Top 3 Exercises For Better Glutes: Back To Basics

Welcome to the Workout Great guide on achieving better glutes through back-to-basics exercises! 

Wether you want to achieve a peachy backside, or all the benefits that a round bottom offers, focus on foundational movements to get it right. 

As a certified personal trainer, I’ll help you overlook the flashy trends that can overshadow real simplicity, and we’ll revisit the basics of glute training.

Let’s lay a solid groundwork for lower body strength. 

Here’s what’s coming up. 

The Top 3 Exercises For Better Glutes
What’s The Point Of A Bigger, Stronger Butt? 
A Sample Workout With The Top 3 
The Secret Sauce: Step Ups 
The Lower Body Monster: Deadlifts 
The Power Generator: Hip Thrusts 
Tips To Get The Best Glute Workout 
Glute Anatomy 
Bottom Line 

The Top 3 Exercises
For Better Glutes

top 3 exercises for better glutes

The top 3 exercises for better glutes are step ups, deadlifts, and hip thrusts. 

Why are these the top 3? It’s because these exercises offer the most glute activation proven by studies. 

Muscle activation means that there is a high level of neurological stimulus that causes a contraction of the muscle. Channeling all your efforts into these movements can help you achieve a butt that will turn heads. 

Simply put, you’re squeezing every drop of growth and efficiency with these top 3 exercises for better glutes.

What’s The Point
Of A Bigger, Stronger Butt?

Fellas, big glutes are not just for the lovely ladies anymore. And ladies, thank you for showing the men how it’s supposed to be done! 

Building strong, powerful glutes benefits your: 

  • athleticism and performance
  • posture and spinal alignment
  • aesthetics and shapeliness
  • calorie expenditure and metabolic health
  • functional movement patterns
  • completion of daily tasks, like squatting to pick something up

Not only that, but a bigger and stronger backside is a serious injury preventer. Well developed glutes can: 

  • reduce lower back pain
  • enhance stability and support
  • lower the risk of hip and knee injuries
  • improve alignment and mechanics

A Sample Workout
With The Top 3

The Secret Sauce:
Step Ups 

The step up can be done virtually anywhere. If you’re at a hotel gym with nothing but a pair of dumbbells and bench, you can get an amazing butt lift. 

Ok, that might sound glamorous with all the equipment. But really, the step up can be done equipment free at your local park or backyard too. 

Why The Step Up? 

The step up foundational movements and an important way that you learn how to load the hip. 

In a 2020 study of gluteus maximus activation, step ups and 15 other glute exercises were tested. 

Step ups showed the maximum isometric contraction at over 150%. The next closest exercise was the deadlift and hip thrust with just under 100%.

It’s safe to say that because the step up had the most proven glute activation, it should be high on your list of top glute exercises. 

How To Do It

  • Begin by standing in front of a sturdy bench or step, feet hip-width apart.
  • Engage your core muscles to maintain stability throughout the exercise.
  • Place one foot firmly on the bench, ensuring the entire foot is planted.
  • With control, push through the heel of the planted foot to lift your body up onto the bench, straightening the leg.
  • Once fully extended on the bench, pause briefly at the top, then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat the movement for reps, then switch to the opposite leg. Higher reps with 8-12 reps work well. Load with dumbbells or barbell for more weight. 

For Best Results

Many times if you’re trying to step on a high bench or box, you’ll try to get up as easily as you can but sacrifice form. 

So focus on actually loading the font leg. Shift your weight and push through the front foot. It’s helpful to start on a lower step and work on the mechanics of the movement.

The Lower Body Monster: Deadlifts 

The deadlift is a lower body monster for a reason, and monsters can be scary. It targets your glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and traps, among other back muscles.

You don’t have to fear the deadlift if you follow the correct guidelines for form:

  • Bring your feet under your hips
  • Keep your thoracic spine straight
  • Engage the lats and keep head upright 
  • Pull the slack out of the bar 
  • Drive hips forward and don’t lean back excessively at lock out 

How To Do It

  • Begin by standing with your feet closer than hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and a barbell placed on the ground in front of you.
  • Hold the bar with pinky’s on the bar rings, with your leg stance between your hands.
  • Hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight and chest lifted, and bend your knees slightly to grip the barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core and glutes as you lift the barbell off the ground, driving through your heels and keeping it close to your body and shins throughout the movement.
  • As you stand up, lead with your chest and extend your hips and knees simultaneously, maintaining a neutral spine position.
  • Once fully upright, pause briefly at the top, then reverse the movement by lowering the barbell back to the starting position more freely, letting it fall. 
  • Keep the barbell close to your body as you lower it down, and avoid rounding your back.
  • Repeat for reps. 1-5 reps for strength. 5-10 reps for hypertrophy.

For Best Results

Don’t train the deadlift more than once or twice a week because it is one of the most physically and mentally draining exercises in the game.

It has a high recovery cost, and improper form can jack up your back big time. Start with less weight and master the technique before loading more.

The Power Generator:
Hip Thrusts

The hip thrust has a massive capacity for overload, which makes it great for getting stronger and explosive in athletics. 

It can also be used to initiate a solid mind muscle connection, and important concept if you can’t “feel your glutes” during a glute workout. 

Why Hip Thrusts?  

The glutes are most effective when the hips are close to full extension, which is the end position of a hip thrust.

