It’s safe to say the glutes are the new biceps. Glute workouts are everywhere you look online, and for a good reason! The glutes help round out a perfect lower body and are highly functional. Building strong glutes can help you squat and deadlift more weight, run faster, and jump higher.
And, it is not all show-and-go regarding the glutes either. Stronger glutes will take some of the load off other lower body muscles and ligaments, which could help prevent soft tissue injuries to the lower back, hips, and knees.
But glute training wasn’t always this popular. For years, the glutes were an afterthought. Leg training was all about building big quads, hamstrings, and calves. Hip thrusts were nowhere to be found. Maybe this is still how you train? If so, it’s time to stop overlooking the glutes and get serious about training your backside.
In this article, we will cover:
- How the glutes work and what they do in the body
- Best dumbbell, barbell, cable, and machine glute exercises
- Three killer glute workouts
- How to progressively overload the glutes
- Best supplements for glute growth and recovery
Understanding How The Glutes Work and What They Do In The Body
Let’s begin with a brief overview of glute anatomy and how they function. Knowing the muscles involved and how they work will help you improve your technique and create better programs.
The glutes consist of three muscles – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.
As a whole, the glutes contribute to nearly every lower body movement. You use the glutes when running, jumping, kicking, and balancing on one foot. However, since the glutes link the upper and lower body together, many upper-body movements, like throwing a punch or a ball, also involve the glutes.
The glutes perform three main actions: hip extension, external rotation, and abduction. Hip extension involves opening up the hip joint. Think of a hip thrust, squat, or finishing a deadlift. Research shows maximum glute activation occurs at end-range hip extension . This is one reason why exercises emphasizing end-range hip extension, like the hip thrust, are so effective.
Hip external rotation and abduction occur in conjunction. The movement consists of rotating your leg laterally away from your torso. Consider lying-side hip abduction and a seated hip abduction machine for exercises demonstrating this.
Regarding the muscles, the gluteus maximus is the most significant glute muscle and is mainly responsible for the shape of the butt.
In fact, the gluteus maximus is the biggest and most powerful muscle in the human body. Its primary function is hip extension and leg abduction.
The glute medius is a much smaller muscle located below the hip joint.
It forms the middle layer of the glutes and interestingly covers up the gluteus minimus. The glute medius’ helps external hip rotation and hip abduction.
The glute minimus is the tiniest glute muscle and acts with the glute medius in hip external rotation and abduction.
Additionally, the glute minimus helps pelvis stabilization.
Since the glutes have many muscle actions, to maximize development, perform various exercises to touch on each movement pattern.
The Best Barbell Glute Exercises
The barbell is the king, and glute training is no exception. Here are three excellent barbell glute exercises.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is arguably the best glute-building exercise there is. A man named “The Glute Guy” Bret Contreras made the movement popular.
If you want to maximize glute development, including the barbell hip thrust is necessary. Although all compound lower body exercises train the glutes, the hip thrust is one of the few where the glutes are the limiting factor. Only a few moving parts make it safe and easy to learn. Additionally, the barbell hip thrust has a high overload capacity, meaning you can lift a lot of weight with this movement.
There has yet to be a quality study comparing the hip thrust and back squat regarding glute growth. However, EMG research shows the barbell hip thrust activates the gluteus maximus more than the back squat .
Since the barbell hip thrust has a limited range of motion, extending your hips at the top is essential. If you cut the range of motion short, it limits the exercise’s effectiveness.
Barbell Back Squat
Before the barbell hip trust rose to prominence, the back squat was the king of glute exercises. Memes filled the internet equating squatting and growing massive glutes. In recent years, the public opinion on squats being the key to a big butt seem to have died down.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss the squat as a fantastic glute movement. Yes, the hip thrust is excellent. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. To build the best glutes, incorporate both hip thrusts and squats.
Using a full range of motion is critical in getting the most out of the squat for your glutes. Research shows full squats grow the glutes better than half squats, even with less weight . So, if mobility allows, squat below parallel.
The deadlift is running with the squat as the best pound-for-pound barbell exercise. It’s functional, productive, and allows you to move some serious weight.
In terms of hip hinges, the deadlift is the most popular movement. It is a full-body lift, but the finish requires hip extension from the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.
Glute activation is similar between sumo and conventional stance deadlift, so pick the most comfortable variation.
The Best Glute Exercises With Dumbbells
Although dumbbells are often seen as great tools for the upper body, they are also highly effective for training the lower body.
Dumbbell Walking Lunges
The dumbbell walking lunge is an excellent exercise if you have space. One of the most significant benefits of this movement is that it works on balance and muscular strength. Getting strong on walking dumbbell lunges is a true testament to functional ability, as it takes strength, mobility, and balance.
Ensure you touch your back knee to the ground during each rep. To emphasize the glutes, take a big step, about 1.5x a normal lunge stride.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift is the best dumbbell exercise to train the posterior chain. It works the same movement pattern as the barbell version, making it a great alternative when barbells are not accessible. You can handle a lot of weight with these, so pay attention to proper form to avoid getting out of position and potentially getting hurt.
A standard error with this exercise is rounding the lower back. With this exercise, mobility will dictate the range of motion. Only bring the dumbbells down as far as what is comfortable while maintaining a neutral spine. Once you start to feel your lower back round, stop the range of movement there.
Return your dumbbells to the rack between sets vs. just laying them on the ground. Since you can use heavy dumbbells with this exercise, picking them up from the rack will save your lower back the extra stress.
