The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. Without a strong butt, you won’t be physically able to propel yourself forward or pick up anything heavy off the ground. Failure to train the glutes effectively also tends to result in knee, hip and back pain. If you want to make sure your butt is the strongest it can be, read below. This article will discuss the function of the glutes and five of the best exercises to help them grow. Hopefully this will motivate you to move glute day a little bit higher up on your list of priorities.
What Do The Glutes Do?
Any biomechanist will tell you that the main functions of the glutes are abduction and extension of your femurs. In layman’s terms, your butt muscles make your thighs move and also assist with keeping your hips in alignment. This means that in order to work the glutes more, we need to do movements that involve our thigh bones opening, closing and extending. In real life this would look like squats, lunges, deadlifts and thrusts. Those who don’t regularly train their glutes will likely suffer joint pain, walk with knocked knees and struggle to move efficiently in their later years. If you want strong legs, a peachy butt and the ability to move and lift well, you’d better add the exercises discussed below to your weekly routine.
Know What Glute Activation Feels Like
Before you even begin the heavy weighted exercises, it’s important you know what it feels like to activate your glutes. Feeling your quads and hamstrings dominate during exercises like squats is a common problem. However, it is possible to avoid this by activating the glutes properly and focusing on mind muscle connection. Start by clenching your butt as hard as you can. Do it until your backside is burning and repeat a few times. This will teach you what it feels like to actually fire your glutes. Some people take activation to the next level by doing booty band warm ups and bodyweight movements like clam shells. It is not necessary to go overboard with the pre-workout activation however a little bit of clenching can help you prime those muscles. As long as you know what it feels like to contract your glutes, you can strive for that same sensation when doing heavier exercises.
#1 Dumbbell Step Up
Now that your glutes are a bit warmer, you can move on to the serious stuff. It has been recently proven that the box step up is the king of all glute exercises. They are even better if you use weights while doing them. According to EMG studies, step ups activate the gluteus maximus more than any other exercise. These studies use electrodes to measure how much a muscle contracts during a certain movement. Forward step ups received an isometric contraction score of 77%. Single leg deadlifts only scored 59% and side lunges got a measly 41%. If you’re concerned with doing exercises that get you the most bang for your buck, definitely try a weighted step up. All you need is a box and a dumbbell in each hand. Step up onto the box and come down slowly. Simple yet effective. Try to minimise the amount of momentum generated by the foot on the ground and press hard through your heel on the box. This will ensure you feel the glutes as much as physically possible. If you can do heavy dumbbell step ups, climbing a flight of stairs will feel like nothing.
#2 Russian Kettlebell Swing
When it comes to kettlebell swings and fudge, Russian is the best. This exercise could be done in your warm up as a glute primer or you could save it for the main workout and go heavy. In contrast to an American kettlebell swing which goes all the way up, a Russian swing only goes to shoulder height. Stand with feet either side of the kettlebell. Pick it up, swing it between your inner thighs and use your glutes to thrust it forward. Don’t make the mistake of letting your arms assist too much. All the power should be coming from your hips. It’s essentially like you’re doing a big pelvic thrust. Just a few reps of these should create a lovely burning sensation in your butt muscles. Not only will you really feel those glutes ignite, you’re simultaneously training your core, lats and hamstrings too. If you want an explosive exercise that targets the glutes and many other muscles too, the Russian kettlebell swing is hard to go past.
#3 Hip Thrust
Ever heard the saying “the thrust is a must”? Well it’s absolutely true. Hip thrusts target the glutes when they are in a shortened position and require a decent amount of physical exertion. You’ve probably seen a few fitness influencers performing heavy barbell hip thrusts on Instagram. While the barbell is a great apparatus to use for this movement, some people find it painful on their hips. Alternatively, you could use a dumbbell on your lap or a medicine ball between your knees. Start by lying with your shoulder blades on a bench and your feet on the ground. Tuck your tailbone and hump the weight on your lap up towards the ceiling. Squeeze your butt as hard as you can and be sure not to feel this in your lower back. Go for a few controlled reps and when you’re feeling confident with the movement, increase the weight. Not only does this move absolutely smash the glutes, you get to do it while lying down. It doesn’t get much better than that!
#4 KB Sumo Squat
Squats are the pillar of any good leg session but sumo squats are especially great for the glutes. This move is easy to set up and simple to perform. Basically, you need to straddle the kettlebell with wide feet and your toes turned out. Imagine you are standing like an actual sumo wrestler. Squat down and grab the horns of the kettlebell with your hands. Keep your chest lifted, press through your heels and stand all the way up. Continue to squat up and down until your glutes feel fatigued. You don’t have to touch the kettlebell to the floor in between reps but do make sure to go as low as possible and pause at the bottom. Time under tension is time well spent. Really focus on driving your knees out so you can recruit those inner thigh muscles too. All squats are great for the legs but the sumo position recruits the glutes more than a conventional stance. This exercise is also incredibly safe because if it gets too heavy, you can just drop the kettlebell to the floor. Low chance of injury and a high chance of gains.
Anyone who doesn’t love a lunge just hasn’t learnt to do them properly. There are so many lunge variations, you just have to find one that works for you. Some options bias the glutes more than others but it also comes down to the individual. One person might really feel Bulgarian lunges in the butt while another will only feel their quads working. It’s best to try out a few different variations and see what works for you. According to EMG studies, leaning forward or having a neutral spine on a lunge will activate your glutes more than if you were to lean back. These studies also show that side lunges might be even better if your goal is to work the glutes more than your other leg muscles. To do a basic lunge, step one foot quite far in front of the other. Ensure your back heel is lifted and face your hips to the front. Squeeze your butt hard, then bend both legs until your back knee touches the ground. A lot can go wrong with a lunge so if you aren’t confident, get a personal trainer or someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out. It’s essential your knees don’t buckle in while performing this move. Once you’ve nailed the technique, add some weights or try a different variation to spice things up (e.g. front foot elevated lunges). Not only is this exercise amazing for glute growth, it will improve your overall leg strength, stability and balance too.
Regardless of whether you want a new personal best on your squat or a peachier looking bum, glute training is a must. Pepper a few of these exercises into your weekly routine and that backside will be better for it. Not only will you be able to pick up heavier things off the ground, you’ll also be able to move better, run faster and jump higher. Train these moves regularly and those flat bags of pancake mix you call glutes will turn into a nice, round butt in no time.
Written by Lauren Carruthers