You've probably heard that the glute muscles are what give your backside its shape. You might not realize that the butt muscles are actually made up of 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.
Gluteus Maximus Exercises
The gluteus maximus primarily moves your hip backward into extension and rotates your leg out away from your body.
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 that 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 two to three seconds; then return to parallel.
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 two to three seconds; then slowly lower back down.
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 two to three seconds; then slowly lower back down.
Gluteus Medius and Minimus Exercises
The gluteus medius and gluteus 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.
Side leg lifts strengthen the gluteus medius and gluteus 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 two to three seconds; then slowly lower back down.
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 two to three seconds; then relax. Repeat on both legs.
- Oxford University Hospitals: "Gluteal Strengthening"
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: "Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "An Examination of the Gluteal Muscle Activity Associated With Dynamic Hip Abduction and Hip External Rotation Exercise: A Systematic Review"
- Eastern Illinois University: "Muscles of the Hip Joint"