If you’re a serious lifter, you’ll know there’s nothing like having strong glutes. Having strong glutes helps your strength overall, particularly with your core, hips, and back. Stronger glutes also help with the all-important compound lifts, making smashing PB’s easier than ever.
Who doesn’t want a strong and toned booty? Training your glutes can also be for aesthetic purposes and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re wanting to tone and sculpt your booty, then these are some of the top exercises to add into your rotation for ultimate activation. Whether you’re at the gym wear and leggings or working out from home, there are plenty of variations of the movements.
We called upon Exercise Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach Bradley Drake, to help understand which movements are a must-have in your program for booty gains.
Weighted Hip Thrust (Glute Max)
The number one glute exercise in Bradley’s opinion. It’s the holy grail for isolating activation in your glutes, while also being very easy to load weight onto as well. There are a couple of ways to increase load by progressing through some variations such as split hip thrust and single leg hip thrusts.
RDLs (Romanian deadlifts)
Any sort of hinging pattern at the hip is going to fire up those glutes. Although you’ll get some hamstring recruitment doing RDLs, they're still a great way to target the glutes. Like the hip thrust, you can also work through a few progressions to increase difficulty without adding more external load. Again, try to program these early on in a workout and use barbells to really maximise the load you're lifting.
Rounded Back Extension (or GHR)
Normal back extensions or GHR certainly do the trick when it comes to glute activation. But by rounding your back through the movement, we create even more tension on the gluteal area, rather than the hamstrings. You’ll still get those hamstrings fired up, but to really maximize glute recruitment, this is a great variation to throw into your workout. You can add load here by holding any form of resistance such as a weight plate, dumbbell or kettlebell. For a beginner, consider putting these towards the start of your workout, but for more intermediate or advanced lifters, this can be used as a great finisher at the end of your workout.
Step Up to Hip Flex (Compound Lower Body)
Step up variations can be a great way to target your glutes. Although it involves most muscle groups of the lower body, we can manipulate the movement to target your glutes more. By flexing your hip at the top of the movement, you’ll tilt your pelvis and put it in a position to really fire up that glute. You can also add load to this movement by holding dumbbells or kettlebells down by your side. To really challenge yourself, try chucking a barbell on your back! Program these in a superset with other lower body exercises in the middle or towards the end of the workout.
Weighted Glute Bridge (Glute Max)
The best variations to maximise glute growth are those done with load. You can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your hips to do this or try a single leg variation. You can superset these with a compound lower body exercise where glutes aren’t the primary focus but are still being worked.
Weighted Backward Lunge (Compound lower body)
As opposed to other lunge variations, the backward (or reverse) lunge is the best to target the glutes. Keep in mind there are still other muscles at work here, but you can still get some fatigue through your glutes. Moving from a backward to forward position and having to pull yourself forward means the glutes have to work a little harder when compared to the forward lunge where it's the opposite (more quad dominant). You can load up here too holding some dumbbells, kettlebells or throwing a barbell on your back. I look to superset these with a compound lower body movement like a squat or leg press variation, or an isolated glute exercise such as a glute bridge.
Bulgarian Split Squat (rear foot elevated split squat)
This one probably wouldn’t be a great starting point for a beginner, but it certainly ticks a lot of boxes for targeting the glutes and being able to load up. Due to the rear leg being elevated, you’ll get a lot of hip flexion down the bottom of the movement, which means the hip is moving through a great range of motion. This is a compound lower body movement, which means other muscles are working too, but by slightly leaning forward, you can get even greater glute activation. Try these towards the start of a workout as the exercise is quite technical. You could also look to superset these with an isolated glute exercise like a glute bridge to increase fatigue when you perform the Bulgarian split squat.
But what about squats?
You might be wondering, where are the squats at? Believe it or not, they didn't make the cut, although they were close. The exercises that made the list are ones that are good at targeting the glutes with them being the prime mover. If we train to failure on a squat, the limiting factor will never be your glutes. You won't work to failure in a squat because your glutes are maxing out. You’ll most likely max your squat out through either fatiguing through your quads and/or core, or your technique will fail before you reach muscular failure. This is not to discredit squats though; they are a vital movement for lower body workouts. There are however better exercises that will give you more bang for buck when the goal is growing your glutes.