Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
The gluteal group is responsible for almost every explosive move you can think of — sprinting, jumping, cutting side to side, throwing, swinging and climbing — and is a huge player when it comes to gym training.
“Glutes are, in my opinion, the most athletic muscle group in the body,” says Bret Contreras, Ph.D., CSCS, author of Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2013) and creator of this workout. “They are helpful in sports like powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and strongman, and [they] are involved heavily in deadlifting, squatting, pulling and loaded carries.”
Athletic or not, most of our glutes are sleeping on the job, falling into laxity because of inactivity and sedentary jobs. “The glutes do not fire hard during everyday movement, not even when climbing stairs,” Contreras says. “They need properly loaded or explosive actions to highly activate.”
Getting your glutes to wake up and pay attention before training is imperative, according to Contreras. “During the day, do glute squeezes — squeezing your butt as hard as you can for 10 seconds when you’re waiting in line at the store, for example,” he says. “At the gym, do low-load glute moves like 1980s vintage Jane Fonda stuff — glute bridges, quadruped hip extensions, lying clams and the like — as part of your warm-up.” And, knowing what you’re thinking right now, Contreras adds: “Don’t laugh; top athletes and Olympians are doing these moves during their warm-ups.”
Once warm, awake and on fire, your glutes are more apt to engage when called on rather than handing the job over to your quads and back muscles. “You don’t have to go super heavy with glutes, but you do have to push it hard,” Contreras says. “No study has shown a difference in heavy weight versus high reps on muscular gains, as long as the sets are carried out close to muscular failure.”
Kick your own ass with this workout created by Contreras, and finally build some back you can brag on.
Light Goblet Squat (Not shown here, see heavy goblet squat for form): Use a moderate weight and focus on complete range of motion to loosen joints and prep your posterior chain.
Walking Knee Hug: Lift one knee to hip height and pull it to your chest with both hands. Release, take a step forward and repeat with the opposite leg.
Mini-Band Lateral Walk: Secure a resistance-band loop around your thighs just above the knee. Take small steps, walking laterally in both directions.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Lie faceup with your feet flat and your knees bent. Position a barbell across your hipbones and hold it with both hands just outside your hips. Drive through your heels and explosively thrust your hips toward the ceiling until they align with your knees and your shins are perpendicular to the ground. Squeeze your glutes hard, then slowly lower to the start. Touch down lightly, then go right into your next rep.
Heavy Goblet Squat
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet turned out, and hold a dumbbell vertically with your hands cupping the top end. Your elbows should be down, forearms hugging the dumbbell, torso vertical. Bend your knees and hips simultaneously and squat straight down as low as possible, tracking your knees over your toes or pressing them outward, if need be, while keeping your torso upright. Drive through your heels and rise explosively up to full extension.
Dumbbell Alternating Reverse Lunge
Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step backward with one foot and bend both knees to lunge down, lowering until your rear knee lightly touches the floor. Stand back to the start and continue, alternating sides.
Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold a set of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing your legs. Keeping a slight bend in your knees, hinge at the hip and maintain a straight back as you lower the weights as far as you can without breaking form. Reverse the move and rise quickly, squeezing your glutes and pressing your hips forward as you come to standing.
Standing Cable Hip Abduction
Attach an ankle cuff to a low cable pulley and stand sideways to the machine with the cuffed leg on the outside. Place one hand on the machine for stability and keep your hips square as you slowly raise the outside leg up and to the side as high as you can. Lower slowly to the start and repeat right away. Do all reps on one side before switching.