While many people will have you believe that an expensive gym membership is required for optimal booty gains, though, we're here to let you in on a little secret: glute exercises at home can be just as effective.
Why it's important to strengthen the glutes
“Because the glutes sit at the center of our body, they are involved in most of our fundamental movements,” explains Daniel Richter, a certified personal trainer and the co-founder of StrengthLog. “As we age, our glutes are one of the most important muscles for keeping our freedom of movement, including the ability to do everyday movements such as simply getting out of a chair.”
- Amy Schemper, CPT, personal trainer and BowFlex advisor
- Daniel Richter, CPT, certified personal trainer and co-founder of StrengthLog
- Heather Carroll, CPT, certified personal trainer and owner of A Balanced Life Training
- Kent Probst, CPT, certified personal trainer and founder of Long Healthy Life Blog
- Stephen Marcotte, CSCS, workout design and experience manager at Orangetheory Fitness
Seeing as we spend so much of our days sitting in front of computers or in a car, working the glutes—which consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—keeps them from lengthening out and starting to feel overly tight, says Heather Carroll, a certified personal trainer and owner of A Balanced Life Training. She adds that glutes help keep our pelvis in line with our spine to maintain optimal posture. “The glute muscles work directly with the core muscles, keeping the pelvis pointing straight down to the ground instead of tilting back or tilting forward,” she says.
Officially convinced you need to dedicate more time to your butt muscles? Ahead, find the best at-home glute exercises (which can also be performed at the gym, with or without equipment), according to five trainers.
The best glute exercises you can do at home
Wondering how can I build my glutes at home? Richter says the classic squat is a great staple in any lower-body training program, not just those that incorporate glute exercises at home. “The squat works your glutes in a long range of motion, stretching your muscles under load in the bottom of the squat,” he says. “Working a muscle in a long range of motion under load has been proven important for muscle growth and strength.” Science backs him up: A 2019 study demonstrated that performing deep squats resulted in twice the improvements seen with half squats, despite training with lighter loads.
While traditional hip-width squats are often thought to be the go-to, BowFlex fitness advisor Amy Schemper, CPT, says that adjusting your foot position can help you really tap into your glutes in new ways. “All squats target the lower body, including the glutes, but really activating and engaging the glute muscles depends largely on form and execution,” she says. “Adjusting your foot position by turning your toes out (sumo or plié squat), widening your stance, and focusing on getting low (parallel to the floor or below the knees) really helps turn on the glute muscles.”
If you’re a beginner, Schemper says to start with a sit squat on a chair (lowering down to the chair for each squat without putting your weight on it), for three sets of 10. “This will help you develop form while building strength,” she explains. “Many people don’t get low enough in squats, which not only puts extra pressure on the knees, but makes the squat more quad-dominant and less glute-dominant. Using a chair or a bench is a great way to increase mobility and train your body to get lower in squats.”
For more advanced exercisers, Schemper says squatting with dumbbells, a kettlebell, or a barbell will enhance muscle structure by adding extra resistance. Additionally, she says that incorporating a mini loop band around the thighs will activate your abductors and boost your glutes in the process.
How to perform a squat:
- Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips all the way back as if reaching your butt back to sit in a chair while driving your arms forward in front of you for counterbalance.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, press through your heels to stand back up.
- Complete 20 to 50 reps.
Pro tip: When performing squats, there are a few mistakes you’ll want to be wary of. “Common mistakes people make while squatting include letting their knees cave in or allowing the lower back to round at the bottom of each squat,” says Stephen Marcotte, CSCS, a workout design and experience manager at Orangetheory Fitness. If your knees fall toward each other, focus on opening the legs from your pelvis and think of screwing your feet into the floor, he says. "Keep your core braced when you feel your lower back rounding at the bottom. If you're still struggling, consider reducing your squat depth while you work on improving mobility and core strength.”
2. Hip thrusts
What is the best exercise to activate glutes? Schemper says that hip thrusts are a top contender because they isolate the glutes through hip extension while relying less on the quads and hamstrings to execute the lift. “What I love about hip thrusts is that almost anyone can do them,” she says. “You can start with bodyweight hip thrusts, such as a basic bridge hip lift, and then elevate your upper body and add weights or a loop band for an extra burn.”
Richter points out that one benefit that it hip thrusts make it easy to activate your muscles throughout the exercise. “Aim for a long range of motion for best results and progressively increase the weights every workout,” he says.
No matter the weight load you use, Schemper says the way you set up is imperative for avoiding injury. “Set up with your upper back and shoulders on a bench, then load the top of your legs with a barbell or dumbbells,” she says. “Use the glutes to drive the hips up into extension, while also connecting to the core and pelvic floor muscles.”
