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July 28, 2020 10 min read

When it comes to muscles, a general rule of thumb is that the bigger they are, the better they are. Sometimes it’s nice to forget about the frills and nuances and just look in the mirror and say, “Wow, I look good.”

And yes, no one can deny that there are certain muscle groups that people place more emphasis on depending on sex—but a good-looking body is a good-looking body, and that takes every muscle fiber to create. This fact is compounded by bulking up the already large muscles, like the pecs.

So, god must have been playing a joke when he put the largest muscle in the human body on the workout day that most people dread. 

You’ve probably already guessed, but yes, we’re talking about the glutes. Much like the pecs are the holy grail of the upper body, the glutes take the crown for the lower muscle groups.

Strong legs and a nice butt look good on everyone, women and men, and if you haven’t been giving them the attention they deserve, then shame on you. But on the bright side, you’re here now and we’ve prepared a handy guide to get your butt into tip-top shape.

After all, you really don’t want your glutes to the butt of all jokes.

Why You Should Want Strong Glutes (Aside from Looking Good)

We’ve gotten the aesthetic things mostly out of the way, so let’s look at the butt from a physiological perspective. We all know it’s the biggest muscle in the human body—butt why? 

When it comes down to it, the importance of the glutes in your athletic ability cannot be overstated. Do you want to get as close as you can to being a real-life superhero? Get strong glutes.

They’re absolutely essential in everything from running, jumping, walking, stopping, balancing, changing direction—everything that your lower body can do, it can do because of glutes. This covers all major sports and almost every type of functional strength-needing movement you can do. Our brothers and sisters who have ascended glute-consciousness are able to carry out more complex maneuvers, can jump higher, and run faster.

If you want to test your glute strength, the Trendelenberg test is a quick and easy way to do so.

Begin by standing upright with your back straight. Raise your left leg until your left knee forms a right angle, and then pause in that position. Your pelvis should stay level, or slightly lean to the weight-bearing side, for at least 30 seconds. Keep in mind, if you regularly go to the gym this shouldn’t be an issue—but there’s always room for improvement.

A girl doing squats outside.

Training the Glutes is More Important Than Ever

While the glutes are essential to so many functional and athletic movements, they also serve an important role when it comes to the overall wellbeing of the lower body.

The biggest reason most people tend to have weak glutes is a lack of exercise. We’re not walking or running as much as used to, opting instead for more sitting positions. Not only does this have negative effects on the glutes (and cascading effects to other parts of the body that we’ll get into down below), but weak glutes can also place more pressure on the spine when sitting. You want a cushy seat for a healthy spine, and for that, you need a well-developed tush. 

Weak glutes also affect your pelvic positioning and posture, compounding the back issues you get from sitting too much. Furthermore, a tight hip flexor prevents you from extending your hips all the way through. Knee pain can also be a symptom of weak glutes. This is because an undeveloped bum leaves your hips unstable, giving you an unstable gait, resulting in knee and ankle damage.

To add to this already long list of strong-glute benefits (or weak-glute drawbacks), consider that the glutes are part of your core, along with your lower back, obliques, and of course, abs.

Sold yet? Let’s take a deep dive between the cheeks to find out what they’re all about. 

The Physiology Behind the Gluteal

While the glutes are often referred to as a single muscle, it’s actually a muscle group made up of three different and independent muscles.

The first is the gluteus maximus—the largest muscle in the human body, and the closest of all the gluteals to the surface. Its function is mostly in the upper leg (thigh) extension. You can picture this by rising from a squat position or bringing the torso upright after hinging it forwards. The gluteus maximus is also responsible for rotating your leg externally (out).

The gluteus medius, as the name implies, is the middle-sized muscle. It finds itself directly underneath the gluteus maximus and serves a few functions. 

Not only does the anterior part of it internally rotate the thigh, but the contraction of the entire muscle also abducts the thigh. Most importantly perhaps is the fact that the gluteus medius stabilizes the pelvis when you’re standing or walking.

And finally, we have the smallest member of the gang—the gluteus minimus. Whoever named these made things super simple because you guessed it, it’s the smallest gluteal. While not doing much by itself, it works with the gluteus medius to both internally rotate and abducts the thigh, along with playing a role in stabilization.

So, now the question is how do you get these guys jacked up?

The 10 Butt Exercises to Develop Your Glutes 

Everyone loves a top ten list, so we’ve compiled one just for your butts.

How you program these lifts are up to you and your goals, but it’s usually advised to keep the bigger, higher volume lifts (such as the deadlift) at the beginning of the training session. Do these 10 exercises regularly and your butt will be the envy of the gym. 

1. Quadruped Hip Extensions

The non-profit fitness certification organization, American Council on Exercise, did a study in 2006 that found that quadruped extensions were the best exercise when it came to the activation of the gluteus maximus. Not to mention that this movement offers a great shot of your behind.

To do it, get on your hands and knees to start. Keep your back aligned as you raise one leg up, and slightly out for external hip rotation. The other leg should be firmly on the ground. At the top of the movement, maintain a straight back while squeezing your glutes. Pause, and then return to the starting position.

If you want to add some extra difficulty (and benefits) to this exercise, either add a band for more resistance or pause for longer at the top of the movement.

2. Single-Leg Deadlift

The deadlift is a classic lower body exercise that also hits your quads and hamstrings, but making the movement a single-leg exercise challenges your glutes in new and interesting ways. 

Your glutes will be activated much like in a traditional deadlift: at the top of each rep on the side that has your foot on the ground. However, the glutes on both sides also have to stabilize your frontal plane, which keeps you from falling over. 

