Want More Burn From Your Donkey Kicks? Try These 5 Variations

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Donkey kicks target different muscles in your glutes, including the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle.
Image Credit: erikreis/iStock/GettyImages

While donkey kicks go by many names, including quadruped hip extensions and bent-leg kickbacks, it's most memorable moniker 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.

No matter what you call it, incorporating more donkey kicks into your fitness routine can tone, tighten and strengthen your glutes, which are essential for better performance in your workouts and daily life.

More specifically, donkey kicks isolate your biggest butt muscle — the gluteus maximus — and are wonderful for warm-ups on leg day or post-workout burnouts, Nedra Lopez Matosov, personal trainer and women's wellness expert, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Plus, they require an enormous amount of core and shoulder stability since your entire body has to work to remain steady and balanced as your leg lifts, Lopez Matosov says.

But if donkey kicks are a regular part of your exercise repertoire, you might notice less burn in your buns over time as your muscles adapt to the move. One way to make the exercise more challenging is to try different variations.

Before you dive into the five donkey kick variations below, make sure that you've perfected your form for the standard donkey kick.

Standard Donkey Kick

Type Strength
Region Lower Body
  1. Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. Keeping your hips square to the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, squeeze your glutes to lift your right foot toward the sky as if you are stamping the bottom of your shoe on the ceiling.
  3. Maintain a tight core and don’t arch your back.
  4. Inhale as you lower the leg back down.
  5. Repeat on the other side, or complete all your reps on one leg before switching to the other side.

Tip

"Remember to put more weight into your right hand if your right leg is elevated so you don't fatigue your left hip," Lopez Matosov says.

5 Glute-Burning Donkey Kick Variations to Try

"Anytime you change the range of motion or angle [of the donkey kick], you will recruit more muscles, which will in turn make the muscle stronger as a whole," Lopez Matosov says.

A prime example is the externally rotated donkey kick. The tiny tweak of rotating your knee out targets your glutes from a different angle and fires up your booty in a whole new way. Similarly, the donkey kick pulse, which requires a partial range of motion and less rest time between reps, further isolates and exhausts your glute muscles.

For an even better butt kicker, perform several donkey kick variations in a sequence to overload the muscle, Lopez Matosov suggests. For example, do a standard bent-knee donkey kick followed by a fire hydrant, then a straight leg extension lift (more on how to do these exercises below).

Training this way also recruits different muscles in your glutes, including your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, which are essential for strengthening and defining your butt as a whole, Lopez Matosov says. Remember, the more muscles you work, the more calories you burn, too.

And just like the standard donkey kick, these variations activate your core. "Your core is working like crazy to keep your hips stable throughout each movement," Lopez Matosov says. When you strengthen your glutes and core, your back is supported, which helps you ward off lower back pain and hip problems, she adds.

To up the ante even more, you can also add a resistance band to your donkey kicks, or use dumbbells or ankle weights.

Move 1: Externally Rotated Donkey Kick

  1. Begin on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. Keep your knees bent, feet flexed and core tight as you squeeze your glutes to externally rotate your right knee out, then lift the leg up behind you until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
  3. Maintain a tight core and don't arch your back.
  4. Inhale as you lower that leg back down.
  5. Repeat for 20 reps, then switch sides.

Tip

"Move slow and controlled with this one, since it is easy to fall out of form," Lopez Matosov says.

Move 2: Fire Hydrant

  1. Begin on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. Keep your knees bent, feet flexed and core tight as you lift your right leg to the side as high as you can while making sure your hips remain square to the floor.
  3. Inhale as you lower that leg back down.
  4. Repeat for 20 reps, then switch sides.

Move 3: Bent-Knee Donkey Kick to Leg Extension

  1. Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. 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.
  3. At the highest point of the movement, squeeze your glutes to extend your leg straight behind you, then slowly bend your leg, focusing on your hamstring, to return to a 90-degree angle.
  4. Inhale as you lower that leg back down.
  5. Repeat for 20 reps, then switch sides.

Move 4: Straight Leg Extension Lift

  1. Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. Extend your right leg out behind you. Keeping it straight and your foot flexed, squeeze your thigh and your glutes, exhaling as you lift your leg up.
  3. Maintain a tight core, so you don't arch your back as your leg lifts.
  4. Inhale as you lower that leg back down.
  5. Repeat for 20 reps, then switch sides.

Move 5: Spiderman Donkey Kick

  1. Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. Keeping your knees bent, externally rotate your right knee out to the side and draw it toward your right shoulder, engaging your obliques, then exhale as you extend the leg behind you as high as you can, squeezing your glutes.
  3. Repeat this pattern for 20 reps, then switch sides.
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