The Best Exercises for Your Glutes

The Best Exercises for Your Glutes

Stop snickering—butt exercises are some of the most important ones to do in the gym. That’s true whether you want to sculpt a shapely rear end, or just get stronger for functional reasons like running faster or picking things up off the ground more easily. So here are my picks for the best exercises for your butt—or, to get technical, your glutes.

What the glutes are, and what they do

The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in your butt—it’s the one that gives it that butt-shaped shape. It also happens to be the largest muscle in your whole body, and it’s incredibly strong. 

Butt muscles are often referred to as your glutes, referring to the gluteus maximus as well as its lesser-known siblings the gluteus medius (on the outside of your hip) and the gluteus minimus (a deep muscle you can’t really see, but it’s there). 

All of the gluteal muscles connect your pelvis to your upper femur, or thighbone. The glute max helps you to stand upright, which is why humans have a bigger muscle here than our monkey and ape cousins. It also helps you to stand up from a bent-over position, like when you deadlift—a job the glute max shares with the hamstrings

The glutes also help to abduct your hip, which means moving your leg away from your body. Side-lying leg raises? A classic abduction exercise. (Not all of our abductors are glutes, but our glutes—especially the gluteus medius—are among our main abductors.) 

Glute exercises won’t “fill in” your hip dips

A quick note before we move on: If you’re doing glute exercises for their effects on the shape of your butt, you should know something. A lot of glute influencers (a phrase I regretfully type) promise that they have the perfect exercises to turn your butt round and bubble-like, without those dents in the side that they call “hip dips.” 

Real talk: They are lying. The “hip dip” exists because there is no muscle in that spot. Therefore, there’s no muscle you can grow to fill in the dip. Exercises meant to fill in the hip dips are usually just exercises for the glute max and medius—which are located above and behind the alleged hip dip. I’ve written more about this bullshit claim here.  

That said, it’s still great to work your glutes. Even aside from looks, having a strong butt means being a stronger, more capable person. So let’s put them to work.

Most overrated: hip thrusts

I’m so conflicted about whether hip thrusts should be on this list. They’re the classic glute exercise, really the glute isolation people are doing these days, and they make a lot more sense than donkey kickbacks or other feel-the-burn nonsense. You can move more weight on a hip thrust than on other common gym exercises—more than deadlifts, even—which makes them extremely fun and will show you how strong you really are. If you have never tried barbell hip thrusts, you really should do them at least once. 

But, honestly: Unless your gym has a well-designed hip thrust machine, they are a giant pain in the butt (sorry) to set up. You have to get your barbell, your plates, a bench that’s somehow always the wrong height, then set the bench against a wall so you don’t tip it over, then wiggle yourself under the bar, which depending on your body proportions may be difficult to impossible. 

And why go to all that trouble? There are tons of other ways to work your glutes, and they all require less equipment and a less fussy setup. So if you love hip thrusts, by all means keep doing them. But I suspect you’re reading this article because you want a better option.

Best low-equipment butt exercise: kettlebell swings, but heavy

Want something simple? Grab a kettlebell. A kettlebell swing, executed as a hinge from the hip followed by snapping your body upright, uses your glutes as the main movers. Don’t turn the swing into a squat (your hips should bend, not really your knees) and make sure to use a heavy enough kettlebell that you really need to put your hips into the movement to keep it going. With a heavy enough bell, a set of 10 or 20 will leave your butt feeling like jello. If you’re limited to smaller bells—like less than 50 pounds or so—make sure to do plenty of reps to fatigue those glutes.

Best butt exercise that works more than just your butt: deadlifts

Deadlifts and their variations were one of my top picks for hamstring exercises, and they make an appearance here too. You could do Romanian or stiff legged deadlifts, or single leg deadlifts, or any of the other ways of picking a heavy weight up off the ground. The point is, deadlifts are a hinge—that pattern where you’re mainly moving from the hips—so anything in the family will be fantastic for your glutes. If you ask me to pick a favourite, I think I’d have to go with a block pull: Basically, a normal deadlift but from a surface higher than the ground.

Best butt exercise for making you feel like a superhero: power cleans

Maybe I’m biased, since I’m into Olympic weightlifting, but explosively yoinking a bar into the air and then catching it on your shoulders is just cool. It also requires a forceful contraction from your butt and quads at the same time. I don’t do many plain old deadlifts or kettlebell swings these days (and I haven’t done a hip thrust in years), but I find the effects of cleans and snatches are undeniable. 

Overall best butt exercises: Bulgarian split squats

Now that we’ve gotten through my favourites (and least favourite), I have to give single-leg movements their due. These are easy to set up, easy to find equipment for, and you don’t need much technique coaching to make them work. 

To set up for the Bulgarian split squat, or BSS, you place the top of your back foot on a bench behind you. You can hold dumbbells in your hands or a barbell on your back (in the same position you’d use for a back squat), or add weight in any other way that works for you. Then bend your front leg, leaning forward a bit to put the emphasis more on the glutes than the quads. 

Single leg work is great for the glutes because those abductors—the ones that act at the side of the hip—need to engage to keep you from wobbling side to side. Single-leg work is especially important for runners and other athletes who often find themselves on just one leg mid-stride. 

Besides BSS, other great single-leg glute exercises include lunges (forward or reverse), split squats (both legs stay in place, and on the floor), and step-ups (just what they sound like).

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