The glutes are your largest muscles, and they ought to be among the strongest. Powerful glutes help just about every other muscle in your lower body work better. “Your glutes stabilize the trunk of your body, keeping correct posture in your lower body and spine, as well as helping with extension and rotation of the hip,” says Candice Cunningham, an Atlanta-based personal trainer and Aaptiv trainer.
Your glutes are composed of three different muscles that work together to control movement of your hip and thigh. The gluteus maximus is responsible for raising your thigh to the side, rotating your leg, and extending your hips; the gluteus medius helps to rotate the thigh outward; and the gluteus minimus helps to rotate the thigh inward.
Activating and strengthening these muscles ensures you won’t overutilize other areas to compensate, which can lead to injuries. “When your glutes are underactive, your quadriceps take the brunt of big leg movements,” Cunningham explains. You end up leading with your knees, which are not meant to withstand that kind of stress. Poor glute activation has also been linked to Achilles tendinopathy in runners and low-back pain, the most common complaint of cyclists. Activated glutes prevent this by stabilizing the hip and lumbar spine, Cunningham says.
Of course, strong glutes also offer a performance advantage. Practice these exercises weekly and reap the benefits of a rock-solid rear end.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
What It Does: “Most of us are more aware of muscles on one side of our bodies than the other,” Cunningham says. This can create muscle imbalances. But isolateral work, which addresses one side of the body at a time, prevents your strong side from aiding the weak side. This move activates the gluteus medius, maximus, and minimus while improving balance.
How to Do It: Stand with your back to a bench, about three feet away. Place the top of one foot on the bench, holding a kettlebell with both hands, bell facing up. Lower into a lunge, keeping your weight in your front leg. Press back up, using the contraction of the working leg glute to drive you up. Complete three sets of eight reps.
2. Romanian Deadlift
What It Does: This deadlift variation works the glutes and hamstrings more than traditional deadlifts, so you’ll learn to activate your posterior chain without relying on your quads.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. With a dumbbell in each hand, let your hands hang in front of your hips with your palms facing your thighs. Hinge your hips back, keeping your weight on your heels as you lower the dumbbells in front of your thighs until you reach your knees, maintaining a flat back and an engaged core. Drive through your heels and contract your glutes as you reverse the movement and come to a standing position with full hip extension. Do three sets of eight to 15 reps.
3. Reverse Lunge
What It Does: This exercise is a staple for working the gluteus maximus and hamstrings. It improves mobility in the lower body to help with things like steep hikes, powerful sprints, and explosive jumps.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands at your sides, palms facing inward. Hold dumbbells of equal weight in either hand. Step one leg back into a reverse lunge, bending your knees 90 degrees and keeping your weight in your front leg. Press off the ground through your front heel to stand back up. Complete eight to 15 reps on one side. Switch sides; repeat. Do three sets.
4. Lateral Band Walk
What It Does: These target the gluteus medius, which often gets left out during other glute-dominant exercises. This muscle stabilizes the hip during controlled and unanticipated lateral movement—crucial for avoiding knee injuries.
How to Do It: Place a small looped resistance band around your shins and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Walk laterally in one direction for five counts, keeping your feet parallel, knees slightly bent, and weight on your heels. Reverse the movement. Do three sets of three reps.
5. Dumbbell Bench Thruster
What It Does: Weak glutes breed tight hips. This move works to eliminate both, activating the gluteus maximus while working on hip extension.
How to Do It: Rest your upper back on a bench at the shoulder blades with your feet on the floor under the knees. Place a medium to heavy weight over your hips. Keeping your weight on the heels and your core engaged, drive your hips up and contract your glutes. It’s crucial that your hips are fully extended at the top of the movement. Complete three sets of 15 to 20 reps.