Let's face it: We all have glute exercises that we try to avoid at all costs. For instance, Bulgarian split squats and barbell hip thrusts might make you cringe or roll your eyes. But there are good reasons you should include these booty-boosting moves in your workouts.
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Whether you're looking to shake up your butt workouts or take your strength and performance to the next level, here are some of the hardest glute exercises to add to your routine and why.
1. Barbell Hip Thrust
- Start seated on the ground with the bottom of your shoulder blades on the edge of an exercise bench or box.
- Extend your legs out in front of you and roll a barbell up over your hips, placing a cushion underneath the bar for comfort if needed.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground.
- Keeping your neck long, press into your heels and raise your hips off the ground, lifting the barbell up. As you get into a bridge, your neck and shoulders should move onto the bench.
- Pause here for a moment, then lower back down.
Why you should be doing it: Hip thrusts are glute powerhouses, but people tend to perform them incorrectly, which can lead to lower back tightness or pain, explains Carolina Araujo, a certified personal trainer. Plus, they can cause painful rubbing on the skin if you're doing them without a protective pad. But these reasons aren't enough to scrap hip thrusts from your workout routine.
Because the barbell hip thrust activates the hamstrings, glutes and even the adductor (inner thigh) muscles, this power-producing move is great for improving balance and overall sports performance, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
What makes the barbell hip thrust stand out from other butt exercises is that it is done in a supine position (lying on your back), so the glutes are placed under constant tension throughout the entire movement, per the ACE.
For example, unlike a barbell back squat, which places the load on your spine and recruits other muscles, the barbell hip thrust forces the glutes to do most of the work.
To turn the barbell hip thrust from one of your most hated to one of your favorite moves, brush up on your form and practice the movement with no weight at all, Araujo suggests. Then, add resistance (with a pad on your lap) gradually.
Pro tip: If your bench or box keeps shifting back as you perform this exercise (how annoying), place a heavy plate behind the back end to keep it stable.
2. Sumo Deadlift
- Fix the weight plates on your barbell and position it on the floor in front of you.
- Step up to the bar with your shins almost against it, feet planted just outside shoulder-width and toes pointed out. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
- Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink low enough so you can grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open and shoulders back.
- Engage your core muscles to maintain this position as you press your feet into the floor (as if you were trying to push the floor away from you) and lift the bar.
- Finish the motion by lifting your chest and engaging your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
- Return the bar to the floor by reversing the motion, pushing your weight back into your hips and softening your knees, letting the bar travel in a controlled path back down to the floor along your body.
Why you should be doing it: Grip strength is a big obstacle Araujo sees with her clients as they perform this exercise. It's not uncommon to feel your grip or forearms tiring way before your legs, which can be pretty frustrating.
But as another functional exercise, sumo deadlifts are worth keeping (or adding) to your usual leg day. Deadlifts, in general, train you to keep your back flat and push your hips forward as you lift weight from the floor, helping keep your back protected and injury-free, accordixng to April 2018 research in MOJ Yoga & Physical Therapy.
You can apply this lifting technique to your everyday activities, such as whenever you lift a heavy box or piece of furniture, to help you prevent injury.
Compared to a conventional deadlift, research shows that the sumo deadlift may be a more efficient lifting technique, according to the above-mentioned study, because the weight travels a shorter distance from the beginning to end of the movement. For this reason, it may also be a better deadlift variation for those with a history of back pain.
As a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time, the sumo deadlift can also help you burn more calories than isolation exercises, which target only one muscle group at a time, Araujo explains. "[The sumo deadlift] is extremely useful for weight loss or body recomposition programs."
If you struggle to keep a grip on your sumo deadlifts, you may be trying to lift a weight that's too heavy. Instead, dial back the load and add more repetitions. Or, swap out the type of weight you're using.
3. Walking Lunge
- Start standing and hold a dumbbell in each hand. The weights can hang at your sides or you can lift them up to your shoulders in a front rack position.
- Step a few feet forward with your left foot.
- Lower into a lunge until both knees are bent to 90 degrees. Your back knee should hover just above the ground, and your front knee should be stacked over your ankle.
- With most of your weight in your front heel, straighten the knees and step a few feet forward with your right foot.
- Repeat the lunge motion with the right leg forward.
Why you should be doing it: Walking lunges are a challenge across several areas of fitness: your strength, balance and cardiovascular system. So, it's no surprise that they may be high on the list of your least favorite glute exercises.
"For those who don't know how to properly engage the abdominal wall and core muscles, this exercise can be a challenge," Araujo says. "Let's not forget the fact that they also place greater exertion on your cardiovascular system."
Although they can be brutal, forward or walking lunges are one of the most effective exercises for activating the glutes (maximus and medius) and hamstrings compared to other lower-body moves like squats, according to the ACE.
Walking lunges will also help strengthen your core, too, per the ACE. At the bottom of a lunge, one hip sits in a flexed position, while the other stays extended. In this position, your core is activated, working to keep your pelvis in place.
If you dread the walking lunges in your workout, you can still reap the benefits with dumbbell step-ups, Araujo says.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
- Stand about three feet away from a bench or box, facing away from the bench.
- Keeping your left heel planted on the ground, bring your right foot up onto the bench, toes tucked. This is the starting position.
- With your weight in your front leg, bend your left knee to 90 degrees.
- Simultaneously bend your right knee and lower it toward the ground. Your right hip should be aligned with your right knee, and your left knee should stack directly over your left ankle.
- Pause here for a moment.
- Press through your left heel to return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your right leg forward.
Why you should be doing it: Bulgarian split squats are another commonly dreaded exercise, Araujo explains. And considering they test your balance and single-leg strength at the same time, it's no surprise.
"This is an extremely tough exercise," Araujo says. "The elevation of the posterior leg forces the front leg to fully elevate the body without any assistance through a challenging range of motion, especially when performed with added resistance or in a superset with another lower-body movement."
Bulgarian split squats will target your glutes, hamstrings and adductors as you straighten your knees and hips on the way up, according to the ACE. They also challenge your balance because most of your weight will be loaded on one leg.
Because they are a unilateral exercise, Bulgarian split squats help you build equal strength on both sides of your body, making sure one leg isn't stronger than the other.
If you need to modify the exercise, Araujo recommends performing a stationary lunge with your front foot elevated. This will give you a similar range of motion while allowing your rear leg to provide some added assistance.
- American Council on Exercise: "Understanding the Barbell Hip Thrust"
- MOJ Yoga & Physical Therapy: "The Health and Performance Benefits of the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press"
- American Council on Exercise: "Are All Lunges Created Equal?"
- American Council on Exercise: "Exercise Swaps: Do This, Not That!"