The deadlift demonstrates a larger hip extensor than the squat, which is why it’s more optimal for glute growth.

Hip thrusts target the upper shelf of the butt very well. In addition, hip abduction exercises also target the upper glutes for that shelf look. 

For more upper glute work, check out my post on upper glute training.

How To Do It

  • Begin by sitting on the ground with your upper back resting against a sturdy bench. Position a loaded barbell or weight across your hips, and make sure it’s securely in place.
  • Bend your knees and plant your feet firmly on the ground, wider than hip-width apart, with your toes pointed outward. 
  • Engage your core and glutes as you press through your heels to lift your hips off the ground, driving them upwards until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position with control.
  • Avoid overarching your lower back or allowing your knees to collapse inward during the movement.
  • Repeat for reps. 4-8 for strength. 8-15 for hypertrophy. 

For Best Results

Have a proper set up for the hip thrust. The biggest downside to these is probably having the right equipment available, especially during a busy time at the gym. 

Find a bench and set up against a solid wall or rack, just so it doesn’t slide from the force. A bench with wheels won’t slide. 

Next you want to have a comfortable pad or towel around the bar because the bar can dig into your hips and hurt. 

Then load up the barbell, position yourself between the bench and bar, and get to it. 

Tips To Get
The Best Glute Workout

Do pre-activation movements to wake up your glutes to get them ready to work. 

Doing glute activation exercises that isolate the glutes carries over into heavier compound movements like deadlifts and hip thrusts. Pre activation also helps in other ways to workout.

Some great choices are resistance banded clamshells and resistance banded lateral walks. 

Line up your feet and stance with the muscle fibers you are targeting. 

  • For step ups you can point your toe slightly more outwards for greater gluteus maximus activation, or inward for gluteus minimus activation. 
  • For hip thrusts this means a wider stance and toes pointed out for the greatest gluteus maximus activation. 
  • For deadlift the stance variation can vary. Some do best with a narrow stance and feet pointing forward. This stance does require hamstring flexibility to avoid rounding the back. 

Train with more frequency per week. Twice a week is great, but you can get away with 2 to 4 times a week with the right selection of exercises. 

Take note that some exercises will take longer to recover than others. 

  • Deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, squats, and lunges are taxing and have a muscle stretching aspect. They take longer to recover (about 3-4 days). 
  • Hip thrusts, step ups, donkey kicks, and cable pull throughs are less taxing and have a muscle contraction/activator aspect. You can recover faster with these (about 2-3 days). 
  • Banded walks, leg lifts, leg pulses, etc are the least taxing because they have a pumping motion aspect to them. You only need 1-2 days of recovery for these. 

To get maximal glute volume, train stretcher exercises twice a week, activator exercises three times a week, and pumper exercises 4 times a week. 

Train With Periodization A.K.A. Training Variation 

Periodization is the way you organize your fitness routines in the long term. 

Overtime you want to change up your routine to add variety and muscle confusion to avoid plateau as much as possible. 

This does not mean that you’re changing up the routine once a week, because that would be horrible for strength progression. Instead, try switching up your routine every 1-3 months. 

Glute Anatomy

The glutes are made of the three muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. As you can guess from their names, they get get smaller in size. 

Gluteus Maximus:
The Booty Behemoth 

The gluteus maximus mainly performs

  • hip extension (lifting your leg in front of your body) 
  • hip adduction (lifting your leg to the side of your body) 
  • external rotation (rotation of your leg outward) 
  • posterior pelvic tilt (pelvis tilts backwards for a small butt and straight back) 

The gluteus maximus is an even split of fast and slow twitch fibers, so you can hit it with heavy loads for low reps, and moderate load for higher reps. But what are fast and slow twitch fibers? 

Skeletal muscles are made of individual muscle fibers, and those break down into fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.

Slow twitch muscle fibers are slower to fatigue and work under small, sustained movements with control. Fast twitch muscle fibers fatigue quickly but provide stronger, more powerful force movements. 

Gluteus Medius:
Hello Stability   

The gluteus medius provides major stabilization to your pelvis as you move. The main way to target the gluteus medius is:

  • Through hip abduction and pointing the toes more in 
  • Through unilateral leg movements with stabilization like split squats, walking lunges, and of course step ups. 

The gluteus medius is about half the weight of the gluteus maximus. This means the gluteus minimus makes quite a contribution to the overall size of your keister. 

The gluteus medius is a 60/40 split leaning towards slow fibers. Using higher reps for the gluteus medius makes sense because it can handle fatigue better. 

Gluteus Minimus:
Not To Be Forgotten   

The gluteus minimus is right beneath the gluteus medius. It’s a relatively small muscle, but is helpful in stabilizing your pelvis during movement. 

It’s trained well alongside the gluteus medius, and can be targeted through hip abduction with pumping exercises. For more butt gains, jump to these exercises for the gluteus minimus.

Bottom Line 

The fitness space can at times be overcrowded with complex workouts, but sometimes the most effective solutions are the simplest. 

Enter the back to basics approach with the top 3 exercises for better glutes: the step up, deadlifts, and the hip thrust. 

Try out the sample workout above, and use the tips provide for great booty gains. You’ll be setting yourself up for long-term growth and success. 

Embrace simplicity and a bigger butt! 


Shalom is a content creator, musician, and a teacher at heart. As a certified personal trainer, his goal is to encourage others to lead healthier lives and to get buff in the process!

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