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November 15, 2022 9 min read

The scientific name of donkey kicks is quadruped bent-knee hip extension, but the movement’s likeness to a donkey’s notorious kick is where its nickname came from. This is one of the best exercises for glute toning, not only because it can be done anywhere without the need for equipment, but also because it is suitable or adaptable for all, regardless of age, and fitness level.

Furthermore, many other exercises can’t target the glutes as efficiently as donkey kicks can.

It is a low-impact bodyweight exercise that improves toning, strength, and stability. Donkey kick exercises are not only great for helping you to get a million-dollar booty. Although perfectly performed donkey kicks will give you shapely hips and firm round buttocks, strong glutes also support your trunk and spine, hold your upper body weight, and help prevent injury.

Although the aesthetics of a perfectly toned backside is the primary goal of many people who include glute exercises in their workout routines, there are several other reasons why strong glutes are important.

The gluteal muscle group comprises three muscles that work constantly in union with your hips, hamstrings, and lower back muscles to keep you upright, even when you are sitting.

Gluteal Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

When performing donkey kicks, you’ll feel your glute muscles working, but in the same tiny package, you’ll also find it strengthening your shoulders, hip flexors, obliques, and abs.

So, along with a sculpted butt, you’ll also get added core and shoulder stability.

The greatest challenge when you do this exercise is holding everything else stationary while kicking your leg.

How to do donkey kicks with proper form

Although various adaptations of donkey kicks were made popular over time, beginners are advised to start with the traditional execution of the donkey kicks and proceed to other versions once they have mastered the technique and form.

Focus on form is essential to ensure your back does not arch or sag, and that your glutes are doing the work, not your back or any other muscle group.

The gluteal muscles (buttock muscles) are a muscle group consisting of the gluteus maximus (the largest and thereby strongest muscle in the body), gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae muscles.

Following these guidelines can ensure perfect form while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum, and it may be a good idea to learn the basics from a certified personal trainer.

Starting position

(Don’t forget to do some warm-up stretches before starting your workout routine)

Use an exercise mat, blanket, or another floor covering to protect your knees. Start in a tabletop position with a stable base and your knees hip-width apart. Place your hands, with wide-spread fingers, pressed into the mat directly below your shoulders. Your knees must be in line with your hips.

Most importantly, throughout the exercise, your upper body and spine should remain stagnate. Focus on maintaining a straight spine, forming a part of a direct line between your tailbone and the top of your head. Keep your neck, or cervical spine neutral while looking down at the mat. Elongate your torso and engage your abdominals to avoid crunching your ribs.

Here’s how to do perfectly performed donkey kicks

  1. Ensure you have a straight back, and the knee of your left leg is on the mat, directly under your left hip.

  2. Exhale, and lift your right leg, keeping your right knee flexed at a 90-degree angle, until your right thigh is parallel with the ground and continues the line of your back. Don’t point your toes, ensure the sole of your right foot faces the ceiling.

  3. Do not lift your leg higher than your hip, which means your knee should not go higher than your hip. Truth is, it is not about how high you lift your knee, if you brace your core and pinch your glutes, you don’t even have to lift your leg as high as your hip. Lift only as high as is comfortable.

  4. Doing the entire range of motion slowly and in proper form, even lifting your leg only a few inches, and holding the pose for a second or two at the top of the movement before lowering your leg, will let you feel the effect in your glutes.

  5. Regardless of how high you lift your leg, your hips should remain neutral. Dig your knee firmly into the mat to prevent it from lifting. Also, don’t lean your lower body over to the side and thereby taking the focus off your glutes.

  6. Before lowering your left knee to the starting position, press down through your fingers for stability and inhale deeply. Bring that knee down, and exhale before doing a donkey kick with your right leg.

Suitable rep ranges for donkey kicks

When you add donkey kicks to your workout routine, start slowly and increase reps and sets as you progress.

Once you have mastered the proper form, you can do 10 to 15 reps for each side, and do 2 to 3 sets.

Why is form so important?

Proper form is crucial for any exercise because it helps avoid injuries and allows optimal benefits from the entire range of motion of your exercise of choice.

Donkey Kicks Perfect Form – Image from Shutterstock
  1. With proper technique, you’ll likely stop wasting energy and reach your goals faster.
  2. Every correct movement you make will benefit your ultimate goal.
  3. With proper form, you will learn proper breathing techniques.
  4. To properly breathe during strength training and general workout routines is to inhale in the eccentric phase and exhale during the concentric phase, or, exhale while you're doing the hardest work, and inhale as you're coming back to your starting position.
  5. Once you have mastered all aspects of proper form, you’ll be ready to increase reps and sets. You might even be ready for a more demanding and challenging variety of donkey kicks, like adding dumbbells or a resistance band.

What are the benefits of donkey kicks?

All you need for doing donkey kicks is a little space and something to kneel on, such as a towel, blanket, or exercise mat. With no equipment required, this is an excuse-free glute exercise.

