Pop quiz: Do you know which muscle is the biggest in the human body? If you guessed the gluteus maximus, you’re correct! As the powerhouse of the lower body, your glutes are responsible for helping align, extend, and move your hips correctly, which makes everyday movements like walking, sitting up straight, and climbing stairs possible, explains personal trainer Emily Schofield, C.P.T., gym manager at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles. A strong butt can also be a superpower in the gym, helping you sprint faster, jump higher, and squat more weight. Not to mention, strong glutes protect you from injuries, especially to your lower back, knees, and hamstrings.
Clearly, building buns of steel is a worthwhile endeavor. Whether you’ve got a weak posterior or want to sculpt bigger, stronger glutes, use these fitness pro-backed tips to get more bang for your butt when training.
1. Slow Down Your Reps
Rushing through reps is a common mistake that Schofield witnesses at the gym, especially during the eccentric (i.e. the lowering) portion of a movement. (She suspects this often occurs when a too-heavy load tempts you to sacrifice form to complete your reps.)
Here’s the thing, though: Research has shown that eccentric control is slightly more important than concentric control when it comes to causing muscle damage, which is necessary for muscle growth, Schofield points out. “Muscle fibers experience significant damage during the lowering portion, and as a result, grow bigger and stronger,” she says.
That said, a simple tweak you can make to level up your workout’s butt benefits is to slow the eccentric portion of your lifts down so that you lower the weight for three to six seconds, Schofield suggests. In the Romanian Deadlift, for example, you’d spend three to six seconds lowering the bar toward the floor. While you lower, ask yourself: Are you in control and would you be able to pause the eccentric movement at any moment? Or, are you making the mistake of letting gravity and momentum take over? Maintaining control is a must for making gains with this strategy.
2. Increase Your Range of Motion
The scenario: You set yourself up for a split squat and perform 10 reps—but the knee of your trailing leg never lowers beyond a good six inches off the floor (meaning you’re only working through a limited range of motion). Then, you perform another 10 reps with exactly the same weight, but with a greater range of motion, meaning that the knee of your trailing leg practically touches the floor. The second set is much harder, right?
It’s worth the extra effort to get that back knee all the way down. If the exercises you perform for your glutes don’t take the muscles through their full range of motion, you won’t see as great of results, Schofield explains. A proper glute workout, she says, should target the lengthened, middle, and fully contracted ranges of the glutes.
“For example, if you’re performing a squat, then you want to ensure your buttocks get as close to the floor as possible during the lowering part of the movement,” she says. “If you’re performing a split squat, make sure the knee of your back leg almost touches the floor.”
That means it’s time for a little check-in, folks: Are you working through a full range of motion during your lower-body workouts? Increasing your range of motion is a simple tweak that will make a huge difference to your glute strength, says Schofield.
3. Add in Drop Sets
Remember all that about how you need to basically damage your muscles during training in order to stimulate growth? Drop sets are a great way to make that happen. “You stimulate the greatest muscle growth when you reach muscular failure on a lift because that’s when the most damage to the muscle is done,” explains Schofield. “Extending the time within that muscular failure by using a drop set creates even greater growth.”
For the uninitiated, a drop set involves reaching the point in a lift at which you can no longer move your current weight with good form, then reducing the weight and continuing until you once again can’t lift the weight, Schofield says. While you might rest for 60 to 90 seconds between regular sets, the name of the game with drop sets is to stick to very short rest periods (like between no rest whatsoever and ten seconds).
Good exercises to try drop sets with include dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, the fixed abductor machine, dumbbell squats, and dumbbell walking lunges, Schoefield suggests. (She usually does drop sets with dumbbells or fixed machines, since you can adjust your load quickly and easily when using them.)
Also important to note: You’ll want to reserve drop sets for the final exercise of your workout, since they guaranteed complete fatigue. “If you do them on every exercise, you’ll be so fatigued by the time you’re halfway through your workout that it will affect your performance,” says Schofield.
Here’s an example of how to incorporate a drop set into dumbbell walking lunges:
- Perform four sets of dumbbell lunges, with eight lunges per leg, using a pair of 25-pound dumbbells. Rest for 90 to 120 seconds between each set.
- After your fourth and final set, pick up a pair of 22.5-pound dumbbells, perform another set, resting as little as possible.
- After that, grab a pair of 17.5-pound dumbbells and perform yet another set, again resting as little as possible.
4. Use Mini Bands
Mini bands (also known as mini loops) are smaller than resistance bands and meant to fit either just above or below your knees, explains strength and condition coach Shelby Stover, C.S.C.S, of Fit As A Mama Bear. They add an extra element of resistance to certain lower-body exercises because driving your knees actively out against them really fires up your glutes.
Squats are a popular exercise for whipping out the mini bands, but there are few other ways you can use these simple tools to sculpt your glutes:
- Start standing upright and can place the band around your thighs just above your knees, lower legs just below your knees, or even over your shoelaces for different tensions.
- Hinge forward slightly and push your weight backward, maintaining a flat back.
- Stand on one foot as you step the other foot out sideways, using your glutes to push against the band as you do so.
- Step the leading foot down step the following foot in towards it.
- Continue this process for 10 to 30 total steps, then repeat in the opposite direction.
Seated Band Abductions
- Place a mini loop below or above your knees and sit tall on a bench with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
- Keep your back flat and hinge forward slightly.
- Let your knees cave in and then use your glutes to drive them out against the band.
- Repeat for about 30 seconds total.
Side-Lying Hip Raises
- Lay on your right side with your knees bent and your feet together, with a mini band around your legs above your knees. Stack your hips and shoulders and prop yourself up on your right elbow.
- Lift your hips off the ground and press up into a modified side plank position,
- Keeping your knees bent and feet flexed, raise your left knee up against the band using your left glute. Pause and return to the starting position.
- Perform 10 to 15 repetitions.
5. Prime Your Glutes
Before you launch into squats or deadlifts, incorporate some pre-activation exercises for your glutes at the beginning of your workout, says physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach Alex Stone, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. A few examples of pre-activation exercises include glute bridges, clamshells, and banded lateral walks. He recommends performing two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
This primes your glutes for the upcoming exercises and increases muscle activation during your main lifts. “By warming up your glutes, you promote blood flow and engagement in the target muscles and ensure you get the most bang for your buck during your booty workout,” Stone says.
6. Do More Unilateral Exercises
Unilateral exercises are single-leg movements that force each glute to work independently. By challenging one glute at a time, you can achieve a more balanced, stronger, and well-developed lower body, all while minimizing the risk of injury, Stone explains.
When it comes to glute training, the barbell hip thrust is king—and you can make the move unilateral by performing it single-leg, says C4 Energy Athlete Sadik Hadzovic. He recommends starting off with just the bar and slowly adding more weight as you get more familiar with the movement. If you don’t have access to a barbell, an EZ-bar or a dumbbell works fine, Hadzovic says.
A few other winning unilateral movements to incorporate into your routine for glute gains are Bulgarian split squats, single-leg deadlifts, and step-ups, suggests Stone. “These exercises can quickly help identify and address muscle imbalances and improve functional strength,” he says. No one wants a lopsided backside!