The Butt Kick Exercise Is the One Warm-Up Move That’s Also Serious Cardio

Doing butt kicks before a run or other cardio can help warm us your body for exercise.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

It's tempting to dive right into your run, cycling class or HIIT workout as soon as you're dressed and ready to go. But before you attempt a workout that's going to kick your butt, you should kick your own butt — literally.

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Doing butt kicks as part of a short, dynamic warm-up can make your sweat session better and more efficient and decrease your risk of injury. Here's how to do the butt kick exercise with perfect form and incorporate them into a performance-boosting, injury-proofing pre-workout routine.

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  • What are butt kicks?​ It's a dynamic warm-up exercise where you kick your own butt by alternating bending your right then left knee to bring your heel up to touch your glutes while running in place. Some people might also call them glute kickers, butt kickers, butt kick and standing butt kicks.
  • What muscles does a butt kick work?​ Butt kicks focus on the hamstrings — the muscles in the back of your thighs. The hamstrings engage whenever you bring your calf and heel toward the back of your leg and butt. Butt kicks also work your calf muscles, since you're up on your toes. At the same time, they stretch your quadriceps — the muscles in the front of your thighs. And when done quickly, they're a great cardio exercise.
  • Who can do this exercise?​ This is a beginner exercise, so it's good for almost anyone. If you're not used to doing fast-paced movements, though, you can use one of the versions below.

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How to Do Butt Kicks With Perfect Form

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Type Cardio and Flexibility
Body Part Legs
  1. Stand on the balls of your feet with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly.
  2. Keeping your torso upright and bend your right knee to bring your right foot up behind you so your heel kicks your right glute (or comes close).
  3. Return your right foot to the ground and bring your left heel up to kick your left glute.
  4. Continue alternating from left foot kicking left glute to right foot kicking right glute.
  5. Pick up speed until you’re jogging in place, but with your thighs in line with your torso, and your feet kicking your butt.
  6. You can pump your arms as if you’re jogging.
  7. Continue jogging in place for 20 to 30 seconds, minimizing the amount of time each foot is on the ground.

5 Benefits of Butt Kicks

1. Warm Up the Hamstrings

Hamstring strains are among the most common injuries in sports. In fact, almost 25 percent of athletic injuries are hamstring strains, according to an October 2017 study in the ​International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

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Researchers have found that most of these strains occur when performing the "swing phase" of running — when the foot is kicking up behind the runner, toward the butt. Butt kicks warm up this phase of your gait and the hamstrings themselves, which could help reduce the risk of strains.

2. Flood Your Legs With Blood

Sounds gross, but it's good! Performing a warm-up does what the name implies: warms up your muscles by your opening your blood vessels wider, sending more blood to the area. This blood carries oxygen, which your muscles need to function, and raises the temperature of your muscles, which can increase their flexibility.

3. Reduce Knee and Ankle Injury Risk

In a July 2012 research review published in BMC Medical, researchers found that dynamic warm-ups — including ones that have butt kicks — reduced both non-contact injury and overuse injury risk. That means that they were less likely to have acute injuries, like ankle sprains, as well as the type of injuries that can come on over time, like runner's knee.

4. Stretch the Quadriceps

Butt kicks are an active version of the classic standing quadriceps stretch, where you use your hand to pull the heel toward the butt. Making the move dynamic still gives you the stretch in the front of the thighs while also warming up more of the legs.

5. Help You Get More Out of Your Workout

Getting your heart pumping with a warm-up can help improve your performance. In a September 2015 research review published in Sports Medicine, scientists found that a short warm-up of aerobic moves like butt kicks increases how much energy — and therefore power — the muscles can produce during a workout. This translates to being able to push harder and faster.

Warming up can also help increase your endurance. The same review found that a short warm-up lets exercisers start their workout with an elevated VO2 — a measure of how much oxygen your body uses per minute.

