Six Effective Exercises To Target Your Glutes
Written collaboratively by Joey Masri, PT, DPT, Philip Van Dyke, PT, DPT, CSCS, & Vinh Vuong, PT, DPT
The gluteal muscles maintain a powerful role in the world of rehabilitation and fitness. And for good reason. The Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle of the hip accounting for roughly 16% of the region’s total cross sectional area. It is a very strong hip extensor and lateral rotator used to accelerate the body upward and forward from a position of hip flexion (think climbing, sprinting, walking up steep hills). The Gluteus Medius and Minimus on the other hand, though much smaller than their Maximus counterpart, are critical for a healthy femur-to-pelvis relationship, providing substantial stabilization to this area during weight-bearing activities. They additionally work in conjunction with the Tensor Fascia Latae to abduct the leg away from midline (with anterior fibers also contributing to medial rotation of the hip).
These extremely important muscles are targeted for a plethora of reasons, and not just for their aesthetic appeal (though admittedly that’s a big reason for many people). In addition, with appropriate training emphasis, the gluteals carry major implication in the areas of injury prevention and rehabilitation (e.g. low back pain, knee injuries, etc), sports performance and longevity, and activities of daily living - to name just a few.
This is why being able to effectively target this muscle group should be at the forefront of any individual’s mind, whether they be a physical therapist, strength coach, trainer, or simply a fitness aficionado. Therefore, here are our choices based on EMG studies that have been found to give the biggest bang for your gluteal buck.
Exercises descriptions and which muscle it primarily targets are available after the video:
Gluteus Medius -
Side Plank with Hip Abduction
Maintain a neutral side plank position with your body in appropriate alignment. A mirror can assist in assuring proper form. Holding this plank, perform hip abduction of the top leg by slowly raising it just outside of hip width and then returning to the starting position. This can be a timed exercise or done for repetition. Progress the exercise by placing the bottom leg on a BOSU Ball or wrapping a resistance band around the knees or ankles.
Lateral Band Walk
Wrap an elastic band of appropriate resistance around your ankle. A hand towel can be placed in between the ankle and band to prevent shearing of the skin and the pulling of hair. Assuming an athletic stance as demonstrated, begin side-stepping in either direction stopping just outside of shoulder width. Be sure to perform this slowly and control the pull of the band. This can be done for time, distance, or repetition. Progress it by using higher resistance elastic bands. Be sure to work in both directions!
Standing with one foot on a stable step stool or box, begin with your hips in straight alignment. Slowly dip one side as shown ~6-8 inches before returning to the starting position. Do not lean forward or bend your knees excessively. This can be done for time or repetition. Remember to work both sides.
Gluteus Maximus -
Front Plank with Hip Extension
Assume a front plank position as shown. Maintaining this plank, slowly bend one knee to about 90 degrees and raise that leg towards the ceiling. Return to the starting position. This can be difficult for some so attention to form is crucial - perform it slowly! A mirror can assist in assuring proper alignment. This exercise can be timed or performed for repetition. Work both sides!
In a hook-lying position, begin by completely straightening one leg so that it is flat on the ground. With the leg that is still bent, push your heel down into the ground and raise your hips to the ceiling as shown. Try to maintain an aligned pelvis through a controlled movement. Return to the starting position slowly. To work this movement through more range of motion, the heel can be placed on an elevated box. Remember to work both sides!
Forward Step-Up with Contralateral Knee Lift
Begin by placing one foot on a stable and elevated step stool or box. Step up and maintain your balance as you progress the other leg through, finishing with the knee held up high as shown in the picture below. This can be progressed with boxes of increasing height or by adding resistance with a weighted barbell or dumbbells.
Don't forget the value of squats and deadlifts in targeting your gluteal muscles (as well as full body development)! These can be performed with one or both legs and with resistance (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells).
Keep in mind that this is simply a sampling of many potential exercises that can be performed to target the gluteals. Our picks do not, and should not, exclude other exercises such as the clamshell or bilateral bridging (even though these examples in particular scored fairly low in EMG studies). In fact, simpler exercises may be all a person is capable of and that's perfectly fine. What matters most is whether or not an exercise is appropriate given an individual's capabilities and that it is progressed once mastered. Strength and conditioning principles can be applied here depending on the goals of the individual.
Clinicians can use lower-level activation exercises to facilitate neuromuscular activation and progress patients with marked GMax and GMed weakness to more demanding tasks. (Reimen, 2011)
What other exercises have you found to be effective to target the gluteal muscles? What are some other muscles that are equally as important? Feel free to leave us a comment below.
- Reiman MP, Bolgla LA, Loudon JK. A literature review of studies evaluating gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation during rehabilitation exercises. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 2012;28(4):257-268. doi:10.3109/09593985.2011.604981.
Selkowitz DM. Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2013;43(2):54-65. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4116.
Selkowitz DM, Beneck GJ, Powers CM. Comparison of Electromyographic Activity of the Superior and Inferior Portions of the Gluteus Maximus Muscle During Common Therapeutic Exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016;46(9):794-9.