How to perform hip thrusts:
- Place your shoulder blades on a bench with your body bridging off the side so that your knees are bent 90 degrees, your feet are shoulder-width apart and your hips are up in a tabletop position.
- Hold weights or a barbell across your hips.
- Lower your hips towards the floor, then raise them back up until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Complete 10 controlled reps per set.
Pro tip: When performing hip thrusts, make sure not to over-arch your lower back, Marcotte says. “To counteract excessive arching in the lower back, try tucking your hips forward before you initiate each rep,” he suggests. “This can help you achieve a more neutral pelvis, safeguard your back, and enhance glute recruitment.”
Schemper tacks onto this, noting to take your time. “Many people perform a hip thrust too quickly, or try to get their hips up too high, and end up using more lower back than glutes,” she warns. “Others let their knees internally rotate; keep your stance wide and drive your knees outward, which also activates the abductors, resulting in more glute engagement.”
3. Bulgarian split squats
Because you're standing on one leg at a time, Bulgarian split squats work the hip stabilizers —the gluteus medius and minimus. “Working one leg at a time also means that you can find and even out any side-to-side differences in strength, although it is completely normal to be a little more stable on one side than the other,” says Richter.
Marcotte says that to maximize glute engagement during this move, you'll want to keep your shins vertical, have a slight forward lean in your torso, and load contralaterally [if you’re using dumbbells], he says. “For example, if your left leg is in front, hold the dumbbell in your right hand, allowing it to hang below your pelvis.”
Schemper adds that a hip-distance stance is hugely helpful when executing this exercise. She says to think of train tracks instead of a tight rope when setting up your stance to feel more balanced. “A great tip for setup is to sit on the bench with one leg bent, and one leg extended in front. Keeping your front foot of the extended leg in place, stand up and set the bent leg up on the bench,” she adds.
Fun fact: As beneficial as Bulgarian split squats are for your glutes, Schemper points out that they’re also a great workout for your legs and core.
How to perform Bulgarian split squats:
- Stand about three feet in front of a bench or step, facing away, with the top of your rear foot up on the bench behind you. Your legs should be shoulder-width apart, and your front foot should be far enough forward that when you drop into a lunge, your front knee does not extend beyond your toes.
- Keeping your shoulders back and core engaged, bend your front knee to drop into a split lunge.
- When the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground, press through your heel to return to the standing position.
- Complete eight to 10 reps per leg per set.
- For an extra challenge, you can load this squat by holding dumbbells in each hand with your arms down at your sides.
Pro tip: When performing Bulgarian split squats, keep an eye on your front knee. “A common misstep to watch out for is allowing the front knee to cave inward, compromising your form and the effectiveness of the squat,” Marcotte says. “Keeping your torso too upright can also divert the focus from the glutes to your quadriceps.”
Kent Probst, CPT, a fitness educator through the Long Healthy Life Blog, likes that deadlifts mimic the function of the glutes in everyday life, like when we’re picking something up off the ground. It’s because of their functionality that deadlifts are often thought to be the most effective full-body exercise.
“Deadlifts are a powerhouse exercise when building those glutes because they simultaneously engage many muscles,” Marcotte says. While deadlifts can be quite difficult with barbells, Marcotte points out that the movement can be performed as a glute exercise at home with dumbbells. “A dumbbell variation is the best choice if you're starting out,” he says. “The barbell deadlift requires a significant level of technical skill to execute it correctly, and beginning with dumbbell variations will also help to build strength and confidence.”
How to perform deadlifts:
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides, and a dumbbell in front of each ankle.
- Bend your knees to sit your hips back as far as possible until you’re low enough to reach and grab the weights while keeping your back straight and chest up.
- Engage your core to lift the dumbbells while you raise your body up to standing position. Your back should stay straight and the weights should track vertically along your shins.
- Sit your hips back again to slowly lower the weights back to the floor. Keep your chin up and gaze forward.
- Perform 10 to 12 reps per set.
Pro tip: “When deadlifting, a neutral (or flat) back is key," says Marcotte. "A common mistake is for the lower back to round, which puts unwanted stress on your spine. To avoid this, focus on staying braced throughout your core, and engaging your lats by pulling your shoulders down and away from your ears.”
5. Single-leg glute bridges
“Single-leg glute bridges can be a fantastic starting point for any glute-focused workout, especially when dealing with imbalances,” Marcotte says. In particular, he says they can be a great warmup before diving into heavier squats. "The key here is to move deliberately, focusing on using your glutes to drive your hips up and control them on the way down. This practice helps wake up those glutes and can potentially enhance your squat performance and glute recruitment during lower-body exercises.”
