Whether you’re a powerlifter, weightlifter, or functional fitness athlete, your butt is your engine. Practically every key athletic movement, from the deadlift to the snatch to the kettlebell swing to a simple jog, is driven by the hips, which are largely driven by your glutes. When they aren’t doing their best work, the movement mechanics in the hips, along with your strength, power, posture, and performance, suffer accordingly.
“Strong glutes and hamstrings are huge for all forms of human locomotion, explosive movements like cleans and snatches, and strength in the squat and deadlift,” says Mike Dewar, CSCS, USAW2, a New York City-based weightlifting coach and strength and conditioning specialist. “I have all my lifters do varied pulling positions to better isolate the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, since those are the prime movers in the pulls and explosion phases of the Olympic lifts.”
In some ways, the glutes are the fulcrum on which an athlete’s fitness balances: if they’re malfunctioning, the effects can be felt all over the body. Weak or inactive glutes have been linked to pain in the knees, lower back problems, balance and stability issues, tight hip flexors, and even weak feet and ankles.
“From a functional fitness perspective, glute strength and engagement will allow you to stabilize the hips, and in turn the core and knee,” Dewar adds. “This will increase overall performance in WODs, most sports, and will even help you train harder to reach your aesthetic goals.”
If you think that deadlifts and squats are all you need for a perfectly powerful posterior, think again. For a maximally strong butt, try the exercises below — the proof will be in the PRs.
1) Romanian Deadlifts
Deadlifts are often hailed as the be-all and end-all of posterior chain exercises, but by bending the knees less, the Romanian deadlift actually encourages a greater degree of posterior activation.
It’s often used after main power and strength lifts to further isolate the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, but you might prefer using them in your warm-up sets when preparing for pulls, squats, and plyometric movements. To learn more about how to use it in your own training program, check out our full article on the exercise.
2) Hip Thrusts
Probably the best glute-activating exercise on Earth, the hip thrust isolates and works all three gluteal muscles – the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus – and it creates maximum activation at the terminal hip extension.
Like a lot of useful exercises (and many on this list), it looks a little awkward and weird. Don’t let that deter you: the hip thrust is the bench press for your butt. It’s a can’t-miss. Just sit on the floor with your upper back against a bench, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Put a padded barbell in your hip crease and thrust, squeezing your glutes hard, until your hips are in line with your body. They’re good at both warming up for and finishing a deadlift session, but experiment with workouts where hip thrusts are the primary lower body exercise. See if you can work up to ten reps with 1.5 times your bodyweight on the bar.
3) Reverse Lunges
To the untrained eye, there’s little reason for reverse lunges and regular lunges to work different muscle groups. But by stepping backward and keeping the torso in roughly the same spot, the reverse lunge is easier to perform with a barbell on the back and it puts a little less stress on the knee. Lunging backwards also lets you bend a little deeper while maintaining proper joint angles for power.
In addition to seriously challenging your balance, stability, quads and hamstrings, the reverse lunge is a dynamite ass exercise. For strength and power, try performing them right after you squat. For a serious challenge, try sliding the leg backward on a Valslide.
4) Walking Lunges
Why recommend walking lunges over high rep forward lunges? Because continuing a series of walking lunges requires a little more explosive hip extension, and they make for a great active stretch of the hip flexors.
For serious burn, try finishing a workout with ten to fifteen minutes of walking lunges on a treadmill at one mile per hour with a one degree incline.
5) Frog Pumps
This is a fantastic exercise for activating sleepy glutes, which can actually become “dormant” from too much sitting, hampering workouts and leading to all kinds of chronic pain. This movement starts in the hip bridge position but with the bottoms of the feet together, so the knees fall out to the side. Dig the elbows into the ground and bridge into the air. That’s a frog pump! This movement abducts and externally rotates the hips, flexes the lumbar spine, and directly targets the glutes, minimizing the recruitment of the hamstrings and erectors.
Frog pumps are usually performed as finishers for high reps, 50 to 100 spread out over a few sets. They’re often just used with bodyweight, but you can also try them while resting a dumbbell on your groin. Enjoy your harder, more powerful butt! Your lifts (and jeans) will thank you.