Best Exercises to Target the Glutes

Quadruped Hip Extensions

Paige Waehner

If you've wondered what the best butt exercises are, you're not alone: The American Council on Exercise recruited some very smart scientists from the University of Wisconsin to find out. ACE and the university studied 6 men and 6 women, ages 18 to 25, while they performed a variety of exercises to find out which ones most effectively work the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the hamstrings (the major muscles of the fanny). By using EMG electrodes to measure muscle activation, the scientists found out the best exercises to target the largest muscles of the body: the glutes. You can view these exercises incorporated into a lower body workout in this new Best Butt Workout.

Best Butt Exercise

Quadruped hip extensions (or a bent-leg raise while on all-fours) came out on top for targeting the gluteus maximus. This exercise really allows you to contract the muscles of the glutes. How to do it:

  1. On hands and knees, keep the abs tight as you lift one leg up, knee at a 90-degree angle throughout the movement.
  2. Keep lifting the leg until the bottom of the foot faces the ceiling and the hip, thigh and knee are all in alignment and parallel to the floor.
  3. Don't arch the back and keep the neck straight.
  4. Lower back down and repeat for all reps before switching sides.
  5. Add ankle weights for more intensity or, as in this example, hold a light dumbbell behind the knee.
  6. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps according to your fitness level and goals.


Paige Waehner

Lunges came out on top in targeting the gluteus medius and, to a lesser extent, the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings. There are so many versions of lunges, you're certain to find one you can tolerate, if not fall in love with. This drop-knee version is the most basic lunge and, surprisingly, one of the harder versions. Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand in a split stance, with feet about 3 feet apart. You want both knees to be at about 90-degree angles at the bottom of the movement, so adjust accordingly.
  2. Hold weights in each hand (or place a barbell behind the neck) for added intensity.
  3. Bend the knees and lower the back knee toward the floor, keeping the front heel down and the knee directly over the center of the foot.
  4. Keep the torso straight and abs in as you push through the front heel and back to starting position.
  5. Don't lock the knees at the top of the movement.
  6. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps according to your fitness level and goals.

Step Ups

Paige Waehner

Step Ups are one of those exercises that seem like a good idea, but you're never exactly sure if you're doing anything. Worry no more because Step Ups really do work the glutes and the hamstrings. The trick is to make sure you're stepping up onto a platform that's high enough to really activate those muscle fibers, about 15 inches high should be good. Holding dumbbells can add some intensity to the movement.

How to:

  1. Stand behind a 15-inch platform or step, weights in hand.
  2. Place the right foot on the step, transfer the weight to the heel and push into the heel to come onto the step.
  3. Concentrate on only using the right leg, keeping the left leg active only for balance.
  4. Slowly step back down and repeat all reps on the right leg before switching to the left.
  5. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps according to your fitness level and goals.


Ball Squats
Paige Waehner

In the study, scientists found that squats are an overall great exercise for activating the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius. While they weren't the number one exercise for muscle activation, they still remain my personal favorite for overall lower body work.

Squats are a great exercise for the glutes, hips, and thighs and adding a ball to the move can add great support for the back while allowing you to get into perfect squat position to protect the knees. How to do it:

  1. Stand with about hip or shoulder-width apart and place an exercise ball behind your lower back and against a sturdy wall for support.
  2. If you choose to hold weights, you can keep them at your sides, hold them just over the shoulders or prop them on the upper thighs.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat, keeping the knees in line with the toes.
  4. Lower down as far as you can (but no lower than 90 degrees) and push into the heels to go back to starting position.
  5. Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.


  • Keep your knees in line with your toes.
  • Press through the heel of your foot as you push up from the squat.
  • Avoid letting the knee bend over the toe.

Four-Way Hip Extensions

Another surprise in this study was the multi-hip (or four-way) extension. This exercise (which involves that weird looking machine on a platform at the gym) targets the hamstrings as well as the gluteus maximus and medius. This machine can be a little strange to use, so get a trainer or helpful gym-goer to help you with the adjustments if you need to. How to do it:

  1. Stand on the platform, sideways to the roller pad and make sure the pad is up high.
  2. Swing the inside leg over the roller pad so that it's resting on the back of the thigh.
  3. Hold onto the handles to help keep your balance, and keep the abs in and the torso straight.
  4. Press the roller pad down with your thigh until the heel is out behind you (knee slightly bent)
  5. Don't arch the back!
  6. Slowly bring the leg back and repeat all reps before switching sides.
  7. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps according to your fitness level and goals.

One-Legged Squat

Paige Waehner

One-legged squats were also performed and showed some nice muscle activation in the gluteus maximus and medius, although not a whole lot for the hamstrings. Like lunges, there are a number of ways you can do one-legged squats. In this version, a ball is used to provide back support, but it also adds quite a balance challenge, so you may want to keep one foot resting lightly on the floor the first time you try this exercise.

How to:

  1. Stand with the ball positioned behind your back against the wall.
  2. Lift left leg up (or rest the toe lightly on the floor) and bend the right knee into a squat, keeping the knee behind the toe. You may need to reposition your right foot in a different place to get your balance.
  3. Push into the heel to come up and repeat all reps on the same leg before switching sides.
  4. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps and hold weights for added intensity, if desired.

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