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There exists a preponderance of memes on the interwebs that highlight the glory of glutes, but our favorites are the ones that artfully reference the value of squats. You see, while we appreciate Alicia Keys crooning that her glutes are “on fiyaaaah” (Google it), we find more training wisdom in the comparisons between distance runners and sprinters, between supermodels and CrossFitters, between Miley Cyrus and anyone who has ever done squats.
That’s because squats effectively overload and therefore build and shape these muscles. But there’s more than one way to fill out those pricey yoga pants. This small array of exercises can help you build an athlete’s backside, both in form and function.
Call it the queen of all exercises. The squat has drawn a reputation as a foundational lift for good reason. Targeting the whole of your lower-body musculature, the squat also calls for a high degree of core stability and upper-body control, making it great for increasing your caloric expenditure. But where it shines as a glute builder is in the flexion that takes place at the hip. As you descend, a deep stretch is placed on your glutes, meaning that they produce a more powerful contraction on the way back up. The key is going deep. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that deep squats were up to 25 percent more effective at targeting the glutes than squats where your thighs stop at parallel. And we know what you’re thinking, but no — the same study revealed that deep squats put no more stress on the knees than partial squats.
Do it right: With your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and a loaded barbell across your back, dip your hips back — as if to sit in a chair — and descend into a deep squat. Explode out of the bottom, pressing through your heels to a full standing position.
>> To get the most of the squat, be sure you stand fully erect at the top, giving your booty a one- to two- second squeeze for good measure.
Dumbbell Walking Lunge
When people think of lunges, they typically think of how sore their quads will be the next day. This is true — lunges do make your quads sore. But surprisingly, research shows that lunges actually do more to target your hamstrings than quads. This is good news because hamstring strength is incredibly valuable when working on developing a better set of glutes. Like with the squat, a proper lunge — one that is done with a long, deliberate stride — places a good stretch on the glutes, which translates to a better contraction.
Do it right: Standing tall with a set of dumbbells held at your side, take a long stride out with your lead leg. This step should be long enough that your lower leg remains perpendicular to the ground. Press up through the heel of the lead leg and bring your feet back together briefly before stepping into your next rep with your trailing leg.
>> Focusing on pressing through your heel, rather than your toe, is a mental cue that allows you to better engage your glutes, rather than your quads, on each rep.
A big-muscle move, the Romanian deadlift remains one of the most underrated exercises in the gym. Most guys opt for conventional deadlifts because you can use more weight, but the Romanian deadlift is ideal for those concerned with building 3-D glutes. While the conventional deadlift is a full-body pull, the Romanian deadlift’s main movement is a forward hinge at the hip. This places a full stretch on the hamstrings, which actually cover the knee and the hip, zeroing in on that hard-to-reach glute-ham tie-in at the south end of your butt.
Do it right: Stand holding a barbell with a pronated (palms down) grip, your hands spaced just outside hip width, your feet narrowly spaced. With a slight bend in your knees and a flat back, bend forward at the hips, shifting your glutes backward. Allow the weight to slide down your thighs past your knees until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Pause briefly and return to the starting position.
>> As with the squat, drive your hips forward at the top to achieve and hold a peak contraction in your glutes for one to two seconds.
This dynamic exercise helps you invoke your inner Olympian while helping to produce an Olympic-worthy set of glutes. Speed skaters are basically in a modified squat for the duration of a race, forcefully pressing through their skates to generate speed on the ice. The main movers are the quads and — you guessed it — the glutes. Mimicking this movement on dry land, you can effectively hit the outer portion of both muscle groups.
Do it right: From a partial squat position, “jump” to one side by pressing through your outside foot and land softly on the other. Absorb the landing with a soft knee and quickly explode back in the opposite direction, swinging your working side arm at the same time to help generate momentum and cover more distance. Alternate sides for reps or time.
>> Your landing is as important as the takeoff on each rep. By “absorbing” your weight on each landing, you are eccentrically taxing the glutes and quads, which breaks down more muscle. (This is a good thing.)
Here’s how to put all four moves together for one challenging glutes-focused routine:
Speed Skater 6/30 seconds
Romanian Deadlift 4/8–10
Dumbbell Walking Lunge 3/20 steps
>>For each exercise (except speed skaters), select a weight that brings about positive failure at the rep range listed.
>>For the speed skaters, simply “skate” back and forth for 30 seconds. For each set, work on landing in the same two spots. Try to keep up your starting pace throughout the set.
>>Rest 60 to 90 seconds between all sets and reps.
Pro Tip: To reduce your risk of injury, spend five to 10 minutes postworkout executing some static stretches. Because healthy glutes are so crucial to so many regular activities, it’s important to invest the time into this postworkout ritual. This also facilitates recovery and may reduce the inevitable (and sometimes crippling) soreness that results from this type of direct training. Don’t stretch ahead of your workout, which can compromise strength. Instead, spend five to 10 minutes warming up with active movements such as jogging, jumping jacks and/or running in place.