Now that you’ve read my best tips and strategies to build your booty, it’s time to move on to the absolutely 10 best exercises to grow your glutes. Guess what? There are no squats to be found anywhere in this post.
Is your mind blown right now? If you’ve been buying into the “squat booty” myth, it should be.
Without getting into the science of it, there are certain squats that activate your booty muscles more than others. However, none of them even come close to the glute specific exercises that we’re going to cover below.
If you’re a professional competitor or personal trainer, you are going to want to add the above book to your library.
Before we get into it, I’m going to warn you: this is a long post. BUT, it’s packed with TONS of actionable exercises and exactly how to implement them. Buckle up.
Hip thrusts are arguably the mac daddy of booty building. I personally do a variation of hip thrusts on every single leg day, regardless of what else I’m training. I come from a genetic predisposition towards pancake ass-ness, so booty maintenance is always on my agenda.
According to the reigning glute expert, glute activation during hip thrusts is 1.5-3x greater than glute activation during squats. He’s done the research, so I won’t attempt to paraphrase the science.
Am I saying to not do squats? Absolutely not. I love squats. But when I do them, I realistically expect to develop my quads, core and badass attitude- not my glutes.
Variations of Hip Thrusts
If your gym has some type of hip thrust platform or machine, you are very fortunate. Most that I have encountered do not. It’s good, anyways, to switch up the manner in which you go about exercises. Each challenges your targeted muscle groups in different ways.
It’s also always good to have a backup way to get your workout in. You know, in case your planned on equipment or training space is taken. Gym frustration after you take pre-workout is literally the worst.
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Here are my favorite ways to Hip Thrust:
- Smith machine hip thrusts- Why, you ask? Because it’s insanely fast to set up and break down. You don’t have to deal with chasing a rolling barbell or squeezing yourself underneath of it. Also, the point of hip thrusts is isolation, not full body stabilization.
Using the smith machine keeps the full effect of the exercise targeted on the glutes. This prevents compensating muscle groups from coming into play when trying to hold the bar in place. All of these tenets also hold true for hip thrust machines- highly recommend.
- Barbell Hip Thrusts- A fairly straight forward exercise that you can do almost anywhere, so long as you have a barbell and a box or bench. If you’re using a bench that doesn’t have rubber, floor-gripping, wheels, I recommend backing it up against a wall or other stabilizing surface, so that you’re not doing migrating hip thrusts across the gym.
I also recommend using a thick barbell pad or rolled up yoga mat to keep the bar from annihilating your pelvic bones. The square foam pads you find floating around gyms usually compress quickly and aren’t that useful.
- Hip thrusts on the leg extension machine- this is a useful tool to keep in your pocket for a variety of reasons. One, it’s super fast to get in and out of and requires no setup, so if you’re in a hurry, do this. Two, if the gym is crowded and you can’t find a space to hip thrust with a barbell, do this. Three, leg extension machines are generally selectorized, so they are an awesome way to dropset your weight during hip thrusts and get full muscle hypertrophy.
The only downside to using a leg extension (seated, not prone) machine for hip thrusts is that if you are an absolute animal, the weights may not go up high enough for you. If that is the case, I recommend using this as a high volume option, later on the in the course of your workout.
*If this exercise doesn’t make sense- Google it.
*Dropset means to go to failure, drop the weight a little bit and keep going.
Hip Thrust Variations I Never Do
- Body weight- unless you are literally working out for the first time since birth, or you’re recovering from an injury, do not waste your time on body weight hip thrusts. Your glutes are a hardy muscle that require resistance to reach hypertrophy.
- Dumbbell Hip Thrusts- I have the same problem with these as I do with body-weight hip thrusts. If I’m going to go heavy enough to have any effect, why wouldn’t I just use a barbell that I can roll myself under? Trying to get a heavy dumbbell onto your hips, on top of a yoga mat, is arguably one of the more awkward things in life.
And for what? A 100# hip thrust should be light weight very soon for anyone who stays consistent. A 100# dumbbell is a pain in the…well, not in the butt.
- Single Leg Hip Thrusts- *disclaimer* I have seen fit looking people rave about the isolation that single leg hip thrusts bring to their glutes, and I can confirm that I feel the same way about single leg presses and deadlifts.
However, I personally do not feel as much activation in my working glute as I do in my working leg adductor (inner thigh muscle), in trying to keep me stable. The isolation effect is not there for me, but try it out. You might find the mind muscle connection that works for you.
Now you’re like, “Brenna, what on earth is the difference between a hip thrust and a glute bridge? Aren’t they like, the same?”
Well, yes and no. Glute bridges make the same motion as hip thrusts, and load the glutes similarly, but at a much different angle. In hip thrusts, your shoulder blades are elevated, as in on a bench, so that at the top of the movement your hips and knees are parallel.
In glute bridges, your shoulder blades remain on the ground, and at the top of the movement, your knees are at approximately a 45* angle to your hips.
