away from the surface you’re lying down on. 
  • Hold the apex of your thrust for a second, make sure your knees aren’t buckling under the resistance band
  • Return to your starting position slowly, you should be under the control of your hips, not falling with gravity 
  • Repeat about 8-10 times per set

3. Donkey Kick

  • Start on your hands and knees, keeping your back flat and your core engaged
  • Your hands and knees should be about shoulder-width and hip-width apart respectively
  • Kick one of your legs straight back behind your body. You should be making a straight line with your back and fully extending your leg
  • Bring that leg back to your starting position and repeat this motion smoothly for about a minute or as many reps as your body is capable of 
  • Repeat with your opposite leg for the same amount of time
  • If you’re looking for more challenge, you can simply add more sets or ankle weights

4. Rainbows

  • Start on all fours with your knees about hip-width apart and your hands flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart 
  • Keep your back flat and your core engaged
  • Fully extend one of your legs straight behind yourself, keeping it in line with your back 
  • Sweep that leg in an upward arc behind your body, keeping your back flat and your hands firmly planted on the floor
  • End with your foot on the floor behind your opposite leg
  • Sweep your leg in another arc until you can return it to your starting position and repeat with your opposite leg
  • Alternate this motion 10-15 times per leg

5. Single-Leg Glute Bridge

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, about hip-width apart and your feet flat on the floor
  • Extend one of your legs straight out in front of your body
  • Engage your glutes and your core while pushing against the floor to raise your hips towards the ceiling
  • Hold at the top of your thrust for a few seconds before returning to your starting position, make sure your leg stays extended out in front of your body and your back isn’t arched too much
  • Lower to your starting position and repeat with your opposite side

6. Hip thrusts with Toe Taps

  • Start by lying down on the floor with your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor and your knees bent 
  • Push against the floor to raise your hips off of the floor and towards the ceiling
  • At the height of your thrust, hold your position and fully extend one of your legs and bring it back down to the floor, repeat with your other leg and lower your body back into your starting position
  • Repeat this about 8-10 times per set

7. Lateral Lunge

  • Start by standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Take a big step out to one side, lowering your body until your knee is bent about 90-degrees. Keep your opposite leg straight, pivoting at the ankle and keeping your foot flat on the floor
  • Push with the leg you stepped out with to return to your starting position
  • Repeat about 8-10 times before swapping legs and repeating the same motion on the other side

8. Stability Ball Hamstring Rollout

  • Lie flat on your back and find a stability ball to rest near your feet
  • Prop your heels on the stability ball, keeping your legs straight and your core engaged
  • Press your heels into the ball and thrust your hips into the air slowly to pull the ball towards your body
  • When the ball is close, squeeze your glutes and hold this position for a second before slowly returning to your starting position
  • Repeat 10-15 times per set

woman doing squats on a bench by the ocean

9. Squats

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Keep your back straight
  • Lower your body, try to keep your knees near your toes, but if you can’t, then squat as naturally as possible without adjusting your feet
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom of your squat, press against the ground to rise back into your standing position
  • Repeat about 10-15 times per set 

10. Split Squat

  • Stand near a box or a step platform, facing away from it 
  • Place one of your feet, top down on your raised surface, keeping most of your weight on your standing leg
  • Lower your body with your standing leg, keeping your weight there while keeping your core engaged and maintaining balance
  • Press down through the floor to return to your standing position
  • Repeat 10-15 times before switching legs and mirroring this movement

11. Bird Dog

  • Start on all fours with your hands in line with your shoulders and your knees about hip-width apart
  • Extend your right arm and opposite leg straight out in front of and behind yourself, keeping your back straight and your core engaged
  • Your arm and leg should be fully extended in front of and behind of your body in line with your back
  • Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly returning to your starting position
  • Mirror this action with your other side
  • Repeat until failure

12. Clams

  • Lie down on your side and rest your head on your arm
  • Bring your hips up into a 45-degree angle and bend your knees 90-degrees
  • Keep your feet together and push your top knee away from the floor, opening up your legs like a clam
  • Hold this position for a second, keeping your core engaged, and slowly return to your starting position 
  • Flip onto your other side and repeat this with your opposite leg
  • Each set should be about 10-15 reps, and you can increase the challenge by adding a resistance band to your knees 

13. Lateral Squat Walk

  • Start by standing with your feet about hip-width apart
  • Bend your knees until they make a 45-degree angle
  • Slide across the floor by pulling your left leg towards your right leg, and taking a big step to your right side 
  • Repeat for about 15 seconds before mirroring this movement and moving to the left

14. Skater Hop

  • Start by standing up straight with your feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart
  • Bend your knees to squat towards the floor slightly
  • Hop to your left, landing only on your left foot
  • Push off with your left foot and hop to your right as far as you can, landing only on your right foot 
  • Repeat this for about a minute per set

15. Deadlift

Deadlifts are last on this list, not because they’re the least important, but because we want them to stick out as the last thing you read on this list. If you’re serious about getting stronger, burning fat, or generally getting toned, then you really can’t pick a better exercise than deadlifts.

They’re intense without feeling insurmountable, and they’re indisputably one of the best full body exercises. You’re going to get a lot out of adding deadlifts to your routine, and if there’s one exercise to take away from this list, it’s this one.

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, this should be a comfortable neutral stance
  • You can use a barbell, a kettlebell, or a pair of dumbbells for this exercise. Since we’re focused on working out at home, the dumbbells or the kettlebells are going to be your best option
  • If you’re using a barbell, you’re going to start with your weights on the floor, otherwise, you should start with your weights in your hands by your side in the case of dumbbells, or clasped together in front of your thighs in the case of a kettlebell
  • Press your hips back while bending forward, be sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight
  • Continue until your back is in line with the floor and your weights are touching the ground
  • Use your glutes to return to your standing position and repeat

Grand Glutes

It’s not hard to isolate your glutes, and the payoff is well worth the effort, since everybody appreciates a well-rounded behind. The strength and stability of well-toned glutes is also well worth the admission price.

Glute exercises are some of the simplest exercises since they’re located in an easily accessible area of your body, and because they’re responsible for managing so much of your bodyweight, you can work them out with or without additional weights.

If you’re on a glute quest, you can work on them pretty much anytime and anywhere as long as you’re equipped with the knowledge above. Go out there and get toned!