The butt muscles, or glutes, are one of the most common incorrectly trained muscle groups I see. There’s a lot of dodgy information out there, and lack of understanding about what these muscles actually do, and how to target them.
There are 3 main muscles that we need to consider; the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
Let’s look at what their functions are, so we can understand how to best train them.
The glute max primary movements are hip extension, and hip external rotation. That is standing up, projecting forwards (walking, running, jumping) and pushing the knees out sideways. The glute max is the biggest, strongest muscle in the body that makes up the majority of your butt.
The glute med primary movements are hip abduction (lifting the leg out sideways) and rotating the thigh inwards. The glute med is on the outside of the hips.
The glute min functions alongside the glute med. This muscle sits underneath the glute max, especially at the top of the buttocks.
Strong Butt, Strong Everything
It’s not an exaggeration to say if you are strong in the glutes, you will be strong and powerful everywhere.
The glutes are the primary muscle used for running, jumping, throwing, punching; they’re the power source of the body.
Strong glutes will give you a strong squat, deadlift, and even help with upper body exercises like bench press.
To build a big, round butt, you need to build up all 3 glute muscles with a variety of exercises we will get into in a moment.
A lot of people struggle to activate and feel these muscles working, letting their lower back and legs take over work that the glutes should be doing.
This will always hold you back from applying the needed stimulus to significantly grow the muscles, so focusing on technique and learning how to activate the muscles is key.
It’s fashionable to perform ‘glute activation’ exercises like hip thrusts and sideways walking with a band around the feet. These exercises can help you to feel the glutes, and learn the motor control needed to isolate and activate them.
However, the idea that they’re inactive isn’t entirely true. If they didn’t work, you wouldn’t be able to stand upright or walk.
Rather, people just lack a mind-muscle connection to be able to isolate them during exercise. This leads to other muscles doing most of the work and a less than ideal training effect.
There is definitely value in glute activation exercises, but it comes in the form of developing mind-muscle connection – the ‘feel’ of the muscles – allowing you to better target them.
The Best Glute Exercises
Like any body part, HOW you do the exercise is as important as which exercise you do. With that in mind I will explain not only which exercises to do, but how to target the glutes while you do them.
Deadlifts: Deadlifts are great for the glutes when you focus on using them to perform the movement. Most people don’t, so they work their lower back or hamstrings more than the glutes.
To get the best glute stimulus, Romanian deadlifts are the best variation.
Actively flex the glutes while at the top, and push the hips back while keeping tension in the glutes. Hold tension in the glutes all the way down, and then flex the glutes to push the hips forwards. Don’t go to a full stretch in the hamstrings, or go too heavy.
Make sure you finish by clenching the glutes, rather than leaning your bodyweight back. Hold tension in the glutes at the top for a second before going back down for the next rep.
Squats: Most squat variations are good for glutes, and are all improved if you focus on lifting through the butt instead of the knees.
Glutes are most active at the bottom of deep squats, or when you sit back into the hips in a parallel squat.
Focus on keeping tension in the glutes as you go down, rather than just relaxing and letting gravity push you down. Flex and push through the hips to stand up, and clench at the top.
If you place your mental focus on squeezing the butt, you will activate them a lot more than if you just stand up from the knees.
Lunges: Lunges are the best exercise for the glute med and glute minimus.
They’re working hard to maintain stability, and stop the knee collapsing inwards, as well as extending the hip as you step through. Be purposeful and controlled as you lunge, don’t use momentum to do the work that your muscles should be doing.
Sprinting: Genuine sprints (40-100m at 80-100% effort) are one of the best overall leg and butt developing workouts you can do.
They’re hard, extremely tiring, and if you’re not used to sprinting they have a high potential for injury, so be very careful. Ease into them, do less than you think you’re capable for the first few workouts, and make sure you always do a thorough warm up.
You don’t need to think while you sprint, just run as hard as you can. Your glutes and hamstrings will get an incredible workout.
Sets, Reps & Weights
The glutes will respond best to moderate-heavy weights, in the 5-12 rep range. Doing 100 leg lifts isn’t much more stimulating than walking would be. Heavy weights are, but not so heavy you cannot maintain control and focus on the target muscle.
Perform 3-5 sets of 5-12 reps for most of these exercises. You can sometimes mix in higher reps to change the stimulus, but 5-12 should be the staple.
Glute Training Wrap Up
The glutes are important muscles to build a strong, healthy, functional physique, and to look great. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your training by using the tips in this article, and you’ll soon have a powerful derriere that makes your friends envious.