To get the most out of your glute exercises, choose the exercises that best activate the muscles. Exercise scientists have determined how much a movement activates a muscle via electromyography, EMG, so the ones that best activate your glute muscles would be the exercises that you want to focus on for fast results.
How does it work? When a muscle contracts it lets off an electrical signal. You can measure this signal with electromyography, which is a machine that hooks up to your body using simple sticky pads on the skin. With that, scientists can get a pretty good idea of how hard a muscle is working when you do an exercise.
Activating the Glutes
The glutes aren't the easiest muscle to target. Even if you're doing an exercise that's supposed to work the glutes, you might be working other hip or leg muscles as compensation. To really target the glutes, you have to do specific movements, such as single-leg exercises. By doing exercises that activate your glutes the most, you'll get results faster.
When you do a single-leg squat or deadlift, you activate of the two biggest glute muscles, the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
How-to: Stand in front of bench or chair, facing away from it. Put your weight on your right leg and lift the left leg straight in front of you. Squat down on your right leg until your butt touches the bench or chair. Lean forward and press through your right foot to stand up without touching your left foot to the ground.
You can hold dumbbells, 10 pounds or lighter, in each hand to keep your balance. As you squat down, reach your arms forward to give yourself a counter weight.
Like the squat, this activates the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
How-to: Stand tall with one dumbbell in each hand. Put your weight on your left leg with your knee slightly bent. Lean forward with your upper body and reach down with your arms. Kick your right leg straight back like you're trying to kick the wall behind you.
Reach down with the dumbbells until your hands are just below your knees, then stand back up. Try not to touch your right leg to the ground the entire time. Switch sides and repeat with your right leg on the ground.
The hip thrust is one of the best gluteus maximus exercises because the move can bear a lot of weight. It's a more advanced version of the glute bridge, which is one of the most basic glute exercises.
How-to: Sit on the ground with your back resting against a bench or chair. Bend your knees and bring your feet in 2 feet in front of your butt. Cross your arms across your chest. Lean back and thrust your hips up into the air, driving into the ground through your heels.
Keep pushing your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Then, lower your hips back down until your butt is an inch off of the ground.
This glute exercise has a big range of motion, which means you can work more muscle fibers. You might even feel a little stretch at the bottom of the movement.
How-to: Find a flat surface, at least knee-high, to step on. Plant on foot on top, near the edge. Lean forward and push through that leg to lift your body up and step onto the surface with your other foot. Stand tall at the top, then step back down with the same foot that you stepped up with. Once you're done with your set, switch legs and do the same amount of reps on the other leg.
Side-Lying Hip Abduction
For the gluteus medius, which is the muscle on the side of your hips, side-lying hip abductions are a top exercise because isolate the muscle. This move is often used by physical therapists to strengthen the gluteus medius.
How-to: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Put your top hand on your top hip. Keep your knees straight and lift your top leg straight up toward the ceiling, without bringing it forward or backward. Bring it back down to meet the other leg. Once you've finished the set, flip over and repeat with the other leg. You can make this exercise harder by putting a mini resistance band around your ankles.
- Research Gate: A literature review of studies evaluating gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation during rehabilitation exercises
- Charlie Weingroff: The Top 5 Glute Exercises
- ACE Fitness: Get Glutes Study
- Mike Reinold: The Best Exercises for the Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius
- Hopkins Medicine: Electromyography (EMG)