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Exercises to Build the Best Glute Workouts of Them All…

 Written by 

Steve Hoyles

 Last updated on 

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Glute workouts are not a new thing in the strength and conditioning world.

People training athletes have known about how important strong glutes are for decades. Hip thrusts, split squats, lunges etc have been a feature of athletic programming forever. Look at the legs and glutes of weightlifters, sprinters, football players etc. 

A woman does hip thrusts in a gym as part of a glute workout
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They get that shape from the weight room, not the track.

When the instagram fitness influencers cottoned on to this fact, glute workouts became the latest fad. ‘Glute day’ became a thing. Commercial gyms started buying hip thrusts and GHD machines. 

The problem is, most people get their glute workouts wrong. 

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To correct that, I’m going to share with you the best exercises for glute workouts. They’re evidence based, complete with videos and an explanation as to why they’re so good.

The Best Glute Exercises…

Here are the best exercises to grow massive glutes:

Barbell Hip Thrusts

I prefer a hip thrust bench to a machine for these, because you get a better starting position, and can move your body to target your glute muscles. With your feet flat on the ground, drive the bar up until you complete a full hip extension. Use a pad if you need to make it more comfortable. It’s a great exercise for all the lower body muscles. 

Walking Lunges

One thing you can be sure of with lunges – you’re going to hit all the gluteal muscles when you perform them. Lunges help improve lower body stability and balance while strengthening the glutes. I prefer walking lunges, because there are other exercises we can do in a static position. You can weight them with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, weight vest etc.

Split Squats

Split squats are a fantastic unilateral exercise for the glutes. They involve lowering your body with one foot placed forward and the other foot back on an elevated surface. Split squats not only activate the glutes but also challenge your lower body’s stability and control. This is a favourite exercise of mine for the gluteal muscles. You also hit the upper thighs hard!

Step Ups

Step-ups are a functional exercise that simulates everyday activities like climbing stairs. This movement engages the glutes as you lift your body weight onto an elevated surface. The unilateral aspect of step-ups helps identify and address strength imbalances between your left and right glutes. They’re super effective as part of any lower body workout. You only need light dumbbells, and a step height that gives you a 90 degree angle at the knee to step onto.

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts recruit the glutes significantly. This compound exercise requires a strong hip hinge, activating the glutes to extend the hips as you lift the barbell. Deadlifts can be a cornerstone of your glute workouts if performed with proper form. If you’re more advanced and have a sufficient range of movement, you can stand on a step and perform the exercise with a deficit. This increases range of motion and works the butt muscles even harder. 

Lateral Band Walks

Lateral band walks are a superb way to target the gluteus medius, which plays a vital role in hip stability and maintaining proper alignment. Place a resistance band around your thighs and walk sideways while keeping tension on the band. This exercise is excellent for injury prevention and glute development. It’s a perfect exercise for early in the workout. Give them respect – they’re way harder than you think. 

Glute Ham Raise

The GHD machine is designed to target the glutes with a glute ham raise. They’re the best of the bodyweight glute exercises. By anchoring your feet and positioning your upper body on the pad, you can perform hip extensions that isolate the glutes. The GHD is a must-have in any advanced glute workout routine. It’s also a great accessory exercise for conventional deadlifts and squats.

Single Leg Deadlift

Single leg deadlifts are another unilateral exercise that challenges your balance and coordination while targeting the glutes. Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, hinge at the hips, and extend one leg backward. This exercise activates the glutes and helps improve hip stability. It has a longer range of motion than many deadlift variations. Start light – it’s tougher than you think!

Side Plank Clamshell

The side plank clamshell is an isolation exercise for the gluteus medius. In a side plank position, raise your top leg while keeping your feet together, resembling the opening of a clamshell. This exercise helps improve the strength and endurance of the gluteus medius, reducing the risk of hip and knee injuries. It’s a fantastic ab exercise too, helping to keep the abs tight and prevent lower back issues. It’s a side version of glute bridges.

Diagonal Lunges

The diagonal lunge is great exercise for building strong, stable glutes with plenty of endurance. The external rotation of the hips really switches on the gluteus medius, and helps to build stabilisation in the knees. This can help to prevent knee pain. The glute med is a small but important muscle, and when it becomes weak it’s responsible for lack of knee and hip stability. All you need is a pair of dumbbells and some space for this. 

Hex/Trap Bar Deadlift

This variation of the deadlift is a great way to build a strong butt. The hex or trap bar deadlift (you can use either name) is a perfect way to lift a lot of weight. The weight is either side of you in the starting position, rather than in front. This reduces stress on the lower back. It’s also a lift that engages the largest muscle groups in the body. With your feet flat on the floor, drive into the ground and pull the weight through the full range of motion. 

Other articles have more exercises – why?

While this article highlights several effective glute exercises, you might wonder why other articles have ’17 glute exercises’ etc. The answer is simple – we’re in the business of efficiency, and giving you the glute exercises that work the most effectively. The human body can’t count – it doesn’t know if it has done 3 exercises or 20. 

