The gluteus maximus, which is the technical term for your butt, is a true staple on the ‘body-parts everybody wants to improve’ list.
The glutes are a strong, powerful muscle, one that’s integral to human performance and function, which is perhaps why we seem to have an innate appreciation for a shapely rear end.
Unfortunately, the glutes are one of the primary victims of our modern sedentary lifestyles. Adhering to the law of ‘use it or lose it’, we literally sit so much that our glutes have gotten lazy, leading to an epidemic of inactive, non-functioning (and flat) butts.
Weak, shrunken glutes can lead to back pain, hip pain and knee pain among a whole host of orthopaedic issues – not just the inability to fill out your favourite pair of jeans.
So here are the 10 best exercises to reclaim your glutes and develop a strong, shapely butt. These are loosely ordered from easiest to hardest, depending on your current level of fitness and athleticism.
1. Butt squeezes
This is a good place to start and, while simple, can go a long way. It’s important when trying to ‘isolate’ a muscle with exercise that you’re able to feel the muscle working and develop a ‘mind-muscle’ connection.
Simply stand up, and clench your butt like you’re trying to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks. If you can’t feel your glutes, keep practicing, and keep squeezing – you’ll be surprised how much you can fry your glutes in a couple of minutes. If you can feel your glutes, move on to some of the exercises further down the list.
2. Glute bridges
A great entry level glute exercise for ‘re-activating’ and strengthening that mind-muscle connection. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat, and squeeze your butt as per above. Drive your hips up to the sky, hold the top, and control your way down. Try to isolate and feel your glutes the whole time. Play around with speed, tempo and rep ranges.
3. Single-leg glute bridge
A basic progression to the above. Lift one leg up and push through your bottom heel to complete a glute bridge on one leg.
4. Hip thrust
This is like a glute bridge but takes your hips through a greater range of motion and changes your centre of gravity to make it more challenging. Typically done by elevating the upper back on a weights bench, but anything similar will do. These can be done bodyweight, single leg and by placing a weight or barbell across the front of the hip.
5. Monster walks
These can be done walking sideways or forwards and more accurately target the glute medius (or side of your butt). Functionally responsible for hip stability and lateral movement, these are important for a well-rounded glute building program. Pun intended.
There are a myriad of ways people can squat, and this is often done with poor form, but when done properly and with a hip dominant style, the squat can be a great glute builder.
For a more ‘glutey’ style squat, take a wide stance and sit back into your squat by pushing your hips back, whilst spreading your knees. Trying to maintain more vertical shins by not letting your knees come forward is a good cue. Consciously squeeze your glutes, and add weight with a dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell.
Deadlifts are one of the best full body movements you can do, and are a great way to develop strong glutes in a functional manner, as they are needed to lock out or extend the hips under load. Take the time to learn correct form on these, it can take some time to master but worth it to ensure you’re doing it properly, and safely.
8. Walking Lunges
It doesn’t take many of these to set your glutes on fire. Take long strides and go full depth, getting the back knee close to the floor to maximise the glutes over the quads. Hold on to a pair of dumbells to make it harder.
9. Kettlebell Swings
A movement pattern similar to deadlifts, the kettlebell swing emphasises a powerful extension or ‘lock out’ of the hips, with the glutes and hamstrings being the prime movers. Typically done for higher repetitions in the 15-30 rep range, kettlebells swings are a great way to get the heart rate up and strengthen the glutes at the same time.
The glutes have to work hard when sprinting. Hill sprints will work your glutes even more, creating the need to lift your front foot higher and extend at the hips through a greater range of motion and against gravity. Really a total body workout, not to mention the cardio benefits, sprinting is a great way to build a strong and shapely rear end.