The only variation of glute bridges that I regularly do are barbell loaded, from the floor. If you’re using heavy weight, be sure to put a mat underneath your shoulder blades, as you can slide slightly during repetitions and cause painful chafing.
Essential Booty Building Equipment
A really inexpensive, convenient and sanitary addition to your gym bag is to bring your own barbell pad, since the ones at the gym are usually worn out and have months of other people’s sweat and skin cells crammed into them. Gross.
I was looking up the one I use and came across this really awesome tri-set of glute equipment that I’m now going to order, because allllll the time I can’t find the attachment for cable kickbacks either, or the velcro is worn out. The specific type of booty band that I recommended in the previous article is also in here, and together they’re a steal on Prime.
Hands down one of my favorite glute and hammy building exercises, and one of the easiest to measure progressive overload with. With sumo deadlifts, you take a wider stance and angle your toes outward, placing a great deal more emphasis on the glutes vs your adductors.
Tips for sumo deadlifting:
- Make sure that you are dropping your hips into a squatting position before pulling from the floor.
- Keep your back straight, straight, straight. Keep a neutral spine position. Do not round your back (we all know this), but also do not crank your neck up. If you are watching yourself in a mirror, be aware that you are especially prone to this.
- Use a belt if you need to. I always do when I’m doing sets heavy enough to warrant any reps ranges below ten. Supporting your back allows you to place all of your concentration on pulling with your legs.
(I use the Rogue Ohio belt, but if you don’t want to drop that kind of change, I’ve linked a comparable one above.)
- Mind muscle connection- this is huge. Mentally focus on squeezing your glutes to bring the weight up, and to control it down. (Unless you’re pulling so heavy that controlling it down is not safe for your back.)
Leg Press- Feet High
Targeting your glutes with the leg press is all about foot placement. The lower your feet are on the plate, the more you will target your quads. The higher your foot placement, the more you will target your glutes.
Again, mentally focus on driving the weight by squeezing your buns. Press through your heels and do not, I repeat, do not lock your knees out at the top of the movement. Aim for a 1 second concentric motion (pushing) and a 1 second eccentric motion (releasing the weight back down).
All of these instructions also apply to single leg presses- one of my very favorite unilateral exercises for targeting the glutes.
Leg Press Misconceptions
When you are specifically focused on your glutes, you do not need to bend your knees all the way back to a 90* angle, and certainly not beyond that. I see people mess this up all the time. The bend their knees back until they are almost touching their chest- this does not assist in muscle recruitment.
Similar to going ass to the grass with squats, you are simply resting in the bottom of the movement by taking the tension off of your glutes and shifting it to your quads and your knees. When you bend your knees to bring the weight back down, do so until you barely feel your quads start to load instead of your glutes, and then press again.
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
While these are arguably a hamstring focused exercise, I find that they are the most effective for developing the glute-ham tie in that everyone is after. Let me say though, that even if you have the sexiest glute ham tie in, you must be somewhat lean in order to see it.
Again, if my back is feeling any type of way, I wear a belt with these.
Also, contrary to the name of the exercise, do not completely stiffen your legs when doing these. You must maintain a slight bend in the knees, in order to engage your hamstrings. (Not to mention avoid totally messing up your knees.)
A tip to maximize time under tension: you do not need to stand all the way up at the top of the movement. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings fully, and release back down.
Ways to Do Stiff Leg Deadlifts
- Barbell- my preferred way, so that my grip does not give out before my hamstrings.
- Dumbbell – also effective, and engages each leg individually a little more, but harder to increase weight with as you can not use the strong grip that you would with a barbell.
- Cables- set the cables to a low pulley and ideally stand on a riser of 2-4″ to have room to fully stretch the hamstring at the bottom of the movement. Using cables is an awesome way to maximize time under tension and achieve hypertrophy quickly and thoroughly.
- Single leg- You can do these with a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell or cable. I do recommend using a solid object for balance, so that you don’t risk an injury by falling or overcompensating while your muscle is loaded. It is also much easier to achieve muscle isolation if the rest of your body is steady.
I say cable kickbacks specifically, because this is the only way that I do them.
Kickback machines tend to load the quad more than the glute as soon as you put enough weight on to actually challenge your glute muscle. Overall I find them to be useless.
Donkey kicks with a dumbbell are also generally ineffective unless you are at a very beginner level of fitness, as it quickly becomes very difficult to hold a dumbbell of any significant weight within the crook of your knee.
Also with dumbbell donkey kicks, at the bottom of every repetition, gravity is no longer working against you and your muscle is resting for that microsecond, massively decreasing your time under tension and wasting the opportunity to load your glute in the stretched position.
How to Properly Do Cable Kickbacks
- If at all possible, use an ankle cuff. Some gyms don’t have them- I bring my own. They’re an inexpensive and super handy addition to your gym bag. Here are two variations that I vouch for: one wraps around your ankle, the other goes over your heel.