How to perform single-leg glute bridges:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, one foot flat on the floor and one reaching straight up in the air.
- Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body is in one long line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Hold and squeeze for one breath then slowly lower.
- Repeat 15 times, then switch sides.
Pro tip: When performing single-leg glute bridges, you want to take your time with the lift and lower. “One of the most common mistakes to avoid during single-leg glute bridges is rushing through the movement and failing to concentrate on the muscle you're trying to train,” Marcotte says. “Ensure you maintain a deliberate pace and focus squarely on engaging those glutes for maximum benefit.”
6. Weighted donkey kicks
Donkey kicks are often thought to be a nonsensical movement inspired by ‘80s aerobics classes. In reality, Marcotte says that “donkey kicks are a great isolation exercise for targeting your glutes because they focus solely on engaging your glute muscles.” Just be sure to brace your core while doing so.
How to perform weighted donkey kicks:
- Get on all fours with an ankle weight on each ankle.
- Lift the right leg behind you, keeping the 90-degree bend in the knee so the shin is perpendicular to the ceiling, then return to start.
- Aim for 15 repetitions on each side.
Pro tip: When performing donkey kicks, maintaining a neutral spine is key. “One of the most common mistakes to watch out for is excessive arching in the lower back,” Marcotte points out. “This often occurs when we have an unstable core or attempt to kick our foot too high, so keep your core engaged and your movements controlled to maximize the benefits.”
7. Fire hydrants
Fire hydrants are another '80s-inspired at-home glute exercise that's more effective than it may seem. By reaching your leg to the side, Carroll says this move works your gluteus medius, and is an effective upper glute exercise.
How to perform fire hydrants:
- Get on your hands and knees in a tabletop position with your core tight, back flat, and ankle weights on your ankles.
- Use your core to stabilize your hips while you lift your right leg directly out to the side, keeping the knee bent.
- Return to the starting position.
- Aim for two sets of 15 repetitions per side.
Pro tip: When performing fire hydrants, it’s important to keep your torso and upper body as stable as possible. “You will want to watch out for excessive movement throughout the torso,” Marcotte says. “This mistake typically occurs if you start to lean to one side as you raise your leg. To avoid this, prioritize stability and control throughout the exercise.”
This Pilates exercise works the hip rotator muscles located at the base of your butt, says Carroll. “This is also great for working on the muscles that we need to turn quickly and change directions.” To progress the exercise, she says, add a loop band around the mid-thighs.
How to perform clamshells:
- Lie on one side with your knees bent to 45 degrees with the heels lined up directly under your sit bones. Engage your core to lift the heels off the floor, feet together, so they are in line with the tailbone.
- Rotate the top knee open, keeping hips stable and heels connected.
- Close the knees to return to the starting position.
- Complete two sets of 15 to 25 reps per side.
9. Glider reverse lunges
If you don’t have access to glider disks, you can use towels on a smooth floor for this exercise. Carroll says this is great for functional movements such as going up the stairs or picking up something heavy from the ground.
How to perform glider reverse lunges:
- Stand with your feet together and a glider or towel under your right foot.
- Slide your right foot back while bending both knees to 90 degrees so that you’re in a reverse lunge.
- Press down through the heel of the left foot, engage the glutes and hamstrings, and push back up to the starting position.
- Complete 12 to 15 reps per side.
So how often should you do these glute exercises?
While you don’t have to do all of these exercises each time you work out, mixing and matching three or four in your regular workouts will provide the variety you need to build well-rounded, strong glutes.
You can do glute exercises every day if you only train light, says Richter. “If you do more challenging workouts, one to three times per week is generally a good idea, with a sweet spot around two times per week.” As you become more advanced, you can ramp up your training volume, notes Richter. “But, if you are just starting out, be careful not to overdo it!”
Keep in mind...
When performing glute exercises at home or at the gym, try not to get caught up in what other people are doing in terms of weight, reps, and sets in their own butt workouts. “Certain aspects, such as the movements, number of sets, and repetitions, can vary significantly from person to person,” Marcotte says. “Whether you're starting out or leveling up, it's essential to tailor your routine to your fitness level and understand that muscle building can be achieved through different methods. Depending on your preferences and goals, you can opt for lower reps with heavier weights and longer rest periods or choose higher reps with lighter weights and shorter rest periods.” Additionally, remember that reaping the rewards of glute activation exercises takes time, so if you feel like your glutes aren't growing, try to remain patient.
- Kubo, Keitaro et al. “Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 119,9 (2019): 1933-1942. doi:10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y
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