It may seem like every “perfect butt” on social media comes with the tag line “the squat booty.” But, in reality, this is not actually the case.
No matter how many squat reps you do, you’re only working your glutes from one angle. Plus, the main muscles at work when you squat are your quads, so if making your thighs thicker isn’t your goal, this exercise is probably not where you should be placing all your energy and focus.
There are three different gluteal muscles to consider: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. “Growing and strengthening these muscles are great for giving women an ‘on-trend’ shape, but it’s more important to build these muscles for a pain-free lifestyle,” explains Flo Master, aka Jerry Randolph, USA Boxing Certified coach and founder of FightCamp, who turned to martial arts after a career as a dancer for Usher, Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith.
He says strong gluteal muscles help to:
- Prevent back injuries. When you’ve got to pick up something heavy, like a case of water or a small child, if you bend over from the hip and pick up the heavy object, you risk straining your back muscles. If you bend the knees and pick up the heavy object using your leg and gluteal muscles, you take that risk of injury away.
- Strengthen and stabilize the pelvis. A stable pelvis helps to decrease injury, too.
- Improve workouts and sports performance. People who participate in sports like running, football, boxing, kickboxing, and rock climbing all benefit from having a strong butt or gluteal muscles.
“Each of the three gluteal muscles must be targeted from multiple angles because they are activated by more than just forward motion,” he says. “For example, the gluteus medius is located more on the side of the butt and is strengthened by exercises that include lateral (to the side) movement. If you don’t work the gluteals from different angles, they will be unbalanced, and you can risk injury.”
As such, there are several glute-isolation exercises you can do to get the booty of your dreams. If you practice a few of the following exercises together — and each of these uses not only the gluteal muscles, but also muscle of the core, back and legs — you can round your glutes from every angle while keeping your legs lean.
And remember: In order to effectively grow your glutes while simultaneously trimming your legs, it’s important to use a variety of exercises that tackle these regions. If you use the same exercise every time, your body will get used to it and hit a plateau.
Hip thrusts are one of the best exercises to isolate your gluteus maximus, as this muscle is activated by the up and down motion of the hips. They can be slightly awkward to perform in public at first, but just remember that they are leading you to a firm and toned backside.
Sit on the floor and rest your upper back against a bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest a weight (either a barbell or dumbbell) across your pelvis and brace your abs. Lower your hips down and then thrust them upward toward the ceiling, pushing your feet into the floor and your upper back into the bench. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and repeat.
To grow your glutes the fastest, lift the heaviest weight that you can for the following sequence: Start with two sets of 10 reps, increase the weight and do two sets of eight reps, and then increase the weight one last time and do one set of six reps. You can use a dumbbell or barbell for weight.
Randolph’s pro tip: Dig your heels into the ground to feel deeper work.
Single-Leg Hip Bridge
Bridges are wonderful for building your glute muscles while toning your hamstrings. Similar to the hip thrust, this exercise also works the gluteus maximus. “Since you are balancing on one leg, you are also activating the gluteus minimus, which is one of the stabilizer muscles,” says Randolph. “This muscle helps to keep your leg extended straight versus falling off to the side.”
Lie down with your knees bent and both feet resting on the floor. Straighten your left leg and flex your foot toward the ceiling. Raise your hips up off the ground as high as you can and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Lower your hips down for a second and then push them back up to repeat.
Perform 15 reps on each side. For best results, do four sets of 15.
Randolph’s pro tip: Pull your belly button into your spine to engage your core.
“Many people consider the Romanian Deadlift to be the king of butt-building exercises,” says Randolph. “It’s that good. This exercise primarily works the gluteus maximus, but also works many other muscles that help to strengthen the whole lower body and back.”
Stand with a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your knees should be slightly bent. Bend forward at your hip joint, keeping your arms straight and your hands close to your legs. Lower the weights as far down your leg as you can without rounding your back or bending your knees any more than they were at your starting position. To return to the starting position, push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to pull yourself up.
Randolph’s pro tip: Keep your core engaged, your heels heavy on the ground, and perform the movement slowly and with control.
Banded Fire Hydrant
Fire hydrants have one of the most obnoxious names, considering they’re named after the position a male dog assumes when going to the bathroom — but they’re so great for your glutes! “This is one of my favorite exercises,” admits Randolph. “Why? Because you are opening your leg out to the side, and you are activating the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius adds an excellent, round shape to the butt.” They also help tighten that little trouble spot on the outer thigh.
Begin on all fours. Place a loop band above your knees. Using your outer thigh and glute, lift one knee out to the side. Keep your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Lower your leg and repeat for a total of 20 reps. Then repeat on the other side.
For best results, do four sets of 20 reps on each leg.
Randolph’s pro tip: Perform this exercise slowly to feel the burn deeply.
Rainbows are another glute exercise that tone the outside of your glutes and thighs. They are known for lifting up the bottom of your butt and toning your inner thighs, as well. Rainbows are super efficient because they tackle the hardest areas all at once.
“This is a popular Instagram model exercise right now, and it does work,” confirms Randolph. “It works because the leg is extended, making you rely on all gluteal muscles to perform the exercise. The lateral move to make the rainbow targets all three of the gluteals.”
Begin on all fours. Point your toes and extend your right leg behind you. Raise your right leg toward the ceiling and then lower it to the floor. Raise the same leg toward the ceiling again, squeezing your glutes, and then lower it about 1 foot to the left of your kneeling leg. Bring your right leg back up to the ceiling to complete one rep.
Repeat 20 times. For best results, do four sets of 20 on each leg. To make this exercise more challenging, you can add ankle weights.
Randolph’s pro tip: Straighten the leg by pointing the toe on the leg performing the exercise. By doing this, it helps to protect the low back. Also, don’t forget to engage your core by pulling your belly button into the back of the spine.
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