The Great Butt Exercises
Updated: Jul 12
The term “great” is of course relative. And by ‘butt’ I mean gluteal group. For the purpose of this article, ‘great’ means the exercise which activates the most muscle fibers within the four muscles of the gluteals:
For many people, the gluteals are somewhat inhibited (not working properly) due to the tightness and overuse of its major antagonists, the hip flexor chain (psoas, illiacus, and rectus femoris). Sitting for long periods has been shown to atrophy and partially inhibit your butt muscles and shorten your hip flexors. The shape of your backside is determined by genetics, lean muscle mass and the amount of adipose tissue you have in the area. Obviously, you cannot spot reduce fat by performing certain exercises. However, I have seen many women increase the muscle mass in that area and ‘push’ the fat farther out resulting in a bigger butt. There are many reasons for this, primarily is due to incorrect training and diet.
Many researchers have studied the effects of specific exercises on the muscle activation of the glutes. Perhaps the best method to determine the amount of contractile muscle is through an EMG test (electromyography). It is like an EKG but for the muscles. This test detects the amount of electrical activity within the muscle (your nervous system which is made of electrical impulses control your muscles and when they contact electrical activity is increased). The exercises below have been shown in scientific studies to recruit the greatest number of muscle fibers in the gluteal region.
Since the glutes are the largest and strongest muscle group in the body (pound for pound the masseter muscle in the jaw is strongest) it is not hard to get them to contract. There are many exercises that target the glutes. Prior to working with this large muscle group determine if your hip flexor chain is tight. If so, I recommend you static stretch (hold for 30-60 seconds) these overactive muscles before you begin your routine. The stretching will decrease the muscle activation in your thighs and open up a window for greater gluteal recruitment.
NOTE: Science has shown that stretching does not improve performance (it can diminish it by causing a decrease inactivation), warm you up, prevent soreness or most injuries for that matter and does not make you taller.
Keep in mind it is not possible to isolate a muscle, so it is normal and good to feel other muscles helping during these exercises. Here are the three best butt exercises:
1. Single Leg Squat
I prefer to do this exercise barefoot to increase my foot, ankle and knee strength. Start by standing up tall on your left foot, with shoulders back, abs tight, arms by your sides, and left knee slightly bent.
With all your weight on your left foot (more toward the outside), bend at the knee and stick your butt back as you lower yourself. Keep your head and chest up, eyes forward, and reach your right hand towards the outside of your left foot.
Try to bend your knee until your thigh becomes parallel to the ground. Exhale as you press up through the outside of your foot and back up to a single leg stand. Repeat all reps on one leg trying not to touch the ground with the other foot for the duration of the set. Do the other side.
Ways to make it harder:
Go down lower
Wear a weighted vest
Hold a dumbbell
Perform the movement on an unstable surface i.e. Bosu, Dyna-disc
Go slower, increasing time under tension
2. Single Leg Deadlift (SLD)
This is one of my favorite exercises because it engages most of the muscles in the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower and mid back). I like exercises that have more bang for your buck. Just be warned it is quite hard to do because of the balance requirements.
I prefer to do this exercise barefoot. Stand on your left leg and lower your torso forward while pushing your hips back. As you lean forward simultaneously raise your back leg straight behind you, like a cantilever. Keep your back straight and the knee of supporting leg slightly bent. Keep your right leg (back leg) extended throughout the movement. Once a stretch is felt contract your butt and slowly return to the original position by raising torso while lowering back leg. Straighten your left knee and tighten your left butt muscles as your torso becomes upright. Repeat. And then switch to the other side.
Way to make harder:
Hold onto one or two dumbbells or a barbell
Wear a weighted vest
Do the movement on an unstable platform
Slow down the exercise
Hold onto a low cable pulley or resistance band
Get on all fours like a dog. Your knees and feet should be hip-width apart, hands under your shoulders, fingers pointing forward and feet pointing toward the wall behind you. Stomach tight and spine in neutral (I should be able to rest a hot cup of coffee on your lower back or between your shoulder blades). Do not sag or arch the low back.
Slowly lift the left leg, keeping the knee bent. Engage the glute muscles to press the left foot upward toward the ceiling. Move only at the hip joint. Perform a number of repetitions with the left leg before switching legs and performing the same number of repetitions with the right leg. Try not to rotate the spine or torso.
Way to make harder:
Add ankle weight or dumbbell behind the knee
Put a tennis ball on your lower back and make sure it doesn’t roll off
Doing these 3 exercises coupled with a proper diet will help tone and make your booty look better.
1. The Journal of orthopedic and sports physical therapy “Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises”: http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=21734229 2. M Anders – ACE, 2006 – Acefitness.org “Glutes To the Max”.
Doug Joachim – NYC www.JoachimsTraining.com