Hip thrusts one of many workouts for glute strength

10 Easy Exercises to Strengthen Your Glutes

By: Liz Lotts, RDN; NASM-CPT

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Glutes are getting all the glory these days…but for good reason. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body, and also one of the hardest working muscles. In fact, a major reason humans stand erect is because it is holding you up and stabilizing other joints in the body, such as your knees and sacroiliac joint. It deserves some props for that. It also gets credit for helping you run, lunge jump and perform other explosive exercises. If your bottom isn't in top shape, consider this your sign to get your rear in gear—literally!

What are the glute muscles?

To fully appreciate your glute muscles, it's important to understand what they are and what they do for you. There are three gluteal muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. This trio works together to support the hip by controlling hip adduction and internal rotation of the thigh. The gluteus maximus, specifically, plays a role in the stability of the low back, sacroiliac joint, femoral head (leg bone) and even the knees when they're extended. As a mobilizer, the gluteus maximus provides power to the hips through various movement patterns.

Why should you strengthen your glutes?

As you now know, the gluteus maximus is a large, powerful muscle. Other muscles and joints depend on it (including the smaller but still mighty gluteus medius and gluteus minimus!). Therefore, ignoring your glute exercises can not only impact your daily living activities, but also your athletic performance; forget trying to reach a heavier back squat or faster 5K time.

Since everything in our bodies is connected, maintaining strong glutes is crucial. Your back, knees and ankles will thank you! In fact, in a study of 43 participants, aged 18-33 years old, delayed glute activation was found to have a direct impact on how well the spine was supported. In other words, the gluteus maximus had to work harder to do its main job: keeping the participants upright and stable while standing for a prolonged period of time.

This works the other way, too—keeping your back strong is essential for supporting glute activation in both men and women. Precisely why strengthening your gluteal muscles is one of the best ways to keep your whole body moving smoothly and efficiently.

Should men strengthen their glutes?

Guys, do not ignore your glutes. Even though the gluteus maximus is large and in charge, it's vulnerable, too. Men should support those butt muscles and incorporate glute exercises on a regular basis. Strength training, in general, helps promote healthy bone mineral density (BMD) in men. This is especially true for middle-aged and older men. A randomized controlled trial conducted on men ages 50 to 79 years old found those who completed two or more strength-training sessions per week were better able to support healthy BMD, compared to the men who trained less often or not at all.

Women have even more reason to hit the weight room. With age, they have more difficulty maintaining healthy bone mineral density and hip strength compared to their male counterparts. The good news is they can also support BMD with weight-bearing and full-body resistance exercise.

While maintaining bone mineral density tends to be more important for postmenopausal women, younger women should care for their hips and glutes, as well—especially if highly active. Due to natural and evolutionary differences in the hip and pelvis, female athletes tend to have different biomechanics than male athletes that can impact their exercise form—all the more reason for women to strengthen their glutes.

Does exercise grow your glutes?

Transformation photos are plastered all over social media, and not just for weight loss. People like to show off their glutes, too. Some pictures are so impressive it makes you wonder if they were edited or enhanced. Of course, you can't always believe what you see on social media. You can, however, be sure of science, and the research shows that several bodyweight exercises help encourage the strength and size of the gluteus maximus.

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What are the best exercises to strengthen your glutes?

There are hundreds—if not, thousands—of lower-body exercises and variations you could do to strengthen your legs. Unfortunately, not all exercises are created equally. Some are more glute-focused than others. Below is a breakdown of the 10 best bodyweight exercises for strengthening your glutes. Best of all, you can do most of these exercises at home!

