The Best Exercises for Activating Your Glutes

There are many ways to strengthen the gluteus muscles, the large and powerful muscles of the butt. Weak glutes can lead to a variety of problems, including back, hip, and knee pain and injuries.

Many people, even recreational athletes, have weak glutes.​ Why? Because of how much time most of us spend sitting on those muscles instead of using them. Sitting for extended periods of time can result in tight, shortened hip flexors and hamstrings and weak glutes that fail to fire properly.

To sort out which exercises really work to target the glutes, researchers use electromyography to quantify and compare signal amplitude as the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles fire.

Studies identified which movements activated the butt muscles to the highest percentage. These results can help sports medicine specialists, physical therapists, and athletes decide which exercises to include or drop from a rehab, pre-hab, or basic training program.

The ultimate goal of these exercises is to get the glutes to fire properly, build a strong backside, prevent lower extremity injuries, and maintain proper alignment and biomechanics.

Best Exercises for the Gluteus Maximus

These exercises produce the highest percentage of activity in the gluteus maximus muscle group:

Best Exercises for the Gluteus Medius

These exercises produce the highest percentage of activity in the gluteus medius muscle group. Strengthening the gluteus medius plays a significant role in keeping the hips and pelvis aligned. This is an important and often overlooked way to prevent knee pain.

  • Side plank with hip abduction
  • Forward lunge
  • Single-leg squat
  • Side-lying hip abduction
  • Front plank with hip extension

Designing a Glute Activation Exercise Routine 

Depending upon your overall fitness goals, you might perform these exercises on a rotating basis to get a variety of movements while still targeting the glutes. Or you can periodically focus on glute exercises to build muscle strength in a maximal and isolated way. If you are using weights, start with those exercises first and move to bodyweight exercises next.

1

Step-Ups

Weighted Step up

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You can do step-ups with or without weight, and vary the size of your step or box to make the exercise easier or harder. For the most intensity, you can do a dynamic step-up by jumping onto your step.

2

Single-Leg Squat

Deep squat on one leg

Nastasic / Getty Images 

Single-leg squats work both the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles. The gluteus maximus provides power while the gluteus medius helps with balance and stabilization.

3

Split Squat

bulgarian split squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This squat variation looks like a combination of a (shortened) forward lunge and a squat. Perform with or without weights in hand.

4

Lunges

lunge with a twist

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

When done slowly, and with controlled movements, lunges place less stress on the joints and are generally easier and safer than plyometric jumping exercises or deep one-leg squats. The overhead lunge and the lunge with a twist are two more exercises that can be helpful for preventing and rehabbing lower body aches and pains.

5

Side Plank With Hip Abduction

Side plank leg lift

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Adding hip abduction helps target the gluteus medius muscles. From a side plank position, lift your top leg. You can perform the plank with your lower (supporting) leg straight, or bent with your knee on the ground. Supporting arm can be either on the elbow or palm (or use an exercise ball for more of a challenge).

6

Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Similar to the side plank, but less intense, this side-lying exercise also focuses on the gluteus medius. Start by lying on your side, with your bottom leg bent (your knee should be at about a 90-degree angle). Top leg is straight, with foot flexed. Lift top leg, keeping it straight without locking the knee.

7

Plank With Hip Extension

Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Continue to work the gluteus medius with this plank variation. From your preferred plank position (e.g., on elbows or palms; knees lifted or not), extend one leg up and back from the hip. Keep the leg straight.

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Article Sources
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  1. Stastny P, Tufano JJ, Golas A, Petr M. Strengthening the gluteus medius using various bodyweight and resistance exercises. Strength Cond J. 2016;38(3):91-101. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000221

  2. Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, et al. Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic review. J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(1):195-203.

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