I’m sure that you’ve heard over and over that squats build a great butt. You’d be partially right. Squats are a fantastic exercise, but they are not the best exercise for building up your glutes. I know that I just contradicted 90% of the internet – so let me explain!
A squat should only bring you up to full extension but the glutes work are not fully flexed or activated until hip-hyperextension. That means it’s fully active when your thigh is extending a little bit past your hip line. Another way of looking at it is that glutes are working the most in movements that are similar to running or climbing up hills.
Exercises that really get the full range and activation of the glutes are going to include deadlifts, hip-thrusts, glute bridges, sprinting, sled pushes etc… You can see that a lot of these require some heavy weights and the skill to perform exercises like sprints or deadlifts safely. In a perfect world, everyone would have amazing deadlifts and sprints with barbells and bumper plates at their disposal! However, not everyone is ready for deadlifts and not everyone collects weights for their basement. This will be a glute workout that can easily be done at home with minimal equipment so you can get started on building strong glutes right away.
Glute Bridges are a great way to build up your glutes with little to no equipment. You can do regular glute bridges without a band or you can add a mini-band around the knees to create a little more work the glute medius and minimus. These muscles are huge hip stabilizers that can set you up for success in a range of other exercises so you may as well!
To do a regular glute bridge, start on your back with legs bent, feet flat on the floor, and feet hip with apart. With or without the band, keep your knees hip-width apart as they go through the motion. You want to think to dig through your heels to lift your butt off the floor. Don’t arch your back or flare your ribs to try to get higher. Only go as high as the glutes take you! If you are really tight in your hips, you might not go very high. Shoot for finding that spot where your butt burns – not for height!
Bridges with Clams:
If you have a mini-band you can try clams in a bridge position to work all angles of your glute. Keep the band just above your knees, into a regular bridge position, then up in the bridge move one or both knees out to the side. Be sure to keep your feet flat! If your big toe is coming off the floor, you’ve gone WAY TOO FAR. It’s going to be a smaller motion than you think it should be. Try to keep the height of the bridge while you go through this exercise. Keep your hips in the same place – try not to sway with your knees going out.
These are a great way to give your glutes more of a challenge without any equipment. I like to do these two ways: Either pushing on the knee of the leg you’re not using to get your abs engaged or hugging that knee in to keep it close. The reason I like to keep the opposite knee in rather than reaching a leg out or up to the ceiling is that this will keep you more honest. If your knee is close, you can’t arch your back to get higher in the bridge. I find that when people kick the opposite leg out or up, this turns into a back bridge very quickly. Be sure to keep your hips level as if you are bridging with both legs.
Deadlifts are arguably one of the best exercises for your glutes. They are however hard to perform without equipment and some people don’t have the right mobility or control for them. A great alternative that you can do at home with light weight or no weight is a single-leg deadlift.
A single-leg deadlift can be done holding one weight or two weights in front. If you are using one weight, I recommend holding it in the hand opposite your standing leg. This usually helps people keep a more neutral spine position through the motion rather than leaning and twisting to the standing-leg-side.
For these deadlifts, be firmly planted on the one leg. Your free leg should be kept straight with your foot flexed. This is so you can think to reach that free leg behind you and press through that heel as if you are trying to kick something over. This helps people hinge at the hips like a deadlift. A common mistake in single-leg deadlifts is to let your knee of the standing leg come too far forward like a lunge or a squat.
If done right, you should feel your hamstring and your glute on the standing leg pulling you back into an upright position.
I mentioned that your glutes work the most in motions that are like running or climbing. The equivalent to climbing in the gym may be a step-up or a really deep lunge. Step-ups can be hard to create at home if you don’t have a sturdy surface to step on to but reverse lunges can have a similar effect.
When you’re stepping back into a lunge, you’re going to use more glute to come out of the lunge than if you were stepping forward. When you step back, keep all of your weight on the front leg and consider the back foot just a point of balance. Use the heel of the forward leg to drive through the ground to come back to standing. You can add weight to this if you have some at home – either by holding it by the sides or up underneath your chin.
Start with these glute-focused exercises at home to help you prep for some serious work in the gym. I’ll be talking about more exercises to build up your glutes in the gym in next weeks post!