“Don’t judge a person’s strength by looking at their arms. Look at their butt!”
Your gluteal muscles, or simply glutes, are one of your largest and strongest muscle groups. The glutes have long been eye-catching symbols of youth, virility, and also – strength. Since the glutes sit at the center of your body, they are involved in most athletic endeavors you undertake on two feet.
In humans, and in contrast to all our four-legged friends, the glutes have grown big and strong to support our upright bodies and way of moving. Comically, your butt is much of what makes you human.
In this article, you will learn how to train your glutes effectively. From glute muscle anatomy, to the most efficient exercises for building bigger glute muscles and power. And then we’ll put it all together into one effective glute workout.
Glute Muscle Anatomy
While your buttocks are made up of many muscles, the largest of them are the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.
- Gluteus maximus is the largest single muscle belly in the human body. It has a wide origin, from the side of your tailbone up to your iliac bone (a pelvis bone), and inserts into the iliotibial band on the outside of your thigh, as well as on the back of your femur (thigh bone). Gluteus maximus is the largest and outermost glute muscle, and your primary hip extensor.
- Gluteus medius is about half the size of gluteus maximus, and mostly located underneath it. It originates from your iliac bone and inserts on the side of the head of the femur. Gluteus medius stabilizes your pelvis, but can also extend, abduct, and rotate your hip.
- Gluteus minimus is the smallest of your three gluteal muscles and is located underneath the gluteus medius. It originates from your iliac bone and inserts on the front of the head of your femur. Gluteus minimus aids gluteus medius in stabilizing the pelvis while standing on one leg, but it can also abduct and internally rotate your hip.
The remaining muscles on the back of your hip are small (of size with gluteus minimus or smaller) and deeply located, and include the piriformis, quadratus femoris, obturator internus and externus, and the inferior gemellus. While certainly not unimportant, they do however contribute little to your glutes total muscle mass, and they tend to be trained anyway by exercises that train your larger glute muscles.
How Fast Can Your Glute Muscles Grow?
Glute Exercises: The Best Exercises for Building Your Glutes
In this section, we’ll take a look at five glute exercises that complement each other in terms of which glute muscles, and also which part of the glute muscles, they target.
By putting them all together, as we’ll do in the next section, you can create a great glute workout.
1. The Squat
The squat is known as “the king of all exercises” (or queen, if you will), and when it comes to glute training, it lives up to the hype.
Squats train the glutes’ primary function of extending the hip, and it does so in a long range of motion, with high load when the glutes are at a long muscle length. All in all: a great recipe for building muscle.
A recent study showed that deep squats lead to twice the gluteus maximus hypertrophy that half squats do. So even if deep squats are harder and more technically challenging, it seems to be worth it to squat deep, even if it means that you will have to take some (or a lot) weight off of the bar.
Another recent study found that barbell squats also lead to twice the gluteus maximus growth compared to barbell hip thrusts. Although it’s worth noting that 1) there are some oddities in the study, such as very low hip thrust weights in comparison to squat weights, and 2) that particular research group has received criticism for other work.
Nonetheless, it seems that squats are good for a lot of things, including building up your glutes.
You can read a lot more about squat training in our massive guide: How to Squat: Technique, Training, and Gaining.
Looking to increase your squat strength? Check out our training program Squat Samba, in our app StrengthLog.
2. Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is probably the most heavy-duty isolation exercise for the glutes that there is. Like the squat, it primarily targets the hip extending function of the glutes, which makes up most of the glute muscle mass.
However, the hip thrust complements the squat in several ways:
- It is at its heaviest when the glutes are at a different muscle length, closer to full extension. This might provide a different growth stimulus.
- The force is projected in another direction, which might target different muscle fibers of the glutes.
- Since the glutes and other hip extensors are isolated, it might allow you to focus your attention more easily on the muscles worked, leading to greater mind-muscle connection, and as a consequence: more glute muscle growth.
While the debate over whether squats or hip thrusts is the “best” exercise for the glutes, we can probably safely assume that both are great glute exercises. And, by training both, you get the best of both worlds.
3. Romanian Deadlift
Finally, for a third way of working the hip extending muscle fibers of your gluteus maximus, we have the Romanian deadlift. Once again, this exercise will complement the previous two, this time by offering peak resistance in yet another angle and muscle length.
Like in the squat, the glutes are working their hardest in a lengthened position, close to the bottom of the movement. But in the Romanian deadlift, they will work at a slightly different angle.
Also, just like in the hip thrust, the Romanian deadlift might make it easier for you to find and maintain contact with your glute muscles, creating the “squeezing” feeling in your muscle that is so often sought after by bodybuilders.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
Let’s continue our European tour and move from Romania to Bulgaria! The Bulgarian split squat is not only a great quad exercise but also a great exercise for several of your gluteus muscles.
