There’s a powerful and physique-altering exercise that athletes, supermodels, every goddamn Instagram fit chick on Earth, and even The Rock himself use to unflatten their droopy pancake-shaped asses. This exercise also builds tremendous lower body strength while building a more voluptuous backside: the barbell hip thrust.
But there’s one minor annoyance with the barbell hip thrust. Because the bar sits across your hip bones, it causes a bit of discomfort at first.
If you start the barbell hip thrust without any weight on the bar, it’s not so bad. But once you load the bar with plates you’re gonna need to think about wrapping the barbell in a yoga mat, a towel, or use a bar pad to make it less annoying on your hips.
But hey, the good news is you don’t need to barbell hip thrust to build stronger and more supple glutes. There are 21 other exercises that isolate your glutes and help you build a more defined and stronger tookus.
Stronger Glutes = Better Quality of Life
Why is the statement above true?
Your glutes are a transfer point for power in your body. If you want to run faster or longer, you need strong glutes. If you want to squat more weight, you need strong glutes. And if you want to deliver a kick that would make Connor McGregor vomit in his mouth, you need powerful glutes.
Basically, the stronger your ass, the better your body operates.
Your Glutes: A Shield for Back Pain
According to the National Institutes of Health, 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. The NIH also states that the majority of low back pain is largely due to mechanical issues. Some of those issues can occur from severe injury like car accidents, disc degeneration, herniated discs, or sciatica. But the number one mechanical cause of low back pain is from strains and sprains.
Our industrialized society sits for hours on end. Hell, I’ve been sitting for nearly an hour while I write this article. Sitting tightens your hip flexors. And since you sit on your glutes, well, you’re weakening them because you don’t use them.
Here’s why this matters:
- Tight hip flexors pull on your hips, flexing them toward your legs, and cause your pelvis to go into what is known as anterior pelvic tilt. This also lengthens and weakens your hamstrings, and places your low back into extension. So combine that with weak and deadened glutes, and guess what? Since your hamstrings can’t compensate for your weakened glutes, your low back takes over.
And because of this, you’ll also lose the stability and function of your abdominal muscles, aka, you weaken your core. All of that comes together and creates a dangerous cocktail for back pain.
This is why it’s so important to train the non-mirror muscles — hamstrings, glutes, lats, rear delts. All of those muscles work in tandem to keep you walking, lifting, and living your best. Here’s a quick primer on how your glutes function before I hop into the exercises themselves.
Glute Function 101
Here’s a quick rundown on how your glutes function.
- Abduct of your legs (read: move your legs away from your body)
- Extend your hip (imagine: standing up out of a chair…or, ya know, thrusting)
- Externally and internally rotate the hip joint (turning your knees inward and outward)
- Support the extension of your knees (runners [and even cyclists]: a weak glute means that your knee will cave inward as you fatigue during running, which forces your knee to pick up for your lagging glute and places more stress on your knees)
I’ve covered how to build your glutes without squats and deadlifts before. And though you don’t “need” to squat or deadlift to build a bodacious booty, they still have their place in turning your flat ass into a badunkadunk. So first up, since squats and deadlifts move your hips through extension — the most powerful function of your glutes — I’m gonna cover exercises that focus primarily on hip extension first.
Tony Gentilcore defined the difference between squats and deadlifts best:
Squats = Maximal Knee Bend + Maximal Hip Flexion
Deadlifts = Maximal Hip Flexion + Minimal Knee Bend
Both exercises require your glutes to fire.
But, remember this: exercises where you maintain minimal quad involvement and maximize hinging at your hips, the more tension you can place on your glutes. And more tension means more junk in your trunk.
So, give these a try:
There’s a trick to these: before your start the motion, you have to lift your opposite hip up. This helps isolate and put more stress on the glute of your dangling foot.
Now, Step Downs aren’t like a single leg squat. So make sure you’re hinging your hips as you lower your leg down; don’t worry you won’t need much distance at first. So start with a small step and not a high block like I’m demonstrating.
If you need assistance when attempting these, start these near a rack at your gym or use a dowel rod to give you some support. Don’t rely on the support, but have it there to start.
So, to perform this exercise, let one foot hang off the edge of a raised platform. Raise your opposite side hip, this is your starting position. While hinging at the hips, let your foot lower toward the ground, but angled slightly behind you. Push through your feet — feeling your glutes enrage — and come back to standing.
Single Leg Hip Thrust
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
Any movement you make that moves your leg away from the middle of your body activates your glutes — like delivering a side kick or lunging backward to tie your shoes. Abduction also occurs if you widen your stance in squats or deadlifts. And then there’s also lateral movement as well.
Here’s why abduction is great: You have three glutes muscles—gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus. The medius and minimus are two of the most often overlooked muscles in the body. They rarely get the love and attention they deserve. And, they’re really important in terms of hip stability and strength. Weak and underperforming glute medius and minimus are often the culprit of knee valgus, also known as knock knees..
It doesn’t matter if you’re a weight lifter, runner, or cyclist — you do not want knee valgus. When your glutes underperform and your knees cave in toward the body, guess who takes on that extra work that your ass can’t handle? Your knees.
So to save your knees, strengthen your glutes. Specifically, strengthen your medius and minimus.
Banded walking or hip abduction exercises are the best way to turn your two smaller glute muscles into knee-saving powerhouses.
So, give these a go:
Extended-Range Side Lying Hip Abduction
Banded Toe Taps
You should be doing those above movements before your workout, at the end of your workout, or do a set or two every day and watch your ass grow.
When Two Become One
Human beings don’t move in isolated patterns in daily life. Your body moves through flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction numerous times throughout the day. Many times, you’re going through two of those movement patterns at the same time.
Lunges are one example of moving through multiple functionalities of your glute muscles. Lunges require hip flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. And, since split squats are basically a stationary lunge, I’m gonna throw them in here too.
Split squats are one of the best ways to target your glutes. Because your knee is planted on the ground and not going through the lunge motion, you can tweak the split squat to be more quad dominant or glute dominant by adding more of a hip hinge into the exercise.
With just a little twerk…..I mean a tweak, you’ll be able to target more of your glutes with these lunge variations:
Bulgarian Split Squat
Goblet Reverse Lunge
Another powerful way to blast your ass is to put your glutes through abduction and external/internal rotation at the same time. Holy booty loving gods of Kardashia will your glutes burn when you do clamshells.
Equally excellent for the glutes are exercises like frog pumps, sumo squats, and curtsy lunges/curtsy step-ups. All of these target your glutes through abduction and internal and external rotation of your hips.
The curtsy lunge is one of my favorite bodyweight exercises to program for clients. It works well for my clients that travel and only workout in hotel rooms, and it’s the perfect exercise to superset with other hip dominant movements.
Add these in as the second exercise in a superset with Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts or Single Leg Deadlifts.
Or do them as a separate exercise all on their own. Focus on SQUEEZING your glutes the entire time and feeling it push you up from the bottom.
Big Booty, Big Booty, Big Booty
Our modern sedentary lifestyles have drastically weakened and deflated our glutes. But glute training is more than building a butt that can get 1,000s of likes on Instagram. A stronger backside can alleviate low back pain, save your knees from injury, help you run faster and further, and fine, we’re all a bit vain too. But who doesn’t want to wear a pair of pants that turns heads because you have glutes that salute?