These Are the Butt Exercises You're Doing Wrong and What to Do Instead, According to 4 Trainers
When it comes to booty gains, you don't want to mess around. What if we told you that certain exercises you thought were making all the difference actually were working different muscles? We recruited the help of four trainers to break down exactly what's wrong with certain moves like squats (yes, squats!) if your main goal is to grow your glutes.
Trainiac personal trainer and EXOS performance specialist Stephen Foster, CSCS, explained to POPSUGAR that oftentimes we do exercises intended for the glutes, but they activate other muscles instead. Stephen noted that when choosing exercises, it's important to incorporate moves that focus on movement from front to back, side to side, and rotational.
Moves That Actually Aren't Working Your Butt (or You're Doing Wrong)
- Squats: Almost all of the trainers we spoke to pointed to squats right away as an exercise that doesn't target the glutes as much as you might think; rather, it targets your quads. Stephen said that squats are one of the best exercises to work the lower body in general (bonus: core engagement, too!). He explained that even though the glutes "play a huge role when squatting, due to positioning, the quadriceps eat up a lot of that work."
- Bodyweight Kickbacks (or Donkey Kicks): NASM-certified personal trainer Allison Tibbs said that kickbacks are a move that, if done wrong, actually won't work your glutes. "While this exercise feels effective because you do feel the burn, most people do this move incorrectly. They focus more on the kick back and, in turn, they load up their lower back and hip flexors more than they do their glutes," she explained.
- Forward Lunges: Stephen said that, overall, forward lunges are great, but the error with this exercise is in the positioning. When you return to your starting position by propelling yourself upward and back with your leading leg, your body relies pretty heavily on your quads as opposed to your glutes. A minor tweak to make this work and shift emphasis to the glutes, he said, is to turn the movement into a split squat (which we'll talk about later).
Ahead, check out moves approved by these trainers (and more) that will actually target your booty. Note: this is not a workout; instead, you can add some of these exercises to your next leg day or at-home routine.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
Allison said this move allows you to isolate your glutes and hamstrings more, and she suggests adding dumbbells or kettlebells to add intensity.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand (or a kettlebell in both) and lift your right foot slightly off the ground.
- Keep your back neutral and lean your entire torso forward while raising your right leg, which should stay in line with your body. The dumbbells will lower toward the ground. Keep your right shoulder blade pulled down your back.
- With your back straight, return upright, coming to your starting position. This completes one rep. Maximize this move by keeping your right foot off the ground as you move through your reps.
Bulgarian Split Squat
ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and head of fitness at Trainiac Geoff Tripp, CSCS, told POPSUGAR that split squats are great because they'll target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, and you can stay stationary, which means you can focus on your form. "Adding a pair of dumbbells will definitely push this into a strength move, or you can keep the move bodyweight-focused and build muscle endurance," he said.
- Grab a pair of 10-pound dumbbells. Begin by placing the toes of your left foot on a bench, box, stair, or chair, with your right leg straight.
- Make sure your right foot is out far enough so that when you lower your hips, your knee stays directly over your ankle.
- Bend your right knee, squeeze your left glute, and lower your pelvis toward the ground.
- Press your right heel into the ground to straighten your right knee. This completes one repetition.
Allison said this is her go-to butt exercise because it "really does create more strength and definition in the glutes," she explained. "Plus, there are many different variations and modalities that you can use to get the benefits." (You can find some variations here.) It's a hip-dominant move, Allison explained, but when you feel it in your posterior chain (muscles in the back of your body like the hamstrings and glutes) it's a good sign that you're doing it right.
- Stand holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells in each hand, arms at your sides, with your knees slightly bent.
- Keeping your arms straight and knees slightly bent, slowly bend at your hip joint (not your waist) and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight.
- Now squeeze your glutes to slowly pull yourself up (don't use your back). This counts as one rep.
Stephen told us this is a unique exercise that creates constant tension on the joint (in this case, the hip). When you extend all the way through to full hip extension, the glutes are really activated, he said.
- Sitting on the floor with your legs extended, rest your back against a stable bench.
- Place a towel or shoulder cushion on the bar for comfort (optional). Roll the barbell over your thighs until the bar is directly above your hip joints.
- Brace your core. As you drive your heels into the ground, squeeze your glutes, lifting your hips up to full extension, meaning your hips are even with your knees.
- With control, lower back down to the ground. This is one rep.
Lyuda Bouzinova, ACE-certified personal trainer and cofounder of Mission Lean, said that in order to activate your glutes better, you should add a jump to your regular squats. She also said you should focus on jumping as high as you can to get the most out of this exercise. Plus, she added, this is a cardio move that can help you burn calories!
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Start by doing a regular squat, then engage your core and jump up explosively.
- When you land, lower your body back into the squat position to complete one rep. Land as quietly as possible, which requires control.
By performing lunges as lunge jumps, which is an explosive move, Lyuda said the glutes will work harder than if you were doing regular lunges.
- Stand with your feet together and your knees soft.
- Jump and come into a lunge with your left leg forward.
- Push off with both feet, jumping them together, then hopping into a lunge with your right leg in front.
- Jump your feet back together to complete one rep.
The goblet squat is one of Geoff's go-to lower body muscle builders for seasoned and beginner lifters. Since you're holding the weight in front of your chest, you go deeper into your squat, he explained. Your glutes are, therefore, more engaged then they would be in a normal squat.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width with toes pointed slightly out. If using a dumbbell, hold it at chest level with both hands. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your elbows touch your knees.
- With your weight focused in your heels, push yourself up to the starting position. This completes one rep.
Single Leg Bridge
Geoff told POPSUGAR that the single leg bridge is his all-time favorite for glute and hamstring engagement. This move, he said, will teach you how to drive off one leg using your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
- Lie on your back, and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg toward the ceiling.
- Pressing your heel into the floor, lift your pelvis up, keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor to complete one rep.
Geoff called this weighted exercise one of the "true moves you can do to focus on glute engagement as you extend your hip and leg." You can also try these using a resistance band.
- Adjust the carriage so that it's at the bottom of the cable machine. Place the ankle strap attachment around your left ankle, and then attach it to the machine. You should be facing the pulley.
- Next, select a weight that will challenge you — 10 to 20 pounds is a great starting point. As you begin to become more comfortable with the movement, feel free to increase the weight.
- Step one to two feet away from the pulley, and place your hands on the frame to maintain your balance.
- With a slight bend in your knees and your core engaged, kick your left leg back as high as it can go. Hold for one second, then return it to the starting position with control. This counts as one rep.
Check out even more exercises that work your glutes here.