Holding your preferred load (either kettlebell or dumbbell) in your right hand, keep your right foot on the ground while raising your left leg behind you. As you lean forward, make sure that your spine is kept in a straight position—this means also keeping your leg in line with your spine. Slowly lower the weight to the ground, shoulder blade pulled back, and then return upright to the starting position. Switch sides after the desired amount of reps. 

3. Squats

Squats, much like deadlifts, are a bread-and-butter lower body lift. They come in all different shapes and sizes, each variation having its own nuances. While the squat is primarily good for training the quads, variations such as front squats or deep squats can place greater emphasis on training the glutes. 

We’ve written in the past about different squat variations, but the basics come down to this: begin with the barbell on top of your back with a straight back, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and also slightly turned out. Activate your core as you go down in the movement (going as low as you can), but remember to keep your spine straight.

Return to the starting position by driving through your heels and engaging the glutes.

4. Hip Thrusts

When it comes to training the gluteus maximus, hip thrusts are an essential movement to incorporate into your training routine. In fact, they’re more effective than classic lifts such as the squat and the deadlift when it comes to activating the glutes.

While this can be done as a bodyweight movement, feel free to add some weight (such as a barbell) on top so you don’t leave any gains on the table.

Begin by sitting on the floor with your back resting against a bench. Having the barbell in your lap, directly over your hip joints. Engage your core muscles and drive your heels into the ground while squeezing your glutes. Continue the movement by lifting your hips until they’re even with your knees. Slowly lower your body back down and repeat.

5. Step-Ups

The step-up is another fantastic addition to your glute workout. In terms of movement and muscles activated, they work much the same way as the single-legged squat. Another plus is that your back won’t experience the wear and tear of heavy squatting, while your body will experience many of the same benefits.

While it can be done with just bodyweight, a barbell over your shoulders or dumbbells in hands will add that extra edge to the exercise.

Standing with a straight back in front of a raised platform, keep your shoulders down and back if you’re holding dumbbells. As the name implies, step up onto the platform with your right foot, and then drive down with your right heel to bring both feet up onto the platform. Step back down and repeat, switching sides.

6. Kettlebell Swings

When it comes to explosive movements via hip extension, this is probably the ultimate exercise to be doing. It’s a powerful movement that, if done right, will give you that glute power that translates excellently into athletic and functional fitness. To add to that, it also places very minimal stress on your back. 

Your back should remain straight and your core should be activated at the beginning of the movement. Have your feet planted wider than hip-distance as you lean forward and grab the kettlebell. Slightly bend your knees, and then in an explosive (yet fluid) motion, drive the hips forwards and swing the kettlebell up.

The power should not be coming either from the quads or the arms—remember to keep the glutes engaged.

7. Deadlift

The traditional deadlift is a staple for any serious gym-goer. It boasts a full-body workout, while also taking it up itself to burn your glutes. The secret to a good deadlift (or one of the many), is to squeeze your glutes—hard—at the top of the movement. This will give you the most out of the exercise and prevent you from arching your back at the top of the move.

Begin the exercise by standing close to a barbell that’s centered over your feet. With your feet about hip-width apart, hinge at the hip and grab the bar with your back aligned and core engaged. Drive the movement up through your heels explosively, remembering to keep your back straight. Reverse the movement and repeat.

8. Cable / Banded Kickback

Another terrific addition to the glute exercise compendium, the kickbacks (either done with a cable or a resistance band) offer a high range of motion that ensures your glutes really feel the burn. 

If using a band, place it around your ankles and shift your weight onto your left foot. Then, place the toes of your left foot a few inches behind you (depending on the flexibility of the band), make sure there’s tension in the band. Keeping your core braced, back straight, and toes pointed forward, kick your right leg back as far as you can. 

You should be feeling the burn in both your core as you engage it and also in your glutes as you contract them during the kick. When you get to the peak of the position with your working leg behind you, slowly bring it back to the starting position. A focus on the eccentric movement will turbocharge your gains. Repeat for the desired amount of reps and sets.

If you want to add a twist to this movement and hit a different part of your glutes, rotate your kicking leg outwards and then kick back.

A man doing a Bulgarian split squat.

9. Bulgarian Split Squat 

This is a challenging exercise that has benefits for your entire legs, especially in the upper leg such as the quads. However, you can slightly modify the movement to focus more on the glutes than the quads.

This exercise can either be done with a couple of dumbbells or with a barbell over the back. Stand a lunge length in front of a bench, facing away from it. Take your left foot and place the top of it on the bench behind you, and then begin lowering your body. Remember, as always, to keep your core braced and glutes engaged. Your body should go low enough for your knee to be almost touching the floor. Reverse the movement by pushing through the heel on the foot on the ground.

To focus in on the glutes, your front shin should be no further than vertical to the ground, meaning that your knee shouldn’t travel past your foot. Extending the movement too far means that more of your quads will be engaged over your glutes.

10. Clamshells

The clamshell movement is a great exercise for focusing on your gluteus medius, your hip abductors. When you do this movement, think of a clamshell opening and closing. However, the more you allow the glute to take over, the better of an effect this exercise will have on your glutes. 

Begin the movement by lying on your side and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Your heels should remain together while also staying in-line with your backside. With the side that’s facing up, open your knee as far as you can. Keep in mind however not to rotate either your back or your pelvis, since this will introduce other muscles into the mix. Pause at the top of the movement and return to the beginning position. 

A Healthy Butt Needs a Healthy Body

Growing your glutes is one of the most aesthetically rewarding things you can do in your fitness journey. Not only do they look good, however, but they’re also extremely important muscles that are necessary for a well-functioning body.

On the flip side, you also need a body that’s both well-rested and has enough nutrients and proteins to keep itself going and growing. So, get your ass in gear and make it the nicest one out there.