The 11 Best Glute Exercises Backed By Science

best glute exercises

Hop onto social media, and you will see hundreds of lower body and glute exercises, making choosing the right ones difficult.

As a strength coach rooted in science, I can teach you which glute exercises are worth doing and which are a waste of time.

The 11 best glute exercises based on science:

  • Step Up
  • Lateral Step Up
  • Crossover Step Up
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Barbell Hip Thrust
  • Belt Squat
  • Split Squat
  • In-Line Lunge
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Squat

I’ll explain each movement below to educate you on how they build the glutes and how to perform the movements properly so that you can start integrating them into your workouts.

If you want to grow your glutes and leg strength, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.

Glute Muscle Overview

The glutes comprise three muscles, each responsible for specific joint actions and each isolated slightly differently than the next.

Understanding these three glute muscles and how they function helps you build stronger glutes, improve performance, and decrease the risk of injury.

Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three gluteal muscles. This muscle is responsible for extending (opening) the hips and is trained whenever the hip extends under loads (deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, squats, hip thrusts, etc).

Gluteus Medius

The glute medius is a smaller muscle of the gluteal group and resides underneath the larger gluteus maximus muscle towards the lateral aspect (on the side) of the hips. 

This muscle is responsible for hip abduction, which occurs when the legs move away from the body’s center (such as side-lying leg lifts or seated hip abductions). 

The glute medius is also active during step-ups and lunges (especially crossover variations) as it stabilizes the hip.

Gluteus Minimus

The gluteus minimus is the smallest glute muscle underneath the gluteus medius and maximus (the deepest glute muscle of the three).

This smaller muscle helps support the medius and maximus and is trained with the same exercises as for maximus or medius movements.

Related Article: How to Grow Your Glutes (Backed By Science)

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Benefits Of Glute Exercises

The benefits of glute exercises include:

Improved Athletic Performance

Research shows that stronger, more muscular glutes can help improve performance in running, jumping, and explosive sporting movements. Training your glutes is necessary to improve your athletic performance and decrease the risk of injury associated with sports.

Decrease Ankle, Knee, Hip, and Back Pain

The glutes are a large muscle group that helps support the healthy function of the lower body joints (knees, hips, and even ankles). When the glutes are weak and unstable, they have a ripple effect on the joints below and above them. This cascading effect can create joint issues and lower back pain.

Research has shown that with glute training, subjects reported less low back pain and joint issues, making glute training a very effective way to address lower body joint and lower back health concerns.

Provides More Shape To The Lower Body

The glutes are the largest muscle of the body, so increasing the muscular size and strength of the glutes will give your legs and hips shape and structure. 

If you want to improve the glutes’ development from an aesthetic point of view, include the 11 exercises below in your training program.

Related Article: 14 Gluteus Minimus Exercises to Grow Your Glutes

11 Best Glute Exercises

The following are the 11 best glute exercises based on EMG findings (electromyography measures muscle activity related to the neuromuscular system).

1. Step Up

The step-up is one of the most effective glute exercises you can do. You can perform this movement with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or specialty bars. 

I prefer either the barbell or the safety squat bar, as this allows you to load heavier weights, train the glutes harder, and reduce the limitations of the upper body when gripping or holding dumbbells or kettlebells.

How To Do It

  • Load a barbell in a squat rack, and place a box or step-up platform in front of the rack.
  • With the step-up height set so your knee is bent at 90 degrees (or slightly more), rack the weight on your back and stand in front of the box.
  • Place your right foot on the box, ensuring your toes and heels are in the center of the box, and then step up, establishing control at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly step down, keeping your foot on the box and controlling the movement until you softly land on the ground and repeat.

Pro Tip

Focus on keeping your heel down as you stand up, as this will help reinforce driving down through the entire foot to express more strength.

2. Lateral Step Up

The lateral step-up is similar to the regular step-up, except you start at the side of the box and step up laterally. Adding the side step onto the box increases the demands on the glutes as they need to help stabilize the hips and pelvis.

How To Do It

  • With a barbell loaded on your back and a box to your side (90 degrees), place the foot closest to the box up onto the box.
  • With that foot fully planted and in the middle of the box, step up and stabilize yourself at the top without using your other leg for assistance.
  • Slowly lower back down, softly landing on the ground with your outer leg while keeping your inside foot on the box, then repeat.