While you are still performing hip extension in this exercise and thus targeting the gluteus maximus, you will also target your gluteus medius and minimus (as well as the other smaller hip muscles) which have to work hard to stabilize your pelvis when you are standing on one leg. This is done in a dynamic motion, which is probably also beneficial for your athletic ability. Also, since this exercise is done one side at a time, you have the opportunity to address any potential side-to-side strength imbalances.
Once again you are working in a long range of motion under load, which is great for muscle growth.
5. Banded Side Kicks
After a lot of hip extension work, it is time for some finishing touches. The banded side kick targets your hip abductors, namely your gluteus medius and minimus (among others).
Stand on one leg, loop a light elastic band around your ankles, hold on to something for balance if necessary, and kick away out to your side.
In this exercise, the muscles on one side of your body are working dynamically when lifting your leg against the band, but the muscles on the other side aren’t resting either. They are working isometrically, keeping your pelvis stable during the exercise, just like in single-leg exercises like lunges or Bulgarian split squats.
Glute Workout for Muscle Growth and Strength
So what does an effective glute workout look like?
Building on the exercises above, let’s construct an example workout, drawing on several principles:
- The exercises target all glute muscles, in several angles which means a majority of their different muscle fibers will be targeted.
- The load and rep range covers a wide spectrum, ranging from low-ish reps with heavy weights, all the way up to high reps with light weights.
- The force curve will be slightly different for each exercise. Meaning, that peak resistance will occur at slightly different positions and muscle lengths.
This workout is aimed at both strength and muscle growth, and you will be able to get good results of both with it.
Let’s have a look at the workout, and then go through why it looks like it does.
StrengthLog’s Glute Workout
- Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 12 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets x 15 reps/side
- Banded Side Kick: 3 sets x 20 reps/side
This glute workout is available for free in the StrengthLog workout app.
This glute workout begins with three working sets of squats. These heavy sets will serve as the strength-foundation of your glute training, and your primary aim for these sets will be progressive overload. That is a fancy way of saying: ”try to lift more weight for the same number of reps.”
If you hit three sets of five reps, you increase the weight for the next workout and stick with that until you can once again make 3 x 5.
You will not be able to increase the weight each week, but keep at it, and try to increase by a rep here and there (for example getting 5, 4, 4 instead of 5, 4, 3 last time) until you get all 3 x 5. Use our workout log to keep track of your performance.
After the squat, it is time to move on to the other popular exercise for gluteus maximus, namely barbell hip thrusts. It will target your glutes slightly differently, and at the same time giving you a little better chance of focusing on the mind-muscle contact. You will be using slightly higher rep ranges (8’s instead of 5’s) in this exercise to better accommodate chasing the “pump” in your muscles, but your goal should still be to increase your training weight in this exercise as often as you can.
Next up comes the Romanian deadlift. This is another exercise that targets the majority of your glute muscle fibers whose primary function is hip extension. But in this exercise, the force curve and direction is again slightly varied compared to squats and hip thrusts. This is another exercise where you have a good chance of focusing on muscle contact and squeezing your glutes in each rep. Use lifting straps if necessary, the point is to train your glutes, not your grip.
By now we’ve hit all the hip extending glute muscle fibers hard with three exercises that all target them slightly differently. The fourth exercise is the Bulgarian split squat, and while it will add to the hip extension work, it will also add the challenge of stabilizing your pelvis while standing on one leg. That is going to work your gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and your other small hip muscles, and it is also an important athletic ability.
Finally, you’ll target the hip abductors and stabilizers, gluteus medius and minimus, with one additional exercise: the banded side kick. Use a light band around your ankles, hold on to something for balance if necessary, and pump out the last of your muscles using high reps.
How often can you train this same glute workout?
For a workout with this volume and intensity, once a week is probably about right for most of you. Maybe repeat it something like every 5–7 days, depending on your schedule and how recovered you are, and when you believe that you can beat your previous weights.
An alternative is to do this workout once a week, but do a lighter second workout in between each workout. In the lighter workout, you can reduce both volume and weights, and maybe switch or exclude some exercises, so that you are refreshed and helping your recovery along the way, rather than adding to the burden.
And that’s it! Hopefully, by now you have a good grasp of your glute muscle anatomy, what some effective glute exercises are, and how you can combine them into one awesome glute workout.
Please feel free to download the StrengthLog workout app to train this workout (and many more!) and track your gains. Remember to try and increase the weight you are using in each exercise to ensure your continued muscle growth and strength gains.
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Do you want to read more of our muscle group training guides? You find them all here.