Glutes are all the rage these days—everyone wants those muscles strong and perky, right?! We frequently use the image of a peach to stand-in for a nice, round rump; no pancake emojis are welcome here!
There are lots of popular glute exercises these days dedicated to building those muscles (did you know there are 3 different glute muscles?); resistance bands are very common tools to help target those muscles, and at any given time in the gym you walk by someone (who won’t make eye contact with you 😉 doing hip thrusts or glute bridges.
But did you know it’s possible that you could be frequently working those muscles with the best glute exercises and not see much improvement?! The reason why? Glute activation. Our bodies may not understand what it is we’re trying to do when we begin these exercises.
Why Do Glutes Fail to Engage?
Look at the facts—we now have a day of the week dedicated to glutes (hello, hump day, insert that peach), so it’s obviously pretty important. Surprisingly though, it can be really hard to actually engage the glutes; even when you’re doing an exercise that directly targets them, as well as compound movements like the squat.
There are a couple reasons for this:
- The big one being that we are way too sedentary these days. Office jobs, where we sit for long periods of time, long commutes in cars, or just sitting around too much, even for those of us that consistently work out, all contribute to glute inactivity. It’s the “use it or lose it” concept.
- The second reason for this is linked to the first. When we “lose it” because we don’t “use it,” other nearby muscle groups tend to overcompensate for our lazy glutes. This allows the glutes to sleep peacefully, so that when we go to do an exercise that SHOULD strengthen them, the surrounding muscles jump in and take over. This often causes pain, discomfort, even injury to those muscle groups because they aren’t meant to do the work that the glutes should be doing.
How Do I Work My Glutes Effectively?
I have spent the last couple of years focusing on growing and strengthening my own glutes more than I ever have in my 15 plus years of weightlifting and I’ve learned a thing or two about what works. Of course the right nutrition (i.e. plenty of protein) is key in any muscle growing/strengthening program, but think about and apply these concepts in your next glute workout and remember me when you wake up the next day and struggle to stand up and sit down.
- It’s important to “wake up” your glutes before you actually start your workout. They need to activate by doing some simple warm-up exercises that sends a message from the brain to your glutes that says “we have some serious work ahead of us.” Clamshells, single-leg bridges, and band walks are all great for glute activation. Three sets of 10-12 reps of two or three of those exercises is plenty.
- In a glute workout, variety in weight, tempo (how long or short your eccentric and concentric contractions are, counted in seconds), and volume is the best for stimulating growth—and it varies for everyone. So it’s important to mix it up and not do the same exercises with the same amount of weight day in and day out.
- Depending on the day—focus on high-volume/lower weight, or low-volume/heavier weight, add in some isometric holds, and switch up the tempos of both eccentric and concentric contractions. All of these different variations help challenge your glutes to keep growing. Not to mention, doing lots of different exercises will hit the maximus, medius, and minimus glute muscles at different angles.
Glute Exercises: So Many Options
Some of my favorite exercises I rotate through are:
- Squats (all different variations, with barbells, Smith machine, and hack machines)
- Deadlifts (different variations with barbell, Smith, dumbbells, and kettlebells)
- Band walks
- Abductor machine
- Glute-ham developer in different leg and foot positions, with and without resistance bands
- Split squats
- Walking lunges
So many, right? I just choose four or five for any given day and get after it. Some days I even make a circuit out of my combination of exercises and try to keep my rest to a minimum. I keep my heart rate up, work up a sweat, and burn some fat at the same time.
I put together an example of a glute workout (see below) you can do any day—either on its own or at the end of a total leg workout, if you’re feeling really motivated.
Example Glute Workout:
*Can also be done circuit-style, where you do one set of the first exercise and move onto the second exercise and so on until you’ve completed a set of each exercise. Then start again on your second set of each exercise, completing each one until you’ve done 4 sets of everything.
4 sets of:
- Barbell hip thrusts (heavy, 3 second pause at the top) x 12
- Plie squats, holding dumbbell or kettlebell, feet elevated on separate bench or box x 15
- Single-leg elevated (on bench or box) hip thrusts x 8 each side
- Abductor machine x 12
- Jumping split squats x 20
Focus on Activation for Best Results
Don’t forget plyometric work and sprints as part of your cardio will also help to activate and strengthen your glute muscles. And when you’re back at the office or moseying around the house after a great day at the gym, don’t forget to keep those glutes engaged. Climbing a staircase two-by-two or doing some step-ups on a chair or bench will go a long way in keeping your muscles connected to your brain and ready to grow when you put them through a great workout.
Try these glute activation exercises out and let me know how they go! I would love to hear how your workouts improve through great warm-ups and good variety in your target glute exercises. If your carbs and protein are on-point with what your body needs, these exercises are bound to give you hump-day worthy results!
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