The gluteus maximus muscle/s are not only pivotal for our lower body primary driver but also serve as the bedrock for stability and strength in our lower torso. Nestled in the buttocks, these robust muscles are not only the most substantial in our body but also the powerhouse for everyday movements—walking, sprinting, or leaping.
Starting some solid gluteus maximus exercises will fortify athletic prowess, uplifts posture, and slashes the chances of injury elsewhere in our physical framework. I will say that with 13 years of personal training …weak glutes are top 2 most commonly found weaknesses in folks as well as a top reason why they may be suffering from various ailments.
From back pain , tight hamstrings and poor balance…there are so many issues that stem from inactive Glutes. Your Glutes designed to be way stronger than what you may think. Let’s get more into it below.
Why do Gluteus Maximus exercises specifically?
In a perfect world , we would be moving around from sun up to sun down. These various actions in our 3 dimensional wild world kept our Glute muscles in great shape ( it also kept muscle imbalances to a minimum) centuries ago.
Now, we sit so much that our spines are starting to hunch over like we are primates (I apologize, evolution). So the quick answer is yes, we absolutely need to incorporate glute exercises to wake your butt up from deep sleep. From the Glute Maximus for powerful hip drive/ extension to the Glute Medius & Minimus for hip abduction….they need a serious wake up call.
Quick fact , nearly 3 in 5 US adults (58.9%) suffer from back pain. Most of my adult clients also suffer from tight hamstrings…which in effect pulls downwards on the hips and creates a difficult angle for your Glutes to work properly. See the domino effect here? Strengthen your Glutes in order to take pressure off your hamstrings which then can alleviate back pain.
I know many people who live active lifestyles , workout/run/hike , who still have poor Glute activation. It’s from poor body mechanics as well as the body wanting to conserve energy.
The Glutes are the largest muscle in your body so it costs the most in calories to use. Our bodies over time translate the work over to the quads often which leads to all kids of pains in the knees and hips.
So again, specific and targeted work is needed but also focusing on ways to alter commonly used movements to train the legs so that we fire those glutes is critical. Ok, let’s break down some awesome gluteus maximus exercises and some hacks below.
Mastering Squats: A Foundation for Glute Power
Squats are quintessential, not just for the gluteus maximus but for a host of lower body muscles (many folks may not be aware that there are three gluteal muscles).
For a flawless squat: stand feet apart, sink hips as if perched on a chair (so focus on bringing hips down and back) , chest proud, back straight, and weight resting on the heels. Ascend, pushing through the heels. The symbiotic work of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and core along with the Gluteus Maximus during squats bolsters overall lower body robustness and equilibrium.
Focus on controlling the weight to the bottom and not “falling into the bottom”. This will avoid back strain and keep proper core activation. Also, make sure you point your elbows toward the ground by pulling downward on the bar through the set. This keeps a good torso angle and activates the lats which increase spine stability. Lastly, use light weight…(like 30% 1RM) and try to get below knee level on your squat..yep, where it gets really hard. This is where the Glutes truly put in work. Now make sure you push mostly through mid foot and heels as you rise up from the squat.
Hip Thrusts: The Quintessential Gluteus Maximus Sculptor
Okay…welcome to Thunderdome. If you do a hip extension correctly you will feel your Glutes light up like a BBQ grill. Do it incorrectly and you will feel it in your hamstrings or lower back. This is one of THE best Gluteus Maximus exercises because of where the weight is placed and how it allows you to drive your hips up vertically.
To perform a hip thrust, position yourself against a bench, barbell at the hips, and thrust upwards, aligning knees to shoulders. This maneuver, while predominantly focusing on the gluteus maximus, also calls upon the hamstrings and core to stabilize.
Gradual increase in resistance and maintaining alignment are crucial for maximal engagement and progression in targeting the gluteus maximus.
First, buy a bar pad so you wont be focusing on the bar being painful on your hips. Next, foot placement. You need to make sure your knees are at about a 90 degree (L shape). If your feet are placed too far away then you’ll feel the work in the hamstrings. A little is okay…too much means your feet are out too far. Also, control the descent (its half the exercise). Quality reps give quality results. The goal is to be a flat table at the very top. Rise until your hips lock…no partial reps. Drill your heels into the ground to bring the hips up and don’t get up on the balls of your feet (common mistake) during the set.
Lunges: Versatility for Targeted Glute Activation
From the array of lunges—walking, reverse, or lateral—each version can be tweaked for glute emphasis. I am a firm believer in changing up the type of lunge you do often. This way you keep challenging your weak points safely. Areas like the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (found on the side of your hip to help stability) and even your core muscles as you brace for balance.
