Get Your Best Butt by Working Your Glutes, Hips, and Thighs

Woman running up a flight of stairs
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Your glutes, hips and thighs includes some of the most important, and powerful, muscles in the human body.  In fact, your lower body includes the biggest muscle in the body - Your butt, also known as the gluteus maximus.

The gluteus maximus is the most visible gluteal muscle, but there are two very important muscles underneath it: the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

These three muscles are responsible for a variety of hip movements like hip extension, rotating the thigh outward and hip abduction — or moving the leg away from the body as in leg lifts. That means your glutes work every time you stand up, walk or run up the stairs and jog, just to name a few.

Why Should You Work Your Butt, Hips and Thighs?

Aside from wanting a firm, shapely butt, it's important to train your lower body simply because they're involved in so many movements. Sit, stand, squat and walk and your glutes are working and think about how many times you do that in one day.

Strength training exercises not only make you stronger for daily activities, they can also make you strong for other activities like running, walking, working in the yard and climbing stairs.  Working these muscles means you'll not only build strength and lean-muscle tissue, but you'll also burn more calories. The bigger the muscle, the more calories it burns.

Oh, and one more thing...strong legs give your knee and ankle joints support which may help protect you from injury.

How Often Should You Train Your Lower Body?

The general guidelines for strength training suggest:

  • Work your lower body up to 3 non-consecutive days a week.  You want at least a day of rest in between workouts
  • If you're lifting very heavy weights, enough that you can only perform 6-8 reps, you might need to rest more between workouts to allow your muscle fibers to recover
  • If you're goal is lean muscle tissue and endurance, try 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps of each exercise, making sure you use enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps.

Because your lower body is so strong, you'll probably need some pretty heavy weights to really challenge your body.  For example, for squats, you may be able to use up to 30 lbs or more, depending on how long you've been exercising.

If you're just starting out, it's best to start with a lighter weight to work on your form and make sure you don't overdo it.

Sample Butt Workout

The most common exercises for the butt, hips and thighs are the big three — squats, lunges, and deadlifts. I have a couple of other great moves to try the next time you're working your butt. 

  1. Dumbbell Squats - This is the perfect exercise for engaging all of the muscles of the lower body, including the glutes.
  2. Lunges - Lunges target every muscle in the lower body as well and, since you're in a staggered stance, each leg will get a little more work. Don't like lunges? Try some of these alternatives.
  3. Deadlifts - Deadlifts are great for the butt as well as the lower back and the hamstrings.
  4. Step Ups - I love step ups for really targeting the glutes.  Keep the weight in the heel to put more emphasis on your rear.
  5. Hip Extensions - This is more of an isolation exercise and a perfect way to round out your butt workout. No pun intended.

The Best Cardio for Your Butt

  • Walking

Walking activates your glutes and hamstrings, particularly as you walk up an incline (mountain, hill or treadmill). The plan: If you're on a treadmill, shake things up by increasing your incline periodically throughout your workout (i.e., increase your incline 1% every minute for five minutes, then reduce your incline in the same manner, repeating six or more times). If outdoors, find a long, medium-grade hill in your neighborhood and walk up it as fast as you can, then slowly walk back down and repeat 5 to 10 times. Add this type of workout to your weekly routine to burn more calories and work your butt and legs.

  • Sprints/Intervals

Have you ever noticed that sprinters have great butts? That's because sprinting is a powerful activity that requires incredible strength. You don't have to train like an Olympian to get a great butt, but you can introduce sprinting (also called "fartlek training") into your routine. The plan: On your next walk/run, choose an object in the distance and sprint to it as fast as you can. Slow to a walk until you're fully recovered and repeat about 5 to 6 times.

  • Cycling

Riding a bike is an incredible exercise for your hips, thighs and glutes, whether you ride outside or indoors at a spin class or on a stationary bikeThe plan: On your next cycling workout, pay attention to your technique; get your glutes involved by leading with your heel when you push down on the pedals. On the upswing, pull up on the pedal (if you've got foot straps) to make sure you're using every part of your legs during your workout. Isolations are another option: Increase your resistance, lift your butt off the seat and slowly pedal using ONLY your legs (your body shouldn't move or bounce).

  • Other Ideas

Other great cardio exercises that target your fanny include kickboxing and stair climbing. In kickboxing, all those kicks (side, roundhouse, back and fronts kicks) will target your butt, quadriceps, and hamstrings. They will also help you with your balance and flexibility. Using the Stairmaster or Step Mill will also make maximum use of the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

While cardio is great for involving the legs, to really see results, you'll need some strength-training exercises. For ideas, check out these examples of exercises for the butt, hips and thighs.

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Article Sources

  • American Council on Exercise. (2003). ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Edition. San Diego, CA.