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.
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. 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 suffer from 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 5 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. Here are the five best exercises that target all three glute muscles.
Move 1: Single-Leg Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is hands down one of the most effective glute exercises. But the single-leg glute bridge is even better at targeting your glutes, according to an April 2018 study from the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
- 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.
You can do this exercise without any equipment and use just your body weight or you can wrap a resistance loop around your knees, keeping it taut throughout the movement.
Move 2: Glute Kickback to Fire Hydrant
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.
Add fire hydrants into the mix, and you're also isolating more of the gluteus medius. Again, this exercise can be performed with body weight or with a resistance band.
- 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, but before you let it rest on the floor, lift your right knee out to the side, keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Lower back down and go back to the glute kickback.
- Switch to the left side after reaching fatigue on the right side.
- Do all your reps on one side before switching legs.
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 the chair. 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.
Move 4: Banded Clamshell
You may think this exercise makes you look like Jane Fonda in an '80s workout video, but it's one of the best exercises for targeting your gluteus medius, according to a September 2011 study from the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
- Lie on your side so that your hips are comfortably stacked one on top of the other.
- With your bottom leg comfortably grounded, flex the foot of your top leg and lift that leg up to a degree your hip will allow without letting your hips rock off the ground.
- Lower back down in the same manner, hovering the top leg over your bottom before repeating another rep.
- Switch to the other leg after reaching fatigue on your first side.
This is another exercise you can add a resistance band to. Loop it around your knees and try to keep it taut the entire time.
Move 5: 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