While dumbbells are likely your go-to equipment for upper-body exercises like biceps curls, free weights can come in handy for lower-body workouts too. If your goal is to grow your glutes, incorporating dumbbells into your regular routine will amp up the intensity and help you build lean muscle.
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Dumbbells also allow for unilateral movement, which is ideal for improving strength and addressing any underlying muscle imbalances, Morit Summers, CPT, creator of Brooklyn-based training studio Form Fitness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"As far as weight, you definitely want to work on volume to grow the glutes, so do lots of repetitions (anywhere from 15 to 30 reps) using a weight that feels challenging for you," says Summers, who recommends doing dumbbell butt exercises at least 3 to 4 times a week for maximum glute gains. "If you're going for strength, do fewer repetitions and up the weight."
Ready to set your buns ablaze? These five dumbbell butt exercises will help you hit your target for tighter, stronger glutes.
1. Front Rack Sumo Squat
- Holding two dumbbells at your shoulders, step your feet out as wide as you feel comfortable (this can vary depending on what feels right for you) and turn your toes out to about 45 degrees.
- As you lower yourself, push your knees out as wide as you can and sit into your hips. Keep your chest up and don’t let the weights pull you forward.
- Once you are as low as you can get, push through the floor and stand back up.
“Sumo squats, sometimes referred to as a plie squat, put you in external rotation of the hip, which automatically forces you to use your glutes more,” Summers says.
The move also improves mobility because you get a great stretch in the inner thigh and requires core strength to maintain an upright posture, she says.
2. Bulgarian Split Squat
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides and stand a couple of feet in front of a bench, couch, chair or anything that's sturdy.
- Extend one foot back behind you onto the bench, letting the front of the foot rest on top of it. Feel free to adjust your distance if necessary, but make sure that your front foot stays firmly planted on the floor.
- Drive your hips all the way back as you lower your back knee toward the ground. As your hips drive back, you can lean forward slightly, just don’t let your chest fall.
- Once you've gone as low as you can, drive through the floor and back to standing.
No matter how often you do Bulgarian split squats, they'll always burn your buns, Summers says. While they can strengthen the quads (especially if you short your stance), you can ensure they’re more glute-focused by sitting your hips back, she says.
“If you have trouble balancing, use only one dumbbell and hold a wall, chair or PVC pipe with the other to help you stabilize,” Summer says. “Once you get stronger and more confident in the movement, you will be able to do it without help”.
3. Lateral Lunge
- Stand tall with dumbbells at your sides.
- Take a big step out to the side and sit your hips back into a high squat position, keeping your other leg straight. Let your dumbbells frame the bent knee.
- Once you're as low as you can go, push off the bent leg and return to standing.
The lateral lunge works various angles of the glutes, says Summers, adding that moving in different planes of motion is great for building functional strength, mobility and flexibility.
“With a lateral lunge, you don’t need to squat very low, but don’t sell yourself short either — take your time and sit into those hips,” Summers says. If you’re having trouble, try adjusting how far you step out to the side, which may mean shortening or lengthening your stance depending on how it feels, she says.
4. Staggered-Stance Deadlift
- Stand tall with dumbbells at your sides, then step one leg back about a foot, resting on the ball of that foot.
- Hinge at the hips and push them all the way back. Let your knees bend slightly and keep your back straight as you lower the weight toward the floor.
- Keep the dumbbells close to the front leg and maintain an engaged core and mid-back.
- Push through the floor to stand and extend your hips at the top without arching your lower back.
If you’ve ever felt wobbly attempting a single-leg deadlift, this steadier variation is an ideal alternative. “The staggered-stance deadlift works the butt and hamstrings without needing to focus too much on balance,” Summers says.
5. Hip Thrust
- Sit against a box or exercise bench, the edge of the bench aligned with the bottoms of your shoulder blades.
- Place both dumbbells on your lap and bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the ground.
- Keeping your chin tucked and neck straight, push your hips up for a 1-second count until your body forms a line from knees to hips to head.
- Hold at the top of the motion for 1 second, squeezing your glutes.
- Reverse the motion slowly, lowering your hips back toward the ground for a 3-second count.
The hip thrust is essentially a more progressed glute bridge with a greater range of motion for even more booty-burning benefits, Summers says.
Summers says the key to doing the hip thrust correctly involves two things: 1. Keep your chin tucked toward your chest the whole time (look straight ahead, not at the ceiling) and 2. Only extend through your hips, not through your lower back (think about tucking your hips while pushing through the floor).