Fitness Tips

3 Personal Trainers Tell Us Their Favorite Glute Exercises That Actually Work

Photo: Getty Images/Drazen_
There’s a lot to love about having strong glutes. They help us with athletic feats like running faster and jumping higher, but also everyday activities like climbing stairs or getting into and out of a car. (Also: They don’t hurt when it comes to rocking a pair of jeans.)

“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.”

Seeing as we spend so much of our days sitting in front of computers or in a car, working the glutes 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.

Fortunately, there are seemingly endless ways to strengthen our backsides. But what’s actually effective? When it comes to the best way to strengthen the glutes—which consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—many of us aren’t actually sure what exercises to do. We asked three personal trainers to fill us in on their favorite moves for maximal results that you can do on your own at home or in the gym.

The Best Glute Exercises You Can Do at Home

1. Squats

Richter says the classic squat is a great staple in any lower body training program. “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.

  • 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.

2. Hip thrusts

Hip thrusts, which can be performed with a barbell or a hip thrust machine, use hip extension to target the glutes. “A benefit of the hip thrust is that it is easy to find and maintain constant muscle contact throughout the exercise, which can be beneficial for muscle growth,” says Richter. “Aim for a long range of motion for best results and progressively increase the weights every workout.”

  • 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.

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.

  • 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.

4. Deadlifts

Kent Probst, a certified personal trainer and 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.

  • 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.

5. Single-leg glute bridges

“This exercise resembles the hip thrust, but using one leg at a time makes it more challenging even without any weights,” says Richter. He adds that it's an excellent exercise for improving your hip stability for running and other athletics.

  • 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.

6. Weighted donkey kicks

Carroll likes this exercise because it works both the glutes and the hamstrings, and can be progressed or regressed by adding or removing weight.

  • 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.

7. Fire hydrants

By reaching your leg to the side, Carroll says this exercise works your gluteus medius.

  • 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.

8. Clamshells

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.

  • 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.

  • 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!”

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