4-Glute Exercises You’ve Probably Never Done
Everyone wants to hammer his/her glutes. Here’s how “the exercises” and here’s why “the science.” Below are 4 exercises that will get your glutes fired up that you may have never done, or maybe, not done right. My favorite, the Banded COREFX Deadlift!
Your glutes are unusual from an architectural/anatomical perspective. They have a large cross-sectional area, and are relatively ‘long’ from attachment (tailbone) to insertion points.
Functionality, based partially on this anatomy, would indicate that the glutes can produce high levels of force at low speeds, utilizing a small range of motion (ROM) and low force production at high speeds through a greater ROM. Because the glutes have a mix of slow and fast twitch fibers, high and low reps, as well as fast and slow velocities work to train the gluteus maximus. The take home message here is that you should train the glutes both ways to fully develop capacity. It is also important to get proper technique down when doing these exercises.
Finally, be sure to align the goal of the training with the desired outcome (e.g., hypertrophy, power, weight loss, fitness, performance).
Glute Activation Facts:
In a comprehensive review of literature, Chris Beardsley cites muscle activation studies (EMG) to support the why behind the “do.” If you don’t love science, you may pass the educational pain, and go directly to the exercises.
1. Gluteus maximus EMG amplitude is higher when muscle fibers are shorter (in full hip extension compared to flexion, in hip abduction compared to neutral, in hip external rotation compared to neutral, and in posterior pelvic tilt compared to anterior pelvic tilt). Exercises producing the greatest gluteus maximus EMG amplitude will likely be those that are hardest when the muscle is short (pull-throughs, glute bridges, hip thrusts, horizontal back extensions).
Key Point: Whether you’re squatting, deadlifting or performing hip thrusts, this is one of the reasons I am always cuing, “Get your hips through!” — which indicates that the hips should be fully extended at end ROM.
2. Gluteus maximus EMG amplitude is lower in combined hip extension and knee extension movements when compared to isolated hip extension movements. The most effective exercises for the gluteus maximus likely involve hip extension without simultaneous knee extension, but this remains to be confirmed by future studies. One is not better, but we can certainly say they are different. Do both!
1. Olympic (Oly) Bar Hip Lift
At the top of the movement, as the hips are lifted, fully extend the hips. Use less load if necessary to attain full hip extension.
Following are 3 important tips that ensure optimal execution at the top of the Oly Bar Hip Lift to augment glute and core activation:
- Keep the torso flat (not arched)
- Maintain a slight neck flexion (not neutral)
- Establish a forward eye gaze (not upward)
- Maintain a slight posterior pelvic tilt by tightening your glutes; do not let your ribs flair; avoid excessive lumbar lordosis/excessive arching of the low back.
- Maintain these key performance tips through the movement and you’ll also experience less potential for low back discomfort or injury.
Note that the hip lift can also be done by anchoring bands across the hips. This is my favorite variation since the load can be maximized at the top of the movement, because of the increasing stretch/load provided by the band.
FYI, one study showed that the gluteus maximus EMG amplitude is higher in the barbell hip lift than in the barbell back squat, when using the same relative loads in resistance-trained females. Among hip thrust variations, the standard barbell hip lift produces the highest mean and peak gluteus maximus EMG amplitudes.
Bottom line, it’s a great exercise and takes the knee out of the equation to target the glutes more effectively and is a blessing for those who want to train the hips but have knee issues that prevent them from aggressively training the glutes by flexing/extending the knee in compound exercises (e.g., squats, leg presses).
2. Uni-lateral Oly Bar Hip Lift
Be sure to follow all of the key tips found under the Oly Bar Hip Lift (bilateral). Position the supporting leg to an optimal point of balance. The extremely difficult Unilateral Oly Bar Hip Lift variation can also be done by supporting the lifted leg (non supporting) on a box. Adding an additional point of contact regresses the exercise, making it less difficult to execute. Difficulty can be increased in either variation by simply increasing the load/resistance. At the top of the movement, as the hips are lifted, fully extend the hips. Use less load if necessary to attain full hip extension.
FYI…Studies have shown that gluteus maximus EMG amplitude is lower than quadriceps EMG amplitude in the back squat, suggesting that the squat is primarily a quadriceps exercise. A wider squat stance can help to increase gluteus maximus EMG amplitude, as does sitting back. Despite claims to the contrary, deeper squats do not increase gluteus maximus EMG amplitude when using the same relative load, though risk of injury might go up for some people, dependent on stabilizing capability, mobility and body type. This is why I love hip lifts!
Note: this same movement can be performed by placing a COREFX Strength Band across the hips and anchoring at both ends.
3. Banded Deadlift with COREFX Strength Band
Why I love this exercise! Generally, for example, the top of a deadlift movement, when the hips should be fully extended, is not effectively resisted when using free weights. By adding a banded load–stabilization requirements are increased, and the movement is fully resisted through the final and full degrees of hip extension. This exercise rates 5-star for sure!
Drop the band over the bar, set your hands at normal deadlift width, load the hamstrings by pushing back/shins vertical; keep the back set neutral and avoid rolling the shoulders in throughout the lift. The motion can be repeated from the floor, or from knee height and can be done slow or fast. Always work slow and controlled when pulling the bar from the ground to knee height. If you want to work quickly, let the bar clear the knees and then explode to full hip extension. See video clip progression. Be sure to “lock out” (contract) with the glutes and keep the ribs from flaring (contract the anterior core) at the top of the movement. Avoid any excessive movement of the shoulders posterior or hips anterior. Don’t lose your core brace and avoid hyperextending the low back by activating the glutes.
4. Box Step Up with COREFX Weighted Vest
What most people don’t do well on this version of the box step up is to establish a high degree of knee and hip flexion, and an upright stance (shoulders over hips). Adding external load using a weight vest allows you to increase time under tension/load, as well as using the box to create an effective degree of flexion at the knee and hip (ROM and mobility). Both variables, load and mobility, can help target the desired training outcome.
Also, note that the last few reps of the exercise demonstrate an optional increased movement speed by adding a power component where the athlete drives (propulsion) off of the box, into a controlled landing/lowering phase. Maintain an upright stance throughout the repetitions.
Check out this quick video that includes all 4 glute exercises listed above!
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Douglas Brooks, MS, Exercise Physiologist, Director of Education for COREFX, is a former-Ironman® triathlete and currently directs Athlete Conditioning for Sugar Bowl Ski Academy where he works with elite junior and professional athletes. Douglas was inducted into the U.S. National Fitness Hall of Fame and has been honored by Can-Fit-Pro as the International Presenter of the Year. Coach Brooks is the author of numerous training books, and most recently, was the recipient of the IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Award.