The 6 Best Butt Exercises for Athletes

The butt muscles, specifically the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, are some of the most important muscles for generating speed and power during many athletic movements. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body as well as one of the most powerful, and it plays a major role in running and jumping. For an athlete, a strong backside is essential for preventing injuries, maximizing acceleration and power, and improving overall sports performance.

Many people today, including both athletes and non-athletes, have poorly functioning glutes due to the excessive amount of time we all spend sitting. Extended periods of time spent in a seated position can harm your health in a variety of ways, including weakened, inactive glutes, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. During exercise, poorly functioning glutes can cause the hamstrings and the lower back muscles to become overused and more prone to injury. To avoid such pitfalls, it's helpful to actively engage and strengthen the butt muscles so they can do what they're meant to do.

Athletes in almost every sport can benefit from actively engaging and strengthening the glutes. But before diving into glute strengthening exercises, it's helpful to do a few glute activation exercises to essentially "wake up the glutes" and get your backside firing properly. Once activated, the glutes can more easily respond to a variety of targeted strengthening exercises, including the following.


Weighted Reverse Lunges

Female athlete doing lunges with kettlebells
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The reverse lunge is another great glute strengthener that can be done with dumbbells or kettlebells. It engages the quads, hamstrings, and core stabilizers while it improves hip flexibility.

When performing this move, you will move in and out of your lunge by stepping back and lowering the back knee towards the floor. Then bring the legs together again to a standing position. Be sure to keep the chest upright with the shoulders over the hips and the core engaged. Alternate sides and move in a slow, controlled manner.


Weighted Step Ups

Weighted Step Up

The weighted step up is a straight-forward exercise for targeting the glutes while minimizing the stress on the knee joint. By starting with a lower bench and little to no weight, you can slowly build up glute strength and power. By working each leg individually, you can avoid favoring one side as might happen during the full squat movement. As the step up becomes easier and you have more control of the movement, simply add height to the step and add weight.

You can use dumbbells, a barbell, or a weighted vest to increase the resistance of this exercise. The key to a good step up is to maintain control and keep your knee tracking forward rather than caving inward.​


Hip Thrust

Hip thrust exercise.
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The hip thrust is a variation of a glute bridge, but it is performed using a barbell and with the body lifted off the floor. It targets the gluteal muscles better than many other lower-body movements.

You can do this exercise on the floor, but it works best if you have a bench on which to rest the upper back. Place a barbell across the hips and then lower and lift the hips slowly while keeping the core engaged.


Side Lunge

woman doing side lunge exercise

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The side lunge engages the adductors and abductors that help stabilize the hips. You can do this move with or without weight. If you use weight, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands at chest level.

When doing a side lunge, you'll start in a standing position and take a big step
to the right side with the right foot. The right knee will bend deeply to accommodate the lunge and the hips will drop back. Step back to the starting position and repeat the move on the left.



Verywell / Ben Goldstein  

The deadlift is usually performed with a bar and plates or a fixed barbell but can be done with dumbbells. It works the entire lower body including the hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteals, and lower back. It also works the trapezius.

When performing this move, be sure that you maintain a strong core and back, making sure not to curve or hunch the shoulders when reaching down to lift or lower the bar. Each time you lift the barbell, press through the heels and keep the bar close to your shins.


Full Squats

Female gym performing back squat
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The full squat is the king of all power exercises. You can begin with no weight or a very small amount of weight in order to learn the correct movement patterns. Over time you can slowly add more resistance to the movement. The squat not only builds powerful glutes but done properly it will improve hip and ankle mobility, often lacking in athletes.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.