It is worth mentioning that it will save you a ton of time alternating between legs if you have one for each ankle that just stays on. In that sense, I recommend the first option.
- Keep your toes flexed up towards your shin. Remember when I told you to always drive through your heel? That’s what we are doing here, only we are pulling.
- Use a proper amount of weight so that the movement is smooth up and down until you get that burn. Like the leg press, aim for a one second upward motion and a one second downward motion. This is not backwards Spartan kicking.
- Look behind you and verbally say excuse me to possible threats. I have personally kicked more people because they were on their phones, not looking, and I expected them to move than I have by actually not seeing someone.
Lean Forward Abductor Machine
This exercise is all about mind muscle connection, and angles. We all know the people who sit on the abductor/adductor machines, on their phones, for literal years. So annoying. Massive pet peeve.
ANYWAYS- Most of the exercises that we have talked about thus far primarily train your gluteus maximum. However, if you don’t also train your gluteus medius (glute med from here on out), that is, your upper glutes, you sacrifice the roundness that comes from that nice little shelf that juts out from the small of your back.
How to Grow Your Upper Glutes
Training your glute med comes primarily from lateral movements (also from the angle of the glute bridges that we talked about above). So cable side kicks, donkey dumbbell side kicks, and abduction. You don’t need a ton of weight to train your glute med, you really want to focus on volume here.
(Which is why I will vouch for dumbbell donkey kicks in this case, because you can easily get hypertrophy with a ton of reps at 10-15#.)
How to Abduct (that’s a word) Correctly
First of all, you don’t need an abduction machine to do this, but it helps. You can also use a booty band and sit on a bench and accomplish this exercise. (A killer finisher exercise is to hold a weighted glute bridge with a band around your knees, and perform 20-30 abductions. The burrrrrnnnnn.)
On the abductor machine though, you want to lean forward, keep your chest high (this will get difficult as you fatigue- you will want to look down and round your back), shift your hips back, keep your toes flexed up towards your shins. Again, press the weight out through the sides of your heels.
You do not need to raise your buttocks up off the seat. I see girls do this all the time, and not only are they damaging the machine, they are loading their quads, not their glutes. Lean forward enough that your glutes are lightly on the seat, but not off.
The mind muscle connection is huge here- push the weight out and control it back in with your booty cheeks. (Yeah- I couldn’t think of a nicer way to put that. It’s what you’re doing.)
One More Thing…
Finally, stick your freaking butt out like you’re twerking. This is what I mean by “shift your hips back”. Like a power lifter arches their chest out when training to emphasize the pectoral muscles rather than the arms and shoulders, you are doing the same thing to emphasize using your glutes, rather than your quads.
Cable Pull Throughs
A cable pull through is basically a good morning in reverse. Instead of the weight being on your shoulders, it’s loaded behind you and on a cable tension.
We have already discussed the benefits of using cables for muscle exhaustion. You can google this exercise to see proper form, but here are my tips:
- I recommend using the rope attachment for this exercise. Use a moderate to heavy weight and aim for 10-20 reps, depending on where this exercise falls in your routine.
- Hinge forward exactly the same way that you do for still leg deadlifts, and squeeze your buns to pull the weight.
- Push your hips forward as far as possible at the top of the movement.
- Like cable kickbacks, no jerky motions. Smooth, one second movements.
- If anyone stares at you, stare back.
Glute Focused Hyperextensions
We’re almost done, I swear. Because this is a lesser known exercise, I’ve included a video clip example.
This is basically an variation of the hyper-extension (back extension) machine, where, instead of coming all the way up at the top, you round your shoulders and head down.
This is possibly the only exercise where I will ever advocate rounding your back. The purpose of rounding the back, however, is to keep the focus on the glutes, instead of the back.
Keep a slight bend in your knees, and squeeze your glutes to come up. I do usually hold a weighted ball or plate. Aim for 10-25 reps, or to max out. I usually use this exercise as a finisher to really finish smoking my glutes.
LAST ONE. Kudos to you if you made it this far. If you’re wondering, it took me about four hours to write this post- minus a few snack breaks and a couple of Instagram distractions.
Again, I’ve included an example at the bottom of this paragraph.
You can do reverse hyper-extensions on a bench, heavy box or GHD machine. I typically hold a ball between my feet, of anywhere from 5-15#.
If you are wearing leggings, I recommend rolling them up so that you can better grip the ball.
This will be awkward at first. Keep doing it until you get the hang of it because it is so, so good. Your glutes will be shaking when you’re done.
Go Forth and Grow
That’s it folks- at least, for this post. There are a ton more ways to target your backside, and lots of discussion on reps, timing and variation that we could discuss. But not today!
If you got something out of this post, please do your girl a solid and drop a comment or share on social media. It really does help my SEO out a lot.
Happy Booty Building!