What do all these movements have in common? They create a "high" or "very high level" of gluteus maximus activation. Activating muscle fibers, a process known as hypertrophy, helps support the size of muscle fibers. In order to maximize muscle fiber activation, you must maximize muscle activation. Here's what to do for the most activation:

  1. Step-ups

    —A systemic review found the step-up provides the greatest glute activation, so this one should be top of your list. You probably perform this exercise multiple times every day when you take the stairs in your home or office. Add some dumbbells to give this everyday action more power:
    • With a dumbbell in each hand, start in standing position in front of a bench, box or staircase.
    • Place your right foot on top of the elevated surface; left foot follows.
    • Fully extend hips at the top by straightening your legs.
    • Step down with the left foot first.
    • Bring the right foot back to the ground to reset.
  2. Lateral step-ups

    —This variation of the traditional exercise—you'll be moving side to side rather than front and back—lights up the glutes by working in a different plane of motion and movement pattern. This version involves hip abduction, which requires glute strength and stability.
    • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand to the left of a bench, box or staircase.
    • Place (inner) right foot on top of the elevated surface and press through entire foot to protect the right knee.
    • Once fully standing on the bench, let left foot hang off the side to work on balance and core strength.
    • With control, bring both feet back to the floor to reset.
  3. Hex bar deadlift

    —This deadlift involves using a hexagonal-shaped barbell. The hex shape focuses on your hamstrings and distributes weight all around you, which can give you a greater sense of stability for your deadlift. You may even be able to use a heavier weight than a traditional barbell, because of the weight distribution and shorter range of motion.
    • Stand in the center of a hex bar with feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Keeping your core tight and back flat, hinge forward from your hips.
    • Bend your knees slightly to grab the handles closest to you.
    • Pushing through your feet, start to stand up and lift the bar off the ground.
    • Lower the hex bar with the same control and muscle engagement, feeling the pull in your hamstring muscles.
  1. Barbell hip thrust

    —The barbell hip thrust is, perhaps, one of the most popular butt exercises. It offers very high glute activation, while also taxing your hamstring muscles and core. However, correct form is crucial for results.
    • Sit on the ground in front of a bench or elevated surface.
    • Roll a barbell to the crease of your hips–not on top of your thighs or belly button.
    • With your shoulders and upper back well-supported on a bench, push through your heels and lift hips up. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
    • Slowly lower hips to the ground to reset.
    • Note: Avoid leaning your head back, as this will misalign your spine. Instead, tuck chin to chest and brace your core as you lift and lower hips.
  2. Banded hip thrust

    —Adding a resistance band to the barbell hip thrust increases the load on the gluteal muscles. Plus, resistance bands create tension throughout the full range of motion.

    You can also perform this exercise without a barbell. There are two options for this variation: 1) Wrap a resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees and position feet shoulder-width apart or wider to keep tension on the band; or 2) Secure a resistance band on the ground on either side of you and position the band so it sits on top of the crease of your hips – just like the barbell would.

  3. Traditional lunge

    —You may not realize it, but the traditional lunge is another exercise that demonstrates a very high level of glute activation. Mechanically, it's a tougher movement to get right.
    • Stand with torso tall and feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Keep feet shoulder-width apart, like you're on train tracks as you step your right leg forward.
    • Bend both knees until your legs form a 90-degree angle at the bottom.
    • Press into the right heel and left toe to straighten legs and reset.
  1. In-line lunge

    —This variation showed slightly higher muscle activation than a traditional lunge. Fitness coaches often use this butt exercise to assess hip, ankle and knee mobility.
    • Position feet so right leg is the front leg, and the left leg is directly behind it (about two feet back). Left toe should be in line with right heel.
    • Bend both knees, making sure your right knee does not go past the right toes.
    • Keep torso long and tall as you stand up to reset.
  2. Back squat

    —One of the more common lower-body exercises, the back squat is typically performed using a squat rack or Smith machine, so you can go heavy on the glutes.
    • Step under the barbell on the squat rack and rest the bar on top of your traps and shoulders. Stand up with the barbell and take a step back.
    • Position feet about shoulder-width apart and pull your rib cage down.
    • With core braced, tilt your pelvis back slightly and bend from your knees.
    • Drop as low into the squat as your hips and glutes allow.
    • Press into your feet from heels to toes as you stand up and reset.
  3. Front squat

