Squats and lunges aren’t the only lower-body exercises that strengthen your glutes.
Have you got stuck in an exercise rut? Do your leg day workouts involve the same rotation of moves, day in and day out? Not only does that make for a less-than-motivating routine, but it also limits your progress.
That’s because our lower body – including our glutes – are made up of lots of small muscles that all need as much attention. But working through squats and leg curls will only target a handful of them. We need a plethora of exercises to pick and choose from when we get to the gym to ensure that every muscle is strengthened – and there’s not one single exercise that can get every one of them working in equal amounts.
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So, we reached out to some of the best personal trainers to find out what exercises they always perform, but don’t get the same love from other gym-goers. Add these four moves into your training and you’ll be sure to feel the difference.
Forward lunge with rotational twist
“I often see people making the mistake of neglecting unilateral work, but it’s important to minimise imbalances on both sides of your body,” says Martena David from Gymbox. Doing so means that when it comes to doing your bilateral exercises, such as squats or deadlifts, “you are not compensating one side over the other, therefore widening the gap in those imbalances and increasing your risk to injury.”
Rather than the classic lunge, which might already be part of your staple routine, David recommends this variation. “It’s a great exercise as it incorporates two out of three different planes of movement in one exercise: the sagittal plane in your lunge as well as the transverse plane in your rotational twist,” says David.
- Start standing your feet hip width apart.
- Take a step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your right knee is bent at a 90 degree angle and your thigh parallel with the floor. Make sure your full foot is pressed on the floor - don’t raise your heel or toes.
- Your left leg should aim to be 90 degrees with your shin parallel to the floor. Keep the back of your foot lifted so you’re ‘tiptoeing’ the ground.
- In this bottom position, twist your core and upper body towards the right.
- Try to keep your hips squared and straight as you twist, so you are using only your core to move.
- Reset and repeat on the opposite side.
How many reps: six to 10 on each leg, starting with body weight and adding load as you become more confident with the move.
“The side of the body so often gets underused, but we should be putting a bigger emphasis on it,” says Maria Eleftheriou from Psycle. “The clamshell is one of the best ways to do that, directly targeting the side of your glutes.”
That helps to build the abductor muscles, including the glute medius, that aren’t often strengthened in straight up and down glute workouts. “Your glutes should be strong all-over to stabilise the hips and protect the lower back and knees. The clamshell also works your obliques and the upper, outer leg muscles to build a stable body which in turn lessens the chance of sustaining injury.”
Lie on your right side with your feet and hips stacked. Rest on your forearm or on your upper arm, and bend your knees at 90 degrees with the heels staying in line with your glutes.
Keeping your abs engaged and your feet together, raise your left knee as far as you can without rotating your hip backwards, lifting your feet apart or lifting your right knee off the floor.
Hold at the top of the move for one second, squeezing your glutes, before slowly lowering to the starting position.
How many reps: 20 to 30, then repeat on the other side. You can make it harder by using a loop resistance band around both thighs, just above your knees.
“As people start to lift heavier, I find that RDLs are often left behind in favour of conventional or sumo deadlifts. These can feel ‘easier’ to lift when the load is heavier, as with these variations the weight starts on the floor,” says Elouise Millard, trainer at F45 Stratford.
That’s a mistake, she says. Just because you might need a lower weight when performing an RDL, it’s still a great move to “target the hamstrings and glutes. It’s also a great one for increasing hamstring flexibility, improving hip mobility, and strengthening the lower back. This exercise works on strengthening your whole posterior chain, so when lifted correctly and with good form, this exercise can help improve your posture too (especially if you find yourself in front of a desk all day).”
- Stand tall with a barbell or dumbbells in your hand, hanging below hip height with your arms straight.
- Hinge at the hips so the weight moves down your legs (keep a soft bend in the knees) until it reaches the middle of your shins. Keep a soft bend in your knees.
- Keep the weight close to your body as it lowers, making sure your shoulders stay pulled back by pinching between your shoulder blades.
- Once at the end of your range, squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to stand back up and repeat.
How many reps: eight if you’re focusing on strength, 10-12 if you want to build bigger muscles.
Side-lying hip raise
“The low-load glute activation exercises are often overlooked for big and exciting goals. But it’s these movements that have the most impact on the development of the glute muscle,” says Rachel Lopez, barre instructor at BLOK. So, if you really want to get better at squats or hit a new deadlift PB, it’s crucial to include the low weight-high rep work in too.
“This exercise also strengthens the hips and works your coordination as you brace your core to execute each rep,” Lopez explains, both of which help you build a record-smashing lower body. Even if huge weights aren’t the one for you, this exercise is great: “It’s low impact, which makes it more accessible for those who aren’t ready to work with weights yet, and it can be done as an activation or a finisher for any glute strength set.”
- Lying on your right side, rest on your bottom forearm with the elbow directly under the shoulder. Bend your knees so your heels are in line with your glutes and stack your hips on top of each other.
- Squeeze your glutes and core as you lift your hips off the floor.
- As you do, lift your left knee off of the right knee to open the legs while keeping your feet touching.
- At the top of the move, squeeze your glutes, then lower your knees back together and your right hip back to the floor.
How many reps: 10 reps each side if used in a strength workout, or 12-15 if using as a warm-up.
“Many people struggle to train their glutes effectively in exercises such as squats, so adding more isolation-focused moves like glute bridges into your repertoire will not only strengthen the muscles but will help to ‘activate’ them so they can be used effectively in other exercises,” says trainer Maria Binns from KOBOX. “They also strengthen other muscles in your posterior chain which is super important for overall body health to move around freely and easily and prevent or reduce back pain.”
This exercise can be performed using bodyweight alone or with a barbell over your hips. It’s the latter that Binns thinks is the most overlooked: “It can be intimidating when there is a fair bit of equipment to set up, so people tend to resort for less weighted movement or exercises that requite less effort. However, the glute bridge is actually really simple and I think people would realise this if they found the initial confidence to try it.”
- Sit on the floor with your legs and feet flat in front of you, heels a hands length away from your bum.
- Rest your upper back on a bench or box behind you and place a barbell - with or without plates - across the crease in your hips. It’s best to put a pad or towel over the barbell too.
- Hold the barbell with your hands and push through the heels to raise your hips towards the ceiling.
- Don’t arch your back as you lift, instead maintain a posterior pelvic tilt by tucking your ribs towards your pubic bone.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top then lower down.
How many reps: aim for around 10 as a beginner, and when you become more comfortable with the move play around with strength and endurance reps.
Images: Getty / Pexels
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).