yesStrengthening the glutes is always a good idea. Among their many tasks: they stabilize your hips, propel you forward while walking or running, and help you keep your balance when standing on one leg. But there is a lot of wrong or suboptimal information out there when it comes to effective glute exercises. For example, fitness influencers who perform lateral walks with “butt bands” claim they are targeting the gluteus maximus. (They do not do it.)
Before we go any further, let’s define what the “glutes” are: The gluteal muscles are made up of three distinct muscles on the outside and back of the hips. The gluteus minimus (or “gluteus minimus”) is the smallest of the bunch, and you can’t feel it since it sits way behind the gluteus medius (or “gluteus medius”).
Both the glute min and the glute med work to stabilize the hip when you are on one leg. For example, when running there is a significant demand on both muscles, especially the gluteus medius, to stabilize the hip and not allow it to drop (called “contralateral hip drop”). In addition, both muscles are involved in moving the leg away from the midline (hip abduction) and in hip rotation.
“These two smaller gluteal muscles are critical to daily activities due to their role in hip stability, and weakness in them can lead to significant discomfort throughout the hip or change mechanics throughout the lower part of the hip. the leg,” says physical therapist Jacky Shivrupr. “Strengthening these muscles can be an easy task when it comes to improving movement. Of course, that program needs to be properly designed in terms of starting place and progression.”
The largest muscle of the group, the gluteus maximus, is the one most often associated with the gluteus, as it is the largest visual muscle of the group. It works to extend your hip behind you and help rotate your hip outward.
In combination, all three muscles serve a very important purpose in activity and optimizing movement, so you want to make sure they’re strong and working properly.
What is the best way to train the gluteal muscles?
We can look at key research on gluteal muscle activation (as studied by electromyography, or EMG) for answers to those questions.
Electromyography (EMG) studies of gluteus medius and gluteus minimus activation show that, generally speaking, single-leg exercises elicit the highest level of activation in the muscles. This makes sense considering, as discussed earlier, the role of the two smaller muscles in stabilizing the hip and leg during the single-leg phase of activity.
EMG studies on the gluteus maximus have shown that the augmentation exercise and variations place the greatest demand on the muscle, followed by exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and barbell hip thrusts. Interestingly, the barbell hip thrust had high gluteus maximus activation, regardless of the specific form or weight used.
“In addition to general activation, EMG studies also provide key information on how to progress through exercises, starting with lower activation and then moving to higher ranges as the individual is deemed ready for them,” he adds. Dr. Shivrupr.
Consequently, we can use this EMG research to develop a methodical approach and plan to strengthen the glutes.
Buttock Strengthening Plan
Some key notes before going into details. The plan is a progression, so you’ll start with the first exercise and then only move on to the next once you can perform three sets of 10 reps without any difficulty. That’s the sign that you’re ready to make things more difficult.
In addition, I also suggest that you space out the two sets of exercises throughout the week because even though each one targets specific gluteal muscles, there will be some overlap with each of the exercises. The ideal space will be at least 48 hours between each, for example, the gluteus minimus and medius workout on Tuesday and the gluteus maximus workout on Friday, so you’re not overtraining or fatiguing those areas. (Remember: the glutes are also worked during your daily activities).
Lastly, I have tried to include only bodyweight exercises until the final level of each progression. The goal is to get to that final stage and then be able to go back to the beginning and progressively add weights.
Gluteus minimus and medius workout
Level 1: Side Hip Abduction
Lie on your side with your bottom knee bent and your top leg straight (option to have both legs straight). Raise your top leg toward the ceiling and lower back down without letting your hips rock back and forth. That’s 1 repetition. Complete the allotted number of sets and reps on both legs.
Level 2: single leg bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg off the table, knee over hip, shin parallel to the floor, and then with the other leg (foot still flat on the floor), push down through the sole, squeeze your glutes, and lift hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knee; if you feel this in your back, you’re probably going too high on the lift. Go down slowly. That’s 1 repetition. Complete the allotted number of sets and reps on both legs.
Level 3: Running Man
Stand tall on one leg with your knee bent about 30 degrees. With the other leg (foot in the air), slowly swing your leg back and forth as if you were running on that side. That’s 1 repetition. The key here is to keep your hips level and avoid leaning over.
Level 4: single leg squat
Stand upright on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Squat down and then come back up. Make sure you control the descent (aka eccentric) part, hold on to something if balance is an issue, and only go down as far as you feel comfortable and then get back up. That’s 1 repetition. Balance and depth will improve as movement improves.
Once you can get close to 90 degrees and complete all 3 sets of 10 reps, you can start adding weights, whether it’s dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.
gluteus maximus training
Level 1: Half Squat
Stand tall with your feet below your hips and your arms stretched out in front of you. Sit back and lower to about 45 degrees, then start again. (Don’t let your knees bend inward.) That’s 1 repetition.
Level 2: full squat
Stand tall with your feet below your hips and your arms stretched out in front of you. Sit back and lower to about 90 degrees, then start again. (Don’t let your knees bend inward.) That’s 1 repetition.
Level 3: Lateral Raise
Standing next to a step (the step is next to the leg that will be working), take a lateral step with the foot closest to the step. Press down through that sole to stay upright on the step, allowing the other foot to float in the air. Then reverse the movement to return to the starting position with both feet on the ground.
If you have access to several different step heights, I recommend going through at least two different step heights as progressions before you advance to level four.
Level 4: Intensify
Standing in front of a raised, stable surface with both shoulders toward it, step up and push off your supporting leg to place both feet on the step. Then reverse the sequence to return to the starting position.
I recommend a medium step height, and once you can complete all 3 sets of 10 reps, you can start adding weights, whether it’s dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.