Good news for those who want to bring sexy back — to their backside — you don't need fancy equipment or complicated exercises to do it. Your glutes — comprised of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus — are big, strong muscles, but often, people don't know how to train all these parts properly.
Instead, many people focus on just the gluteus maximus (it is the biggest muscle in your body, after all) or do a bunch of body-weight squats in the hopes of building a bigger butt. While squats can be part of a good glute workout, there are other exercises that will round out your routine — and your booty.
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Why You Should Care About Strong Glutes
All three muscles that make up your glutes work together to help with hip rotation and movement and contribute to core strength. Specifically, the gluteus maximus serves many daily functions like helping you climb stairs and maintain balance while walking or running.
Plus, building strong glutes mean lowering your risk of pain and injury. "If you sit for more than 4 hours per day, there is a strong likelihood that your glutes are weak" says Holly Perkins, CSCS, founder of Women's Strength Nation and creator of The GLUTES Project ACTIVATE. "This can lead to hip problems, knee issues like patellofemoral syndrome, back pain and even foot and toe problems."
When the glutes become weak, it puts you at higher risk for common issues like knee and lower back pain, according to the American Council on Exercise. That's key for the 80 percent of American adults who experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.
And keeping those glute muscles strong is especially important as you age, since muscle mass decreases by three to five percent every decade after age 30.
The 4 Best Exercises for a Stronger Butt
The gluteus maximus is largely responsible for the overall look and physique of your butt, but you'll want to target the smaller ones, as well. Below are the four best exercises that target all three glute muscles.
"In all of the movements, the glutes are considered the primary mover responsible for generating force, without involving too many other muscle groups," Perkins says. "For example, some people consider squats a great glute exercise. And while I do like including a squat variation in glute training, the truth is, traditional back squats require many muscle groups, therefore not really isolating the glutes."
Move 1: Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is hands down one of the most effective glute exercises. You can do this exercise without any equipment and use just your body weight or you can loop a resistance band around your knees, keeping it taut throughout the movement.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor about a foot or so from your butt.
- Driving through your heels, lift your butt off the floor using strength from your glutes. Lift as high as you can while maintaining a neutral spine (don't arch your lower back).
- Lower down in the same fashion and repeat.
Try the single-leg glute bridge variation, which is even more effective at targeting your glutes, according to an April 2018 study from the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
Read more: Why Hip Thrusts Are Better for Your Butt Than Squats
Move 2: Glute Kickback
In landmark research from 2006 commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, the quadruped hip extension (aka glute kickback) was named the best exercise to target the gluteus maximus.
Again, this exercise can be performed with body weight or with a resistance band. And you can do it on all fours (as described below) or standing (as shown above).
- Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
- Keeping your hips square to the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, lift your right foot toward the sky as though you are stamping the bottom of your shoe on the ceiling. Squeeze through your glutes to lift.
- Lower that leg back down and repeat.
- Do all your reps on one leg before doing the same on the other side.
Move 3: Bulgarian Split Squat
Though similar to a lunge, the Bulgarian split squat is more effective at strengthening the glutes and addresses differences in strength between your two legs, according to a September 2017 study from the journal Sports.
- Begin by stepping a few feet in front of a chair or exercise bench. Keep your right foot on the ground and place your left foot behind you with the top of your left foot resting on the seat of the chair.
- Lower straight down, ensuring that your right knee stays behind your right toe. Lower down as far as possible into a lunge.
- Squeeze your glutes and drive up to the top.
Read more: Bulgarian Split Squats vs. Lunges for Your Butt
Move 4: Step-Ups
Since it mimics the action of walking up stairs, this is an incredible functional exercise that will serve you well as you get older. Plus, this exercise landed in the second spot in ACE's 2006 research mentioned above.
- Place your right foot on top of the chair and squeeze your glutes as you step up onto the chair, driving your left knee into the air.
- Make sure to keep your left hip in line with your right hip.
- Lower down with control and switch sides.
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Preserve Your Muscle Mass”
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet”
- American Council on Exercise: “Build Strong Glutes and a Pain-Free Lower Back”
- Strength and Conditioning Journal: Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- American Council on Exercise: ACE Lists Best Butt Exercises - Exclusive ACE Research Announces Most Effective Gluteus Maximus Training
- Sports: Between-Leg Mechanical Differences as Measured by the Bulgarian Split-Squat: Exploring Asymmetries and Relationships with Sprint Acceleration
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: ELECTROMYOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS OF GLUTEUS MEDIUS AND GLUTEUS MAXIMUS DURING REHABILITATION EXERCISES