The Best Bodyweight Glute Exercises
The best thing about bodyweight movements is you can do them with little or no equipment, making them perfect for at-home workouts. Additionally, body weight movements are typically easier on the joints.
High Step Up
The step-up is a great lower-body exercise that develops muscle, strength, and balance. To emphasize the glutes, use an abnormally high box. Aim to use a box upwards of 30 inches. The goal is to use as high of a box as possible without rounding the lower back. Place your front foot flat on the box, and drive through the heel to lift yourself on the box.
An added benefit of this exercise is it does not cause as much soreness as other movements on the list. Don’t worry. Less soreness does not mean it is less effective. One potential reason for the lack of soreness is limited eccentric loading. When training with higher frequencies, less soreness is an advantage.
Side Lying Hip Abduction
The side-lying hip abduction is an excellent bodyweight glute exercise you can do at home.
Lie on your side with your shoulder and elbow on the floor. Internally rotate your top leg and bring it just in front of your bottom leg. Abduct your leg by raising it straight up as high as you can.
If the movement becomes too easy, you can increase the difficulty by adding ankle weights or increasing the range of motion. To increase the range of motion, lie on a bench, allowing your leg to drop below your torso.
The Best Cable / Machine Glute Exercises
Last but not least, cable and machine exercises.
Seated Hip Abduction Machine
The seated hip abduction machine is standard at most commercial gyms. One unique aspect of this movement is changing the focus by altering the torso angle. If you lean back against the seat, it will place more emphasis on the upper glutes, whereas leaning forward will hit the lower glutes more.
Cable Glute Kickback
The cable glute kickback is a staple exercise for people who want to emphasize glute training. It’s easy to learn and, most importantly, provides an intense glute burn if done correctly.
Perform the movement by gripping something stable and extending the hip by pulling the leg back. The key is to avoid too much lower back hyperextension. Finish the exercise by squeezing the glutes hard at the top.
Keep the weight light. There is no need to try to turn the movement into a power exercise.
Glute Workout 1
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Walking Lunges: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Seated Hip Abduction Machine: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Glute Workout 2
- Barbell Back Squat: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Bodyweight High Step Up: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Side Lying Hip Abduction: 3 sets x 20-30 reps
Glute Workout 3
- Barbell Deadlift: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
- Dumbbell Walking Lunges: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Cable Glute Kickback: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Seated Hip Abduction Machine: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
How To Progressively Overload the Glutes for Hypertrophy
Progressive overload is all about doing more work over time. Regarding the glutes, focus on the exercises you can move the most weight with – barbell hip thrust, back squat, and deadlift. This is not to say the other glute exercises are not necessary, they are, but it’s hard to progress assistance exercises consistently.
Since you can use more weight on the big compound exercises, weekly and monthly progressions are more feasible. Do these exercises at the beginning of your training sessions while fresh. Progress on back squats, hip thrusts, and deadlifts will be one of the best indicators you are adding muscle to your lower body.
The Best Supplements For Glute Muscle Growth and Recovery
The glutes are a big muscle. To make noticeable changes to your backside, you must ensure the body is in a favorable position to build muscle. The best way is through a calorie surplus and three beneficial supplements.
Eating in a calorie surplus is most important in the quest for muscle growth. However, the second most crucial factor is consuming enough protein. Eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight can be challenging if you have a busy work or school schedule, kids, responsibilities, etc. Adding one or two whey protein shakes daily is a convenient (and tasty) way to hit your protein goals.
The sports supplement industry is filled with new and exciting products, some more promising than others. However, creatine is still the gold standard for building muscle. Consume 5g of creatine monohydrate daily. You can have it as part of your pre-workout supplement stack or any other time of day—just remember to take it. Creatine monohydrate is still the best value and most effective. Studies have not shown any of the newer forms of creatine to be better .
You can have the best diet in the world, but building muscle requires consistent hard training. On days when you are low-energy or not as motivated, consume 200-400mg of caffeine thirty minutes before training for a little boost. Research shows caffeine improves performance in the gym . But, let’s be honest, you probably don’t need much convincing that caffeine can enhance your mood, energy, and focus.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What’s the best glute exercise for increasing glute mass?
The best glute exercise for increasing glute mass is the barbell hip thrust.
Q: What is the best program to grow the glutes?
The glutes tend to respond well to higher training frequency. If you want to focus on increasing glute size, run a glute specialization program where you train your glutes two or three times weekly.
Q: Which glute exercises can I do at home with no equipment?
You can do three excellent glute exercises at home without equipment: side-lying hip abduction, bodyweight hip thrusts, and walking lunges. If you have a box, you can also do step-ups.
Q: What glutes exercises help me build the upper glutes?
The best exercises to grow the upper glutes involve abduction movements. Two great exercises for this are the lying-side hip abduction and the seated hip abduction machine.
Q: Can I grow my glutes without growing my legs?
Yes, you can grow your glutes without building your legs, but it requires a few modifications because most glute exercises also work the quads and hamstrings. The key is focusing on movements with low leg activation. Emphasize hip thrusts, abduction movements, and glute kickbacks over squat variations.
Q: Why do some people have nice-looking glutes without training?
The hip and pelvic skeletal structure plays a significant role in determining the appearance of the glutes. Some people’s glutes look better even with similar glute muscles. Additionally, some people store more body fat in their glutes, giving their backside more shape without exercise.
Genetics matters, but since you can’t influence that, focus on adding muscle to your glutes, as that is the best thing you can do to make them look better.
Q: What are the best glute exercises for men? What about women?
Although men and women have unique hip anatomy, leading to a different look to their glutes, they respond similarly to most glute exercises.
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