Basically, doing moves like butt kicks before your main workout revs up your oxygen-using engine, resulting in improved performance both at the start of your workout ​and​ increased endurance throughout.

4 Butt Kick Form Tips

1. Keep Your Knees Pointing Straight

Your knees should track the same way they do when you're running: straight forward, so your thighs remain parallel with each other and your lower legs remain parallel with each other as each foot comes up to kick your butt.

If your knees are pointed toward each other, you place extra stress on your knees each time your feet hit the ground. This type of stress, where the knee collapses inward into a knock-knee position, is called "valgus stress," and it puts runners at risk for knee ligament and patella (kneecap) injuries.

2. Stand Tall, Head in Line With Your Torso

Having your shoulders, spine and head rounded forward when you're running can cause neck strain and affect your balance, according to a January 2016 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

For runners, having this kind of posture can also impact your ability to breathe well during your workout. Practice the way you want to work out: Stand up tall, keeping your shoulders back so you chest is proud and your neck is in line with your torso as you do your butt kicks.

3. Stay on the Balls and Center of Your Feet

This is another "practice how you want to play" tip: You don't want to slam your heels into the ground when you're running or playing sport — so don't warm up that way!

Land on the balls of your feet or your midsole as you perform butt kicks. This keeps shocks of pain from radiating up through your heels, reinforce good running mechanics and get your calves involved in the exercise.

4. Keep Your Hips Square

When your glutes and core aren't engaged, your unweighted hip can drop significantly lower than your planted hip. Over time, this can lead to wear and tear of the hip joint and problems with the ankles and knees — including knee valgus stress, which can lead to knee pain and injury.

To prevent your hips from dropping, make sure to engage your abdominals and glutes as you perform the butt kicks exercise. Focus on keeping your hips squarely facing forward, both sides staying at the same height as you kick each foot back.

2 Variations to Make Butt Kicks Easier

1. Butt Kick March in Place

Instead of turning butt kicks into a jog in place, you can march. This makes the move less ballistic, which means there's less stress on your joints. It also won't get your heart pumping as quickly.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Stretching
  1. Stand on the balls of your feet with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly.
  2. Keeping your torso upright and your thighs roughly in line with your torso, bend your right knee to bring your right foot up behind you so your heel touches your right glute (or comes close).
  3. Return your right foot to the ground and bring your left heel up to touch your left glute.
  4. Continue alternating from left foot kicking left glute to right foot kicking right glute. Maintain a slower, marching pace.

2. 1, 2, 3, Kick

If you're going for a stroll, you can combine your warm-up with the beginning of your walk — just add some butt kicks every third step. This variation also lets you spread out the kicks to really feel the stretch.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Stretching
  1. Stand in a comfortable walking position. Take three steps forward, starting with your left foot.
  2. On your third step, bring your left heel up to kick your left buttock.
  3. Return it to the ground.
  4. Do three more steps, then kick your right buttock with your right heel.
  5. Continue in this way: Step, step, step, butt kick.
  6. Do 20 or more butt kicks.

2 Variations to Make Butt Kicks Harder

1. Running Butt Kick

Get your heart pumping harder! Instead of running in place, run forward.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Type Cardio
  1. Stand on the balls of your feet with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly.
  2. Keeping your torso upright and your thighs roughly in line with your torso, jog forward, kicking your heels up to kick your glutes — your right foot should kick your right glute, and your left foot should kick your left glute.
  3. Keep jogging in this way for 20 to 30 seconds, trying to minimize the amount of time each foot is on the ground.

2. High Knee and Butt Kick

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Type Cardio
  1. Stand on the balls of your feet with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly.
  2. Run in place with high knees, pumping your arms and bringing each knee to waist height or higher.
  3. Do 20 total steps.
  4. Then switch to butt kicks: Continue running in place, but with your thighs in line with your torso, bending your knees so your heels kick your glutes.
  5. Do 20 more steps.
  6. Keep alternating back and forth between these two warm-up moves for 20 to 30 seconds.

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