Generally speaking, nobody likes leg day. But we can all agree that lower-body workouts are the most beneficial in the grand scheme, providing the body with a tidal wave of muscle-building hormones and, of course, helping us all look better in shorts.
Aside from boosting your body’s muscle-building biology, leg workouts – especially those targeting the glutes, the most powerful muscles in your body – can also deliver some worthwhile functional and preventative benefits.
“Strengthening this area will help the hips and take pressure off the knees,” says Daniel Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy and Fitness.
That said, if you don’t train your legs or glutes often (let’s say, at least once a week), you’ll want to ease yourself in.
“If you’re like most office workers, you sit on one of your most valuable resources most of the day, leaving you with what I like to call ‘dead ass,’” says Matt Sauerhoff, founder of The LIV Method, a New York City-based personal training service.
The more time you spend sitting, the tighter and weaker your hips and glutes get, respectively, making you more susceptible to sustaining an injury.
“Remember, it’s all about the long game,” Sauerhoff says. “Take your time, restore balance, and move intelligently.”
The next time you roll up to the weight room for leg day – or even if you’re just looking for a lower-body workout that you can do at home (see “Essential Gear,” below) – pull up this list of exercises.
Why Glute Training Is More Than Just Getting A Great Ass
The glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in your body, and are responsible for the extension, abduction, and external rotation of the hips, as well as the posterior pelvic tilt. Bigger, stronger glutes can help improve posture, movement, and athletic performance, while reducing the risk of a wide array of injuries.
Our larger glute muscles are one of the main reasons why humans can stand upright. They help us walk, run, sprint, jump, change direction, and much more. They also play a key role in our overall health, as strong glutes decrease the risk for injuries in the knees, lower back, hamstrings, groin, and hips. In fact, most lower back pain is a direct result of weak glutes and/or hamstrings.
So not only is a nice set of glutes more aesthetically pleasing, it’s also better for your body. Let’s take a look at the best exercises to improve glute strength, size, and function.
The Best Exercises For A Stronger, Healthier, Head-Turning Ass
It should come as no surprise that squats are first on this list. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better exercise for building a great ass than squatting.
The great thing about squats is that there are a ton of different variations that help sculpt the perfect posterior. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Few exercises allow you to hit the glutes and hamstrings with more volume than the barbell squat. This is what makes it so effective for building a great ass.
A few notes on barbell squats:
- A common debate when it comes to squats is whether you should use a high or low bar position. A high bar allows you to squat deeper, which will hit the glutes harder, while a low bar position causes more forward lean, which also lets you hit the glutes and hamstrings more. So bar position is really a matter of personal preference.
- Your stance also affects how much the glutes and hamstrings are worked. A wider stance (further than shoulder width) will target them more.
The goblet squat is done with a dumbbell or kettlebell held at your chest. While you can’t use real heavy loads with this variation, the goblet squat allows you to get a lot of depth, further targeting the glutes and hamstrings.
This variation goes by a few different names, including the Anderson Squat. Basically, you’re only doing the second half of a squat.
To do this variation, set the bar up in a rack on the pins, equal to where it would be at the bottom of your squat. Position yourself under the bar, and explode up. Lower the bar back onto the pins, and reset. No bouncing.
This variation is great because it eliminates the stretch-shortening cycle between the eccentric and concentric portions of the squat and isolates the glutes and hamstrings.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Also known as the rear-foot elevated split squat, the Bulgarian split squat targets the glutes, as well as the quads. This variation can be done with dumbbells, goblet style, or with a barbell.
Like the squat, there are a number of deadlift variations that allow you to really hammer the glutes.
Conventional & Sumo
Deadlifts are great, not only because they are a total body movement, but they also are incredibly effective for building the glutes and hamstrings, due to the ability to use very heavy loads. Research shows that conventional and sumo deadlifts are both equally effective for training the glutes. The important thing to remember when deadlifting is to really squeeze the glutes hard at the top part of the movement.
There’s no better way to build strength and stability than with unilateral movements. The single-leg RDL will really set the glutes and hammies on fire by providing a ton of isolation.
Barbell Hip Thrust
It might be one of the more embarrassing exercises to perform, but the hip thrust is a fantastic one for butt-building and should not be left out of your program. Popularised by Bret Contreras, the hip thrust involves placing your shoulders on a bench, with a loaded barbell over your hips. Here’s Bret himself explaining the movement.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust
When it comes to the glutes, there aren’t many bodyweight exercises I would choose over weighted exercises, but the single-leg hip thrust is one of the exceptions. Like the barbell hip thrust, your shoulders are placed on a bench, with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Extend one leg straight out and thrust your hips into the air, driving your one planted foot into the ground, and squeezing your glutes at the top.
While lunges are primarily thought of as a quad-dominant exercise, the glutes are heavily involved in helping you return to the standing position. Lunges can be done forward, or reverse, with a barbell or dumbbells.