The Only 5 Barbell Exercises You Need for a Stronger Butt

All you need for stronger glutes is a barbell and some grit.
Image Credit: Aleksandar Jankovic/iStock/GettyImages

Backside. Bum. Booty. There are as many names for your butt as their exercises you can do to strengthen it. And yes, strengthening your butt — or more specifically, the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, the muscles that compose it — is something you should be doing.

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Far more than just pant-fillers, "your glute muscles support your hips, midline, legs and back," Mia Nikolajev, CSCS, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "They also help you safely execute ​all​ major functional movement patterns, including the squat, hinge, lunge and push." Meaning, whether you're sitting down at your desk, hauling in an Amazon delivery or putting away dishes, your glutes are working.

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Weak glutes, however, can lead to hamstring strain, lower-back, knee and hip pain and even hip displacement, Pete McCal, CPT, CSCS, host of the All About Fitness Podcast, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Weak glutes have also been linked to decreased athletic performance, bad posture and bad balance, he says. That's because, when your glutes are weak, your surrounding muscles have to compensate.

So how do you strengthen this oh-so-important muscle group? For maximum gains (and those not totally new to exercise), McCall recommends weighted exercises.

"The more weight you use, the greater the muscle breakdown, which means the greater the muscle gains after repair and recovery," he says. And due to their design, barbells generally allow you to lift more weight than if you were using dumbbells or kettlebells. That's why we put together this list of six barbell exercises that strengthen your glutes.

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1. Hip Thrust

Far more than squats or lunges, the hip thrust isolates your glutes, giving it the top spot on this list. And there's another important reason it gets high marks:

"The hip thrust is a great option for people with knee issues because it allows you to develop glute strength similar to how a barbell back squat does, without compressing the knee joint," McCall says.

And because your back is elevated during the hip thrust, your glutes are able to move through a greater range of motion than they are during a glute bridge, which means greater strength gains. You'll also have to lift more weight because there's no fear of the bar rolling toward your face.

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  1. Start in a seated position with feet flat on the floor and with your shoulder blades resting against a bench or chair.
  2. Next, you'll roll a weighted barbell over your legs so that the bar is nestled into your hip crease.
  3. Walk your feet in toward your bum until they're under your knees.
  4. Maintaining a neutral neck, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips (and the weight) up, until your body makes a straight line from knee-to-neck.
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top before lowering your hips back to start.

2. Barbell Box Squat

An often-overlooked squat variation, the barbell box squat maximizes glute activation.

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"The whole idea of the box squat is that rather than using momentum to return to standing (as you might during the barbell back or front squat), you return to standing from a static position, which requires greater glute activation," McCall says.

It's also a great way for people — particularly beginners — to build kinesthetic awareness in their squat position. He explains: There are people whose form is scarily imperfect during a barbell squat "whose form becomes perfect when they can get the physical feedback of the box against their skin."

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart with a box or chair behind you. Hold a barbell across the back of your shoulders.
  2. Hinge your hips and bend your knees to sit back on the box. Rather than descending as far as your ankle and hip mobility allow, you'll lower until your butt bumps the box.
  3. After a pause on the platform, press through your feet to return to standing. This forces your glutes to re-activate.

Tip

In general, McCall recommends people squat until their butt is lower than their knee joint. So, assuming you can do so with control, he recommends picking a box that allows you to sit that low.

3. Barbell Step-Up

An advanced movement, the barbell step-up requires a super sturdy box and a whole lot of oomph. This move is unilateral (aka works one leg at a time) movement that's an excellent way to remedy any muscular imbalances between the right and left sides of your glutes.

Even if each butt cheek ​looks​ symmetrical, one side is probably a little stronger than the other, Nikolajev says. During bilateral movements like the barbell box squat, typically one side works slightly harder than the other, she says, which can exacerbate muscle imbalances in the long run. But unilateral movements like the box step-up can help correct that, as each side is ​forced​ to move separately.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart in front of a box or step.
  2. Clean the barbell into the front rack position so that the bar runs along the top of your chest.
  3. Approach the box so that your hips are squared to it, toes about six inches away. Rotate your elbows toward the ceiling to lift your chest and cinch your midline to protect your spine.
  4. Maintaining this tight set-up, lift your right foot and plant it fully on the box.
  5. Press your weight into your right foot and activate your right glute to bring your left leg up. Squeeze your butt at the top.
  6. Then, re-engage your core and step down one foot at a time.

Tip

“The biggest mistake people make is picking a box that is too high,” Nikolajev says. Pick a box that's no taller than a staircase step (about 6 to 12 inches), she recommends. If you don’t have a box that short, you can also stack a few weight plates.

As you build up unilateral strength, you can increase the step to the point where your thigh is parallel with the ground. “The higher the step gets, the greater the risk that your form falters or that you fall,” she says. In short, the risks begin to outweigh the benefits.

4. Barbell Back Squat

The squat is often the first exercise people think of when it comes to butt bulking, and for good reason: It effectively strengthens your glutes, as well as your thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps and core.

And by adding weight to the exercise in the back-rack position, the barbell back squat targets all those muscles more effectively.

  1. If you have a squat rack, rest the bar on shoulder-height hooks. Dip under the bar so that it's resting along your upper back.
  2. Grip the bar with both hands and straighten your legs to unrack the bar. Then, take two steps back.
  3. Position your feet shoulders-width apart and turn your toes out just slightly. Think about screwing your pinkies into, and rotating elbows under, the bar to engage your upper-back.
  4. When you're ready, tighten your core, take a deep breath and sit your butt all the way back as if you're sitting on a chair.
  5. Continue lowering until your hips break parallel or your lower back begins to round forward, whichever comes first (or however far your strength and mobility will allow).
  6. Exhale and drive your heels to return to standing. "Squeeze your glutes at the top for added activation before completing a second rep," Nikolajev says.

Tip

If you don’t have a squat rack, either use a set of trash cans or ladders or build one for as little as $50. Or, load the barbell to a weight you can safely clean and press — or snatch — overhead. Gentle lower the bar behind your neck and get after it!

5. Barbell Front Squat

Essentially a goblet squat with a barbell, the front squat requires the bar to go in front of the body. "Due to the location of the weight, front squatting engages the body's front movers like the quads, core and traps more the back squat does," Nikolajev says.

People are also generally able to sit lower into a front squat versus a back squat, she says. This is due to the fact that your shins and chest are in a more open, vertical position during the front squat.

"Another perk of the front squat is the barbell is not compressing your cervical spine, making it a more accessible glute strengthener for people with back and shoulder issues," McCall says.

  1. Stand in front of your squat rack. With a slight bend in your knees, press the meaty part of your pecs against the bar.
  2. Wrap your hands around the bar shoulder-width apart, palms facing up, so that your elbows jut out away from your body. Dip down to unrack the bar and step away from the rig.
  3. Think about squeezing your lats together, puffing up your chest and engaging your core.
  4. Sit your butt all the way back as if you're sitting on a chair.
  5. Continue lowering until your hips break parallel or your lower back begins to round forward, whichever comes first (or however far your strength and mobility will allow).
  6. Exhale and drive your heels to return to standing.

Tip

You may have a personal preference for either the back squat or front squat — most people do. But Nikolajev says it’s important to incorporate both variations.

“The best way to get a stronger butt is to incorporate the widest variety of glute exercises possible,” she says.

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