  1. Easy to learn— glute exercises don’t come much more straightforward than donkey kicks. Most people should master this move within a few minutes. As such, it’s ideal for beginners.
  2. Benefit daily activities — The strength gained from donkey kicks can ease day-to-day movements outside the gym. Stable hips and lower back along with strong glutes can keep your body functioning safely and lower injury risks as you perform everyday movements with stability and strength.
  3. Activate shoulders — An added bonus is that donkey kicks even activate shoulder muscles, adding another layer to whole-body stability.
  4. Best for isolating the glutes — donkey kicks are the perfect way to isolate your glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus and medius.
  5. Back protection — Your core and glutes help protect and support your back, which, in the long run, can help prevent hip problems and lower back pain.
  6. Strengthen hamstrings and core — you need to engage your core and hamstrings to stabilize your lumbar spine.
  7. A compound exercise — bearing your entire body weight on one supporting leg requires core stabilization, arm strength, activation of your erector spinae for spinal stability, and engaging your hamstrings, quads, and glutes for hip stability. (This is one of the most significant benefits when comparing donkey kicks with the equivalent exercises on the Smith machine or other cable machines).
  8. Core bracing — Some people find it difficult to effectively brace their core. The donkey kicks exercise teaches core bracing skills in a way that equips you for more advanced exercises.
  9. Improve Posture— Spending hours sitting while you work on electronic devices causes poor posture due to a weakened abdominal wall, which will, sooner or later, cause lower back pain. Donkey kicks strengthen all your postural muscles, significantly lowering your risk of chronic back pain.
  10. Easy to modify — Once you’ve mastered donkey kicks, you can easily modify them to keep them challenging and for keeping your workout routine interesting. Adding weights or a resistance band can further increase stability and strength.
  11. Effective fat burner — If you’ve been looking for the perfect workout to aid your weight-loss goals, you’ve just found it. What makes donkey kicks perfect is the fact that it suits all fitness levels, even those who are trying to lose weight. This compound exercise can help with weight loss efficiently by targeting multiple muscle groups at once without putting excessive strain on your joints.Donkey Kicks for weight loss - Image from Shutterstock
  12. Mimics real-life movements— Whether you spend hours on your legs, walking up and down stairs, or running around all day, the movements are mimicked in donkey kicks, which will enhance your daily life and make your tasks easier.
  13. In short — training your glutes through donkey kicks will not only give you the peachy bum you dreamt of, but it can also significantly enhance your physical strength and fat-burning capabilities.

What are the common mistakes when performing donkey kicks?

Below are some common mistakes people make when doing donkey kicks. It’s important to take note of them, to ensure you optimize the available benefits.

  1. Hyperextending the spine — Ignore advice from others to extend the range of motion for donkey kicks by raising your foot too high. When you do that, the additional movement will come from the spine and not the hip, which will do nothing for your glutes and increase injury risks.

  2. Wasting energy with low resistance — While many others may appreciate the low level of resistance posed by donkey kicks, it might be a drawback for you. If you have strong glutes, you could need between 30 and 50 donkey kick reps per leg before you detect any sign of fatigue in your glutes, making this an ineffective exercise for you. Adding a weight or resistance band will increase the challenge to your glutes, and allow you maximum benefits.

  3. A dropped core — While your primary target is the glutes, donkey kicks also offer core-strengthening benefits. Focus on not letting your back arch and your stomach sag while you lift and lower your leg. Ensure your abdomen remains engaged, without forgetting proper breathing techniques. Re-engage your core, keeping your torso straight and hips square, every time you perform a kick. A tip from a CPT — pushing down through the opposite foot’s toes and your pals and fingers will help with core stability.

  4. Pointed toes — It might seem insignificant, but the angle of your foot and toes is a big deal. A flexed foot with the sole facing the ceiling contracts all the targeted muscles. Pointing your foot activates the calf muscles more than the glutes.

  5. Kicking too high — As mentioned, kicking too high is more likely to cause injuries than benefit your glutes. If you maintain a neutral spine, you’re not likely to lift your leg too high. If possible, perform the donkey kicks where you can watch yourself in a mirror. If you notice an arched back, it would likely go along with kicking too high.

  6. Locked-out elbows — Maintain a soft bend in your elbows because keeping your arms completely straight can put excessive strain on your elbows. Some people prefer to rest on their forearms instead of their hands when doing donkey kicks, which is also a solution to avoid locking your elbows.

  7. Rushing the kicks — To get the most out of your donkey kicks workout, take it slowly, both the eccentric and concentric phases. If you rush, you will soon be using momentum instead of muscle power to move your leg, with no benefit to your glutes.

Variations of the donkey kick exercise

Although there are many compound exercises that can work on glute muscles, the donkey kicks exercise and some of its variants are preferred over the glute exercises that need special equipment. The traditional donkey kick is good for beginners while variations like weighted donkey kicks, with ankle weights or a dumbbell nestled in your knee crease, or donkey kicks with a resistance band, are good for people who have strong muscles.

  1. Straight-leg donkey kick with half circle

A hip extension and an added circle at the end of the lift add a bit of a challenge to the standard donkey kick.

  1. Resistance band donkey kick

Added resistance from a resistance band makes this version more challenging and the burn more intense — how intense is your choice, as you can choose the strength of the resistance band.

  1. Fire Hydrant

This version works similar muscles, and although it starts in the same position as the basic donkey kick version, you lift your bent leg sideways and up instead of backward in the fire hydrant exercise.

To Conclude

Donkey kicks, done with the correct form and technique, are highly effective in isolating your gluteal muscles, while also offering significant benefits to your core muscles. Adding different variations to your workout toolbox gives you more ammunition to target your glutes in different ways, allowing optimal benefits.

It would be wise to make sure you have mastered the proper form and technique of the basic donkey kicks before tackling the more challenging versions, increasing injury risks.

If you have any pre-existing knee or back issues, or experience discomfort or pain while you’re working out, it would be best to stop exercising and consult your physician and your personal trainer who might be able to adjust the moves to make the exercise safe for you to do until you have recovered fully.