All it knows is it has to react to stimulation

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  • Tested for purity and safety
  • Creatine has no known side effects
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Let’s look at the science…

In 2020, Neto et al published a research paper titled ‘Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review‘. Here’s what they found…

We concluded that several exercises could induce very high levels of Gluteus Maximus activation. The step-up exercise and its variations present the highest levels of Gluteus Maximus activation followed by several loaded exercises and its variations, such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, and squats. The results of this systematic review may assist practitioners in selecting exercises for strengthening Gluteus Maximus.

They mentioned 5 major lifts. We’ve included 11 here, which include variations of these movement patterns. Basically, we selected the exercises that (scientifically speaking) play a major role in building healthy glutes, and gave you different options of them. 

Anything beyond that is click bait. 

A woman does deadlifts in a gym
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Junk volume

There’s a term in exercise programming known as ‘junk volume’. This is when you fill a program with useless exercises or sets that don’t actually contribute to the goal. 

There are lots of articles on glute workouts that contain a lot of this junk volume. Exercises that have (at best) a small role in glute training, but they’re put into the workout to pad it out, and make it seem more substantial. You’re better off performing 5 or 6 super effective exercises in the workout, than 12 that don’t offer much benefit. 

Set after set of body weight squats, static glute bridges and glute activation drills won’t do you as much good as some dumbbell step ups, split squats, RDLs and the like.

The more useless volume you add to your workouts, the higher the injury risk and the longer it takes to recover from. You don’t get paid overtime here. Muscle growth occurs when enough stimulus is applied, followed by adequate recovery. 

Glute Muscle Anatomy

To program the best and most effective glute workouts, it’s essential to understand the physiology of the glutes.

There are three distinct muscles that make up ‘the glutes’. These are…

  • The Gluteus Maximus – this is responsible for hip extension
  • The Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus – these stabilize the pelvis and assist in hip abduction and rotation.

Structuring your workouts to target these functions is key to glute development.

In this workout we perform exercises that achieve all these movements. We perform squat variations, lunge variations, external rotations, Romanian deadlifts (hinges), static holds, hip thrusts, single leg exercises etc.

We lift heavy weights, light loads with high reps, and body weight exercise.

No movement pattern is left out of the equation. If it plays a key role in training the glutes, it has been included here. By performing these exercises you’ll adequately train the gluteus minimus, gluteus Maximus and the glute medius. 

Warming Up the Glutes

Before diving into your glute workouts, it’s crucial to warm up properly. Here’s how I like to warm up ahead of any kind of glute work…

I start with lower body centric cardio. This could include gentle running, cycling, rowing, air bike etc. I tend to avoid anything that doesn’t involve the lower body. A good example of what to avoid is the ski erg. It doesn’t activate the lower body enough. 

Once you’ve done 5 minutes or so of that, you can head into hip mobility exercises, and glute activation drills can help prepare the glutes for the workout ahead.

This video has some good examples…

It’s very important to warm up well when you’re doing glute work, because of the inherent vulnerability some people have in their lower back. By warming up you’ll avoid potential issues when working to strengthen weak glutes.

Programming Glute Workouts

To create an effective glute workout program, we have to consider factors like exercise selection, sets, reps, and intensity.

Progressive overload, where you gradually increase the weight or resistance, is essential for continued gains in glute strength and size, so that’s a given. What’s more nuanced is how to programme rep ranges, movement patterns, loads etc. 

Here’s a few thoughts…

Independent Day or Leg Day?

Some people like to dedicate an entire workout session to glutes, while others incorporate glute exercises into their leg workouts. The choice depends on your goals and personal preferences. 

I like to include glute exercises on leg days and pulling days. You can also put a couple of glute exercises into a whole body program. If your workouts train your entire body, make sure you include 2-3 exercises to target the posterior chain. 

The simple reason is there’s a natural crossover, and that makes everything more efficient. If you think of split squats, step ups, lunges etc they’re a leg exercise too, so there’s more bang for your buck. In the case of RDLs and trap bar deadlifts, they’re lower body pulling exercises. 

Glute muscle anatomy is such that they don’t need to be trained on their own – exercises for glutes are often exercises for other body parts too. 

Glute Workouts – What the Science Says

As we’ve seen, scientific research supports the effectiveness of exercises like hip thrusts, squats, and lunges for glute development. However, individual differences exist, so it’s essential to tailor your workouts to your specific needs and goals.

What we know about strength and hypertrophy training is that volume and intensity must be sufficient. That doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your glutes, your chest, your shoulder etc. 

In a study from 2015 titled ‘The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men’, Mangine et al concluded that…

It appears that high-intensity resistance training stimulates greater improvements in some measures of strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men during a short-term training period.

So with this in mind, we have to think about efficient exercises, because high intensity appears to be more important than high volume. Picking exercises that hit the major muscles hard is better than hundreds of junk volume reps.

Full ranges of motion, heavy loads, short rest periods and focussing on the larger glute muscles is the best way to build powerful glutes. Forget articles with dozens of exercises for the glute max, glute med etc. You build powerful glutes with efficient exercises done well. 

About

Steve Hoyles has spent over 20 years in the fitness industry, working as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach. He now owns a large strength and conditioning facility in the UK, where he trains people from all walks of life. His client list ranges from everyday gym users through to professional athletes. He loves to share his knowledge with people at all stages of their fitness journey.

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