Exercises to Target Each Section of the Glutes

You've probably heard that the glute muscles are what give your backside its shape. You might not realize that the glutes are actually three separate muscles: gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. As a group, these muscles move your hip backward, out to the side and rotate it toward and away from your body. Different exercises strengthen each of these muscles. Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise, working up to three sets in a row.

Exercises to Target Each Section of the Glutes (Image: EHStock/iStock/GettyImages)
Progress your leg lifts by putting weights around your ankles. (Image: undrey/iStock/GettyImages)

Gluteus Maximus

Gluteus maximus primarily moves your hip backward into extension and rotates your leg out away from your body.

Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks strengthen hip extension. If donkey kicks are difficult for you, perform this exercise lying on your stomach until your strength improves.

How-To: Start on your hands and knees, positioning your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Keep your right knee bent to 90 degrees and lift your leg up until your thigh is parallel to the ground. This is the starting position. Keeping the bottom of your foot pointed toward the ceiling, squeeze your buttocks and kick your foot straight up as high as possible. Do not allow your body to rotate. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, then return to parallel.

Make your bridges harder by putting your feet on an exercise ball. (Image: GeloKorol/iStock/GettyImages)


Bridges strengthen both sides of the gluteus maximus at the same time.

How-To: Lie on your back, bend your knees and rest your feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips up off the ground as high as possible. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, then slowly lower back down.

External Rotation

The gluteus maximus also rotates your thigh externally, or away from your body. Clamshells strengthen external rotation.

How-To: Lie on your left side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Bend your knees to approximately 45 degrees. Keeping your ankles together, lift your right knee up toward the ceiling as far as possible. Do not allow your trunk to rotate. Hold this position for 2 to 3 seconds, then slowly lower back down.

Keep your toes pointed forward to target your gluteal muscles. (Image: vadimguzhva/iStock/GettyImages)

Gluteus Medius and Minimus

Gluteus medius and minimus both primarily move your thigh out to the side -- a movement called abduction. They also perform internal rotation, turning your thigh in toward your body.

Leg Lifts

Side leg lifts strengthen the gluteus medius and minimus. To make this exercise harder, try adding some ankle weights.

How-To: Lie on your left side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Keeping your knee straight, lift your right leg up toward the ceiling as far as possible. Be sure your toes are pointed straight forward throughout this movement to target the correct muscles. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, then slowly lower back down.

Reverse Clamshells

Reverse clamshells target the gluteus medius and minimus with internal rotation

How-To: Start in the clamshell exercise position and place a small folded towel or soft ball between your knees. Press your top knee down against the towel. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, then relax. Repeat on both legs.

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