Glute Activation Exercises for Athletes

If you sit much of the day, you may have weak glutes, tight hamstrings, and tight hip flexors. Tight muscles in this area can cause low back pain, can lead to an altered gait or poor mobility. So it is smart to create muscular balance in this area. Use this glute activation program to get your backside firing properly during exercise.

To maximize the proper involvement of your glutes, perform this basic glute activation routine as the first part of your warm up, before your workouts, or after sitting for a long time.


Hip Flexor and Psoas Stretch

hip flexor psoas stretch
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Before beginning into the glute activation exercises, make sure your hip flexors are relaxed. Use this slow, static hip flexor stretch to help inhibit the hip flexors, particularly the powerful psoas muscle, while you get your glutes firing.

Do It Right

  1. Begin in a forward lunge position and drop your back knee to the floor.
  2. Press your hips forward and down toward the floor. Feel a stretch through your torso, hip, groin, and thigh.
  3. Hold the stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds, release and repeat on the other leg.
  4. You can modify this stretch based upon your own flexibility and limitations.

Bridge Exercise

Woman doing bridge exercise
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The bridge exercise is the first and generally the easiest way to get your glutes firing. The movement is small and targeted, so go slow and you will feel your glutes "waking up."

Do It Right

  1. Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet are under your knees.
  2. Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles.
  3. Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  4. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

If your hips sag or drop, lower yourself back on the floor. Be sure to contract the glutes hard and keep the hamstrings relaxed. You may need to place your hand on your hamstrings to make sure they stay soft.

You may need to begin by holding the bridge position for a few seconds as you build your strength. It's better to hold the correct position for a shorter time than to go longer in the incorrect position.


Quadruped Hip Extension

To wake up your glutes, use the hip extension exercise. In order to isolate the glutes and reduce hamstring involvement, it's best to perform the hip extension in a quadruped position rather than laying prone (face down).

Do It Right

  1. Start in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees).
  2. Tighten your core and contract your abs to stabilize the spine.
  3. To initiate this movement, focus on contracting the left glute. You may need to place your hand on your glute to be sure it contracts.
  4. Slowly lift the left leg up while keeping a 90-degree bend at the knee.
  5. The left thigh should be nearly parallel with the ground.
  6. Slowly lower to the start position and repeat 10 reps per side.
  7. To increase the intensity of this exercise, place a small dumbbell behind your knee or add an ankle weight.

Single Leg Bridge Exercise

After you've mastered the basic bridge exercise, you're ready to move on to the single leg bridge exercise.

Do It Right

  1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet under your knees.
  2. Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles and slowly lift your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
  3. While keeping hips level and glutes squeezed, lift one foot off the ground and extend your leg toward the ceiling. Your knee can be slightly bent or even at a 90-degree angle if your mobility needs improvement.
  4. Hold to position for 10 seconds and lower. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Make sure to maintain level hips throughout the exercise. It's better to hold the correct position for a shorter time than to go longer in the incorrect position.

If you can't hold this position, return to the basic Bridge Exercise to build strength and then progress to the one-leg bridge. As you get stronger, you can hold the position longer or do 10 reps of lifting and lowering on each side before you switch.


Side Lying Hip Abduction (Clam Exercise)

The first three exercises for glute activation specifically target the gluteus maximus, the prime mover during hip extension. This next exercise targets the gluteus medius, which fires during hip abduction and rotation. To isolate the glute medius, use the clam exercise.

Do It Right

  1. While lying on your side, keep both knees bent and flex the hips to 30 degrees.
  2. While keeping your heels touching and pelvis still, lift your upper knee toward the ceiling, squeezing your glutes hard at the top.
  3. Place your hand on your gluteus medius (just below and behind your hip) to ensure that it is firing during the movement.
  4. Repeat the movement slowly 10 to 15 times and switch sides.
2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Avrahami D, Potvin JR. The clinical and biomechanical effects of fascial-muscular lengthening therapy on tight hip flexor patients with and without low back pain. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2014;58(4):444-455.

  2. Parr M, Price PD, Cleather DJ. Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performanceBMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2017;3(1):e000245. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000245

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