Execute a lunge by stepping forward or back, lowering until knees hit a right angle, then push up from the front heel. It’ll be known quickly that lunges are not just the gluteus maximus working. They also enlist the quadriceps and hamstrings. But that doesn’t mean you cant tweak a few things to light up your backside. Tips below.
Step one….control the entire movement. I repeat control the up phase and down phase. Too often people race through the lunges and the form suffers. Yes, it burns…hang in there. Next, lean forward through the entire set. This will put a greater emphasis on the Glutes. Don’t rock back and forth from straight torso to leaning. Lastly, really focus on how you push yourself back up from the lunge. Use your back foot as little as possible and use your front heel as much as possible. Don’t bounce your knee off the floor at the bottom of the lunge. For added spice…try a 1 sec pause at the bottom of the lunge each rep.
Glute Bridges: Isolated Gluteus Maximus Activation
Perform a glute bridge by lying flat, knees bent, and pushing up through the heels to align knees and shoulders. Targeting primarily the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and core, this exercise can be intensified with resistance bands or weights, focusing on a neutral spine to prevent strain and maximize engagement.
This movement is very similar to the hip thrust but the forgiving angle on the floor allows for folks of all ages and abilities to perform. Foot placement is also big here….make sure your feet are under your knees before beginning. Drive through your heels and the goal is to have you hips locked out at the top by squeezing your Glutes. Added difficulty depends on how much of your arms are on the floor with full arms and hands being easiest, forearms up being medium and arms up to the sky being the hardest. Progressing to one foot Glute bridges and also slowing down or pausing within the reps raises the bar. Place one foot on a Bosu ball and drive through the heel with a pause at the top….now we’re cookin’.
Deadlifts: A Composite Exercise for Glute Development
One may not think about the deadlift immediately when bringing up glute exercises but I absolutely do. Where the deadlift shines to me is that it trains our brain to properly fire the key muscles for a hip extension.
Those big 3 are the Glutes , lower back and hamstrings. Training these 3 muscles to work together will greatly help to keep your spine in good health as well as add to your athleticism. It’s the way nature intended it to be.
To properly perform a deadlift, feet apart, hinge at the hips, back flat, and lift the barbell, standing tall. Engaging multiple muscle groups, including the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and core, deadlifts require attention to form and technique, starting light and intensifying with time for safety and efficiency.
The best coaching cue I give with deadlifts is “Push the earth away from you” when you’re at the bottom of the movement. This should tell your brain to fire the right muscles to lift the weight…which are the hamstrings and Glutes. Always remember to hold your breathe at the bottom to “Lock” your core , spine and hips. Then breathe out at the top of the lift. Always keep the barbell as close to your body as you can. Having it roll away from your shins only leads to back strain. Lastly…here we are again…do your back a favor and control the weight on the way down. I’ve injured myself more than once by bringing weight down too quickly. The fast movement can deactivate your core and lead to injury. Stay safe with quality reps.
Conclusion: Enhancing Athletic Performance and Posture
The integration of these top five exercises—squats, hip thrusts, lunges, Glute bridges, and deadlifts—into your training schedule can propel you towards enhanced athletic capability, refined posture, and minimized injury risks.
Don’t over think about what your limitations may be at the moment…start with bodyweight exercises if you need to…just keep consistent and make progress slow and steady. Always prioritize form and calculated weight progression to reap the full benefits of strong Glutes and overall fitness. You got this.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why does strengthening the gluteus maximus muscles matter? These muscles are fundamental for pivotal movements such as walking and jumping. By fortifying them, we boost our performance, posture, and injury resistance. Don’t forget to use different planes of motion to hit the glute medius and minimus as well.
2. How do squats amplify gluteus maximus strength? Squats engage and invigorate the gluteus maximus, along with the quadriceps, hamstrings, and core, promoting robustness and stability in the lower body. The lower you can safely get into a squat…the more you will realize how much your glutes play a role in movement.
3. What are the critical aspects of executing hip thrusts for gluteus maximus activation? Optimal gluteus maximus activation via hip thrusts requires challenging weights, correct hip alignment, and gradual loading increments to ensure primary muscle engagement. Lastly, drive through the floor with your heels. Careful not to ” toe ” the push and lift your heels up.
4. How can lunges be adjusted for better gluteus maximus targeting? To better target the gluteus maximus keep a forward lean of your torso ( dont rock back and forth!), ensure vertical shin alignment, and progressively deepen the lunge, enhancing the exercise’s challenge and effectiveness.