    —In a study that compared the front squat to the back squat, researchers concluded the front squat may be better for knee health and for offering support for your spine when you're trying to hit your max weight.
    • Set up on a squat rack like you would in a back squat position.
    • Pull the barbell off the rack and let it rest on the front of your shoulders.
    • Elbows should be bent and pointed forward.
    • Sit hips back and down, like you're about to sit in a chair.
    • Press into your feet to stand and reset.
  4. Single-leg squat

    —Another unilateral movement, the single-leg squat tests your balance as well as your glute strength. Do it first without a dumbbell, and then work on progressing to more load or more range of motion. Advanced movers, try to bend your stable knee below a 90-degree angle and get hips as low as possible.
    • Stand on your right foot and raise left leg in front of you.
    • Shift hips back and down as you bend the right knee and lower down.
    • Keep torso tall and core activated, as you press through the right foot and reset.

Pro tip: Remember to swap sides to maximize your workout. For example, if you started with your right leg, make sure you repeat your reps on your left leg and vice versa.

Does walking strengthen glutes?

Compared with the strength exercises we've mentioned, standing and walking are more low-impact and do not stimulate as high a level of muscle activity. Even walking on inclines doesn't wake up the glutes up that much. If you've been walking on the treadmill at 3 mph on the highest incline and hoping for a better booty, you have a long road ahead of you. To see real changes sooner, you have to pick up the pace. Running substantially increases gluteus maximus activation compared to flat-road or uphill walking. This is because running requires the gluteus maximus to decelerate the swinging leg and stabilize the ground leg, while simultaneously controlling knee and hip extension.

What should you eat to support glute strength?

There is no magic food for strong glutes, but don't let that bum you out. The nutrients and foods you should eat to support glute strength are the ones that also support overall muscle strength for an active lifestyle.

  • Mediterranean diet

    —Unfortunately, muscle mass naturally declines with age, which means it gets harder to maintain what you have and build on it. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats can help, though! Studies have shown adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet can help maintain muscle mass, particularly in women. The Mediterranean Diet is also rich in vitamins C and E, which have antioxidant properties that help preserve skeletal muscle mass.
  • HMB

    —Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) is a naturally occurring compound in your body. HMB is good for bodybuilders and other frequent gym-goers, because of how it supports muscle and joint health. A randomized controlled trial tested the effects of HMB supplementation on supporting muscle function and found that a low-dose HMB supplement played a beneficial role in muscle function and joint flexibility. The best part is HMB is easy to find in supplement form. A good muscle strength formula in powder form that mixes into a pre- or post-workout drink is an easy way to incorporate HMB into your healthy lifestyle.
  • Whey protein

    —Remember when you were a kid and you could eat everything in sight? Growth and development require energy. This is true for building lean muscles in adulthood, too. Your body needs more energy, specifically the type that supports protein synthesis. Because whey protein is highly concentrated with essential and branched-chain amino acids, it is the best choice for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, outranking casein and soy.
  • Creatine

    —When you lift heavy weights in a back squat or hip thrust, you break down muscle fibers. Your muscles need time to recover. This is when it makes sense to take creatine. Creatine has shown to support immediate muscle recovery post-workout. In fact, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found creatine consumption is better than rest alone after exhaustive exercise.
  • BCAAs

    —Just like creatine, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been studied to be better for supporting muscle function than rest alone. BCAAs can also help inhibit minor post-workout discomfort, so your body can bounce back faster between all those glute-strengthening workouts.

If you need more help finding the right nutrition to support muscle and joint health, try an active lifestyle quiz. When you follow the most effective fitness and nutrition plan, you have the best chance for building strong, powerful glutes.

About the Author: Liz Lotts is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer. She has a passion for helping people achieve their health goals through personalized nutrition and effective fitness programs. In her free time, Liz enjoys running, lifting weights, watching live sports with her husband and traveling to new places.

Credentials/Degrees: RDN; NASM-CPT; Certified Orangetheory Fitness Coach; TRX Qualified Coach; Bachelor’s in Advertising, Marketing & Communications; Master of Science in Dietetics.