Knee pain can be a real bummer for your workout, holding you back from some of those lower body exercises that you love to do. However, you don't need to let knee pain stop you from building up your glutes. There are exercises you can do that don't hurt and still make the glutes work.
NOTE: Depending on your specific knee injury, not all of these exercises may be suitable for you. Try them, see how they feel, and if you still have pain while doing the exercises, stop. Always consult your doctor or physical therapist for exercises that he or she recommends for you.
Avoid Knee-Dominant Exercise
Some exercises are considered knee-dominant because your knees have to move a lot during them. Squats, for example, are knee-dominant because there is so much motion coming from your knee. That creates a lot of pressure and can make your pain much worse.
Knee-dominant exercises tend to work the muscles in the front of your thigh, like your quads, more than the other leg muscles. They can also work the glutes and hamstrings as well, such as in a squat or lunge, but the quadriceps do most of the work. These muscles pull on your knee, which won't feel good if you have knee pain.
Choose Hip-Dominant Exercises
Hip-dominant exercises, such as the glute bridge, use a lot of motion at the hip but not much at the knee. Ironically, these are the best exercises for your glutes, which are the most powerful hip muscle. They also use the hamstring muscle, which is in the back of your thigh.
Building up your glute muscles can even help with knee pain, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. That means hip-dominant exercises not only build your glutes without hurting your knees, they can actually help them get better.
1. Glute Bridge
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the ground with your heels a foot from your butt. Press your hips into the air as high as you can by pushing through your heels, not your toes. Raise your hips up as high as you can, squeeze your glutes, and then drop back down to the ground.
2. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
HOW TO DO IT: If doing glute bridges with two legs wasn't very challenging, try it with one leg. Start in the same position on your back with knees bent and feet planted. Grab your left knee and pull it in toward your chest. Press through your right heel and raise your hips up.
3. Hip Extension
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on flat your stomach on a comfortable mat with your legs straight. Fold your arms in front of you and rest your forehead on your forearms. Keeping your right knee straight, raise your right leg into the air as high as you can without arching your back. Squeeze your butt to lift the leg up. Hold it at the top for a second, then lower it back down. Do eight repetitions on each side.
4. Kettlebell Swing
HOW TO DO IT: Start with a kettlebell on the ground in front of you. Stick your butt back and lower yourself down to grab the handle. Then, swing it back between your legs, keeping your spine flat. Swing the bell up from there as you stand up tall and drive your hips forward. Keep your arms straight and swing the bell up until it's at shoulder-height, then swing it back between your legs.
5. Hip Abduction
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other and knees straight. Make sure that your hips straight up and down, not leaning backwards or forwards. Lift your top leg, keeping your knee straight and foot pointing straight forward. Raise your leg as high as you can without moving your hips backward or forward. Hold at the top for a second before lowering back down.