Pro Tip

Before you step up, take a second to shift most of your weight to the leg on the box and minimize the loading and urge to push off the ground from your outer leg. This shift will make your glute and leg work harder.

3. Crossover Step Up

The crossover step-up is another step-up variation shown to have high levels of glute activity. This exercise is best done with dumbbells or kettlebells, as there is a balance component, and if you need to drop the loads, it is much safer to use those than a barbell on your back.

How To Do It

  • Stand beside a bench around knee height, holding dumbbells in your hands.
  • Step your outside leg up across your body, planting the foot on the bench. 
  • Push through the foot planted on the bench to stand up, and then step down on the other side of the bench.
  • Repeat this process back and forth for reps.

Pro Tip

Ensure that your torso and hips stay facing forward as you cross the leg over to step up instead of letting the body turn.

4. Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is a variation that emphasizes the glutes and the quadriceps. In this deadlift, you are using a specialty bar and not leaning as forward as you would be in a conventional deadlift (which will shift the emphasis to your glutes).

How To Do It

  • Load a trap bar with weight, and stand in the middle of the handles with your feet hip-width apart.
  • With a flat back, lean forward by pushing your hips back and softly bending the knees, then grab the handles.
  • Stand up using your legs, keeping your chest up and arms long.

Pro Tip

Keep your hips under your torso rather than let them shoot up and back behind you, helping you use your legs more rather than shifting the load to your lower back.

5. Barbell Hip Thrust 

Hip thrusts provide more glute activation than deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts, with less low back stress.

Ideally, you would do these with a barbell or machine, as you can load the glutes with heavy loads and train them with high intensity. 

You could also do dumbbell hip thrusts if you cannot access other equipment. However, I suggest you do single-leg dumbbell hip thrusts as most dumbbells are too light for both legs at once (or if they aren’t too light, they are more awkward to handle).

How To Do It

  • Load the machine or bar with weight and sit before the pad (or bench). 
  • With your feet flat on the ground and knees bent, lie back so your upper to middle back is supported on the bench/pad, with the bar in the hip crease.
  • Adjust your feet so they are hip-width apart and your knees are bent at 90 degrees once your hips are extended.
  • Push the hips up so that the torso is parallel to the ground, and squeeze the glutes.
  • Slowly lower the hips, keep tension on the glutes, and repeat.

Pro Tip

Focus on pushing through the heels rather than the toes to avoid feeling the movement in your quads rather than your glutes.

6. Belt Squat

The belt squat is a great option to decrease the stress on the back and torso but keep all the tension on the glutes (and legs). 

Unlike the back squat, there is no loading place on the spine, making this a great exercise in high volumes or with individuals who may have back concerns (or struggle to train hard and maintain good posture).

How To Do It

  • Place the belt around your waist and stand over the center of the platform so that the cable is below you.
  • With your feet slightly wider than hip-width, reach forward and straighten your arms to grab the rack release handles.
  • Unrack the weight and sit down with the legs straight and the spine neutral.
  • Sit as low as you can without your heels lifting, then stand up using your lower body.

Pro Tip

You can play around with a stance. Some people find taking a wider stance with the toes turned outward (external rotation) helps shift more loading into the glutes.

7. Split Squat

The split squat is a lower body exercise that has you stand with your feet split (one in front of the other) and descend into a kneeling position. This one-leg squat (back leg still takes on some loading) targets the glutes and quads. 

How To Do It

  • Take a half-kneeling position; your front foot should be flat on the ground, and your back toes should be planted with the heel lifted off the ground. 
  • Note where your feet are, as this will be the width of your stance when you perform the movement.
  • Now, unrack a barbell from a squat rack, place it on your back, and set your stance.
  • Lower your back knee to the ground, and then stand back up, making sure to place more of the loading and muscle demands in your front leg.

Pro Tip

You can also elevate the front foot if you want more range of motion, which can help recruit the quads and glutes if you cannot access heavier loads.

8. In-Line Lunge

The in-line lunge is similar to the split squat; however, the feet are not hip-width apart but only half that distance. This exercise is an excellent option if you’re bored of regular lunges or split squats and need more variety in your training.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet together, and place one foot directly behind you 2-3 feet. 
  • Lower yourself into a lunge position with the back knee on the ground and the front foot flat.
  • Stand up to the start position and repeat, using external loads like dumbbells or barbells.

