Recently as I was scrolling Instagram, I noticed a common theme among many of the fitness posts – an emphasis on training the posterior chain muscles responsible for extending the hip otherwise known as the glutes or what many simply call the booty.
If you want to know the most effective exercises that can help you to strengthen (which results in better definition) one of the most visible parts of your body then keep on reading and check out the videos linked below…
Besides the every-popular glutes, a number of muscles are responsible for controlling motion of the hips and giving them their shapely appearance. Knowing exactly which muscles and how they work is essential for sculpting glutes that not only look great but allow you to achieve an optimal level of performance for your favorite activities.
Muscle What it does
Gluteus Maximus extension, abduction and external rotation of hip
Gluteus medius internal and external rotation of the hip
Hamstrings extension of the hip; extension of knee (when foot is on ground)
Adductors extension and flexion of the hip
One technical note:
Muscles function to generate force; when muscles shorten they can produce force. As muscles lengthen, in responses to an externally applied force, they decelerate force. Because the forces applied during the lengthening phase of muscle action can help increase the strength and resiliency of the tissue, it’s not enough to know what a muscle does as it shortens, it’s essential to understand how a muscle functions as it lengthens.
The primary function of the gluteus maximus (just gonna call it the ‘glute’ going forward) is to move your leg behind your body as you’re walking, but it is also responsible for rotating the hip and moving it laterally to the side, away from the body (the motion of abduction) – the most effective exercises for the glute combine all 3 of these movements. When the legs swings forward as you’re walking it is lengthened before it is shortened to move the leg behind your body; therefore, the most effective exercises for the glutes should copy that motion.
The gluteus medius is a smaller muscle under the main glute; it’s job is to control rotation of the hip and keep the body stable when you’re standing one 1-leg which explains why many of the most effective exercises for the gluteal complex take place on 1 leg at a time.
Below the glutes are the hamstrings which are actually a few different muscles, but will keep this simple and just refer to the hamstrings. The hamstrings help extend the hip and while they can flex the knee, their primary job when you’re walking and running is to actually extend the knee when your foot is directly under your body. One of the most common ways to strengthen these muscles is with curls which shortens the muscles, but they are designed to reduce force while being lengthen which kind of explains why they are so-often injured in sports.
And while you have probably done numerous exercises to close your legs in an attempt to tone the adductor muscles of your inner thighs, the reality is that these muscles attach to the back of the thigh bone (femur) and function to flex and extend the hip while you are walking. Again, this explains why they are often strained during explosive movements.
All of these muscles are designed to function together when you’re walking or running so that is how they should be trained – with exercises that integrate them all into single movements. The most effective exercises should use patterns similar to how we walk and run including single-leg movements that engage all of the muscles to create stability while in a balanced position.
Many exercises for the booty focus on only moving the hip in a partial range-of-motion; because force is being loaded into a specific section of muscle, it can create the perception of work, but the muscles are not being properly prepared to actually generate the forces they are responsible for controlling as you move from one leg to another while walking or running. . Understanding how muscles function can provide you with almost limitless options for how to engage them via exercise.
To learn more about how to stimulate muscles to grow – read this blog on 10 things to know about your muscle fibers
Learn MORE About How your Glutes Work!
Take the continuing education course (approved for 0.2 ACE CECs): Glute Reboot that I teach with my colleague Abbie Appel – you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about how your glutes function. Only $29
Or, you can simply purchase the e-book Dynamic Anatomy which explains how your major muscles function and provides you with numerous examples of exercises to help them look and function better. Only $7
Here’s some great news – purchasing content from me makes you eligible to receive exclusive content that will not be available publicly; this include educational webinars to learn more about how your body functions and the best exercises for your needs.
Exercises for your Glutes!
Single leg glute bridge with mini-band
The perfect warm-up exercise; the benefit of bringing your knee back while extending the opposite hip is a greater range-of-motion from the hip joint. The mini-band increases the resistance for some added benefit. Pull your knee back as you push your heel into the ground; perform 10-12 on each leg.
Low-to-high lift (with medicine ball or dumbbell)
This move involves rotation which is one of the primary functions of the glutes and is one of the best ways to develop that round shape that looks oh-so-great! Tips: keep you spine long and move from your hips. Watch the video for specific details. Do 10-12 reps on each side.
Reverse lunge to balance
Reverse lunges sink back into your hip which loads all of the forces into the glutes. In addition, pulling yourself forward to the standing position uses your hamstrings and adductors to extend your hip and knee. Holding a balance position for 4-5 seconds will engage the glute medius as well. 10-12 reps with the balance at top one 1 leg, then switch legs.
Single-leg Romanian Deadlift
In my opinion is THE perfect exercise for your inner and outer thighs: your outer thigh is working to create stability while your adductors are working (with your glutes) to move you into hip extension. Holding the weight in the opposite hand of the balance leg uses more core muscles! TIP: keep your spine long as you straighten your right leg and point your right foot directly behind you. 6-10 on 1 leg, then switch legs.
Lateral Lunge to reach for foot
Stepping directly to your side to sink into a lunge uses both the big glute and the gluteus medius; reaching for the ground with the opposite hand increase the rotation and flexion using more of the large glute (you’re welcome). Bonus: pulling yourself back to standing uses the adductor muscles of the opposite leg. Do 10-12 on 1 leg, then switch.
The glutes, adductors and hamstrings contain type II muscle fibers so they respond to explosive motions and kettlebell swings are one of the most effective ways to use them. Keep your spine long, hold the kettlebell in your hands and keep your arms straight – the energy to lift the bell comes from your hips. Your shins should remain vertical and your knees should not move, push your hips back as you bring the bell down and snap your hips forward while explosively pushing your feet down to move the bell up. For best results, pull the kettlebell down, don’t just let it fall down. Set a timer for 20 sec., see how many you can do, add 5 seconds at a time until you’re swinging for 45 seconds.
Here is a quick video that demonstrates most of the exercises mentioned above:
Be careful when trying these exercises for the first time, because the muscles will be moving into new ranges of motion, it is important to start with only 1 or 2 sets – as you feel stronger (and the soreness goes away) increase the reps and sets.
Learn more about your glutes by listening to All About Fitness
To learn more about your glutes, listen to my All About Fitness podcast interview with Dr. Brett Contreras, AKA the Glute Guy and the creator of the loaded hip thrust exercise