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Why the Donkey Kick Move Kicks Butt (Literally)

author image Valaer Murray
Valaer Murray is LIVESTRONG.COM's Editorial Director and has previously worked at AOL, and Whalerock Industries. She's a founding editor of, served as the head of programming for the Webby-honored YouTube Original Channel, and has written for numerous outlets.
Why the Donkey Kick Move Kicks Butt (Literally)
Donkey kicks can be just as effective as squats. Photo Credit: DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Donkey kick?! That doesn't sound fun, does it? While this lower-body exercise goes by many names, including quadruped hip extensions and bent-leg kickbacks, it's most memorable name likely refers to the fact that in order to perform it, you start out on all fours and kick back one leg at a time. But no matter what you call it, working the move into your physical fitness routine can tone, tighten and strengthen your glutes. Although a 2006 study conducted by the American Council on Exercise named it one of the best butt exercises, you'll get just as good results from squats, lunges and deadlifts. The donkey kick can be a good move to add to your repertoire, especially to change to it up when you need something new.

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Read more: 17 Exercises to Shape and Tone Your Booty

Why Do Donkey Kicks?

First of all, no experience, equipment or spot-trainer is required to perform the exercise. To put it simply, it's easy, and there's even a variation for people who have knee or wrist discomfort being on all fours. Specific exercises to work your glutes provide more than just an improved physical appearance, making donkey kicks a functional exercise. Your glutes provide you with the ability to walk, run, jump and twist, so increasing the strength of your gluteus maximus increases your speed and agility for participation in sports and everyday activities.

How to Do a Donkey Kick

The basic donkey kick exercise was researched by the ACE-commissioned team from University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, and found to be as effective at targeting glute muscles as a traditional squat. To perform the exercise, begin in tabletop on your hands and knees, with your abdominal muscles drawn in toward your spine. Lift one leg up behind you while keeping your knee bent, and raise your leg until it is in line with your body and your flexed foot is parallel to the ceiling. Repeat 12 times on each leg.

Read more: The Top 15 Moves to Tone Your Glutes

You can try using a stability ball to take pressure off your wrists and knees.
You can try using a stability ball to take pressure off your wrists and knees. Photo Credit: starush/iStock/Getty Images

Variations to Try

If it's painful for your wrists or knees to be on all fours, stand near a wall, about an arm's length away. Place both hands on the wall and then bend one knee to 90 degrees and kick it back, keeping your leg in line with your hip. Another way to change it up is to use a stability ball, which can help take pressure off of your wrists and shoulders as well as knees. Two other fun variations of the basic donkey kick are also effective butt exercises. First, the fire hydrant, or dirty dog, has the same starting point on your hands and knees. Instead of kicking your leg behind you, raise your bent leg up to the side and hold for one or two seconds. Repeat 12 times on each leg. The second variation is called the weighted bird dog. Using ankle weights and light free weights, from an all-fours position, lift your opposite arm and leg until parallel with the floor. Resist the urge to swing the weights by using slow, controlled movements. Repeat 12 times on each side.

Well-balanced Regimen

Strength-training exercises like donkey kicks are part of a well-balanced exercise regimen that includes a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and two weekly sessions of strength training all major muscle groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Include exercises that target muscles of the arms, abdomen, chest, back and shoulders in addition to hips and glutes.

Additional writing and reporting by Allison Stevens.

Read more: 20 of the Best Body-Weight Exercises

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