Pro Tip

Focus on keeping the hips forward and feeling the glute on the lead leg stretch as you lower yourself. If you struggle with that, ensure you are not putting your weight on your rear leg, and make sure the knee is over the front toe (not too far inside or outside).

9. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is similar to the split squat. However, the back leg is propped up onto a bench or pad to place more loading on the front glute and quads. You can do this with a barbell or with dumbbells.

The key here is to find a variation where you are not limited by balance and more by leg strength. 

The Hatfield Bulgarian split squat is an excellent option for those who lack leg strength and balance or want to attack leg strength without needing balance to stop them.

How To Do It

  • Stand in front of a bench or BSS pad, making sure that when your back leg is on the pad, it is not too high (if you cannot touch your knee to the floor as you squat down, it is too high).
  • With a barbell on the back, walk out and place your back leg on the pad, then slowly lower yourself down, ensuring your lead foot is flat on the ground. If it is not, adjust the foot as needed.
  • Stand up using the front leg, and slowly lower yourself back down.

Pro Tip

Doing these assisted (Hatfield or holding the squat rack with one hand and a dumbbell in the other) is not just for beginners. I find assisted BSS is also excellent for muscle growth for advanced lifters.

10. Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise to develop muscle across the entire backside of the body (hamstrings, glutes, and back). If you really want to smoke the glutes, try doing these from a deficit.

How To Do It

  • Stand in front of a loaded barbell (that is on the ground) with the shins 1-2” away from the bar and the feet pointed forward at hip-width apart.
  • With a flat back, push the hips back and bend forward to grab the bar with a double overhead or mixed grip (slightly wider than shoulder-width apart).
  • Stand up using your hamstrings, quads, and glutes until fully vertical.
  • Lower the weight by pushing the hips back and allowing the torso to lean forward (back remains flat) until you reach the floor.

Pro Tip

If you don’t feel your hamstrings or glutes, focus on lowering the bar slowly (3-4 seconds) on the way down. The lowering portion of the movement is called the eccentric phase and is a powerful muscle-building stimulus.

11. Squat

The squat is a lower body movement that targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. While it isn’t the highest in terms of glute isolation, it allows you to build high amounts of muscle tissue across the entire lower body, which is crucial for many people who just lack muscle size. 

Too often, people try to build their glutes using only isolation movements, which limits how much weight they can lift. Including squats provides an avenue to target the glutes with heavier weights and a new stimulus for growth.

How To Do It

  • Place a barbell in the rack set at chest height, and then position yourself under the bar so the barbell is on the upper back.
  • Step out of the rack 2-3” and stand with your feet slightly wider than the hip, toes slightly pointed out, and the chest up.
  • Sit down by bending the knees and hips, keeping the lower back and feet flat.
  • Once your hips sit below parallel to the floor, stand up by pushing through the middle of your foot.

Pro Tip

The deeper you squat, the more the hips will flex (go into deeper degrees of bending), which forces the glute to work harder as they must extend the hips more during deeper squats than shallow squats.

Related Article: Best Dumbbell Glute Exercises

Sample Glute Program For Bigger & Stronger Glutes

sample glute program for bigger & stronger glutes

Below is a 3-day-a-week glute program that you can do for 4-8 weeks. This program includes the exercises above and other movements to develop the hamstrings and quadriceps (as many glute exercises are also influential muscle builders). 

Note: These workouts are not found in the Fitbod app as they are written below; however, you can use this sample training plan as a template to create your own workouts within the app. All exercises are in the Fitbod app, complete with how-to videos. 

Day 1

  • Conventional Deadlift: 3 sets of 10 reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
  • Belt Squat: 4 sets of 10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Walking Lunge: 3 sets of 10 steps per leg, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Leg Extensions: 4 sets of 15 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets

Day 2 

  • Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets of 10 reps per leg, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
  • Hip Thrust: 4 sets of 10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Hack Squat: 4 sets of 10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Lying Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 15 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets

Day 3

  • Trap Bar Deadlift: 3 sets of 10 reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
  • Step Up: 3 sets of 10 reps per leg, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Belt Squat: 4 sets of 20 reps, resting 1-2 minutes between sets
  • Hip Thrust: 4 sets of 20 reps, resting 1-2 minutes between sets

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.