Just like how men want big arms, women want a big butt. Not only does a well-built set of glutes look good in a pair of leggings, but strong glutes are vital for athletic performance and for performing day to day activities.
Maybe you workout from home and don’t have the luxury of a home gym, or maybe you hit the gym at the 6 pm rush and you only have dumbbells at your disposal – either way, having a set of dumbbells is more than enough to get those glutes fired, and build some muscle.
Today we’ll touch on glute anatomy, share our favourite dumbbell glute exercises, put together a couple of muscle building glute workouts and discuss how best to grow the glutes – let’s get to it!
|Table of Contents|
|7 Best Dumbbell glute exercises|
|Dumbbell glute workout|
|How to build the butt|
It’s important to quickly recap the glute anatomy and the functions of the glutes. Having the knowledge in this area allows us to understand why a particular exercise targets the glutes, and helps us with the mind muscle connection when performing the movement, rather than simply “Going through the motions”.
If you’ve read our other glute building articles, you can probably skip this bit. But for those who haven’t, here we go:
The glutes are made up of 3 muscles: The Gluteus Maximas, the Gluteus Medius, and the Gluteus Minimus.
Gluteus Maximas – The gluteus maximas is the largest, most superficial of the 3 muscles and is responsible for the majority of the shape of the butt. The role of the maximas is hip extension, ie. Increasing the angle between the pelvis and the high.
Gluteus Medius – The gluteus medius is the 2nd largest glute muscle and sits underneath and above the glute max. The medius is the prime mover of abduction at the hip joint, ie. moving the leg to the side away from the centre line of the body. It also aids with external rotation, ie. pointing the toes outwards.
Gluteus Minimus – The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the 3 muscles and sits underneath the other 2. The Minimus aids in hip abduction and external rotation.
The 3 muscles work in synergy to stabilise the hip joint.
Now we’ve learned the responsibility of each of the glute muscles, it’s time to check out the glute exercises performed with dumbbells.
Made famous by Bret Contreras “The Glute Guy” in 2006, the hip thrust has gained popularity over the last decade, and rightly so. Studies have consistently shown the hip thrust to be one of, if not, the best exercises to activate the upper and lower glutes.
Many people now preach that if you want to add some size to the rear, you NEED to be doing a hip thrust variation.
The Bulgarian split squat offers an excellent range of motion. As you sink down into the deep flexed hip position, the glutes will need to contract hard to ‘get you out the hole’ and return to the starting position.
The fact that it’s a unilateral exercise has the added benefit of ironing out any muscle imbalances that may have occurred from bilateral training. They’re also a great exercise for building stability and strength in the midsection.
Sticking with the range of motion theme, the deficit reverse lunge is another exercise that has a quality range of motion profile. Placing a platform under the front foot allows the rear knee to an area that was once restricted by the floor. This places the hip in a deep flexed position and stretches the glutes.
Working muscles in the lengthened position has been shown to have positive hypertrophy benefits, so safely working the muscle in the stretched position is perfect for glute building.
A systematic review conducted in 2020 looked at the muscle activation of the glutes when performing popular glute exercises. A surprising result is that the dumbbell step up topped the list and elicited the highest levels of gluteus maximas activation – beating all the exercises including the hip thrust! So if they’re not in your routine already, it might be time to reconsider...
Once a favourite exercise of Romanian Olympic Weightlifters (hence the name), the Romanian deadlift is a great compound exercise that again works the glutes in the stretched position, bringing about those unique muscle building benefits.
While the majority of our workouts should be focused on compound exercises, we need to dedicate some time toward the end of our workouts for the isolation exercises. Isolation exercises are important to target the muscles in ways that compound exercises cannot.
The dumbbell donkey kickback is a fantastic exercise to isolate the gluteus muscles. Remember the primary role of the gluteus maximas? Hip Extension Ie. moving the leg backward – well that’s exactly what this exercise does.
You may find placing a dumbbell on the back of your leg slightly uncomfortable. For that reason, we recommend opting for a lighter dumbbell and increasing the number of reps. Give them a try and feel the burn!
Last but by no means least we have the dumbbell side lying leg lift. While it’s not possible to completely isolate the 3 different gluteus muscles as they play a role to some degree in every glute exercise – the previous exercises have been geared towards primarily targeting the gluteus maximas (it makes sense too, as it is the largest of the 3!).
Well, the dumbbell side lying leg lift predominantly targets the gluteus medius, the second largest muscle.
Remember the main role of the medius? That’s right, hip abduction, or in layman's terms: moving the leg outwards away from the centre line of the body.
This exercise does exactly that. Similarly to the donkey kickback – repping massive weights is not the goal here. Instead, select a lighter weight that allows us to perform 15-20 reps with good form.
Perform the exercise as per the tutorial video and hold the dumbbell on the thigh with your hand.
As you’ll learn later, muscles aren’t built just by lifting heavy weights – lighter loads have a place in our workout too.
Now we’ve covered the best dumbbell glute exercises, let’s put them into a routine:
Building the butt is simple on paper, but difficult in practice. In order to see progress in the glute region we need to follow the following principles:
A calorie surplus is vital for building muscle. Without this, it’s basically impossible.
I say basically, because it can be done, but in very rare circumstances. Normally it’s when an individual is overweight that they can lose weight and build muscle during a calorie restricted diet.
For the rest of us (99% of us!), we need to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it means to be eating more than the body burns on a daily basis to provide the body with the energy required to build muscle.
We may be burning 2500 calories a day. If so, eating 2500 calories will be your maintenance calories (the calories required to maintain the same body weight). To build muscle we need to be eating roughly 10% above our maintenance calories ie. 2750 calories.
Progressive overload is arguably the most important training principle we need to abide by to build muscle. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means to increase the training stimulus over time so that the body continually adapts to the increased demand placed on it.
If we keep our workouts the same; once the body has adapted, there is no reason for further adaptation and our progress will plateau. On the other hand, if we continually increase the difficulty of our workouts, then the body will have no option but to continually adapt.
There are many ways to implement progressive overload. We can increase the number of sets we perform, increase the number of reps, increase workout frequency, reduce the rest time, etc, basically anything that makes the workout harder.
But the most common method is to increase the weights we’re working with. With strength and size closely correlated, if we can get stronger, then it’s likely we’re going to get bigger.
Take the hip thrust for example, currently we may be able to hip thrust 60kg for 10 reps, for 4 sets. If we can build this number to 100kg over the next few months – then the glutes are going to grow.
We’ve covered the most important training aspect, but other variables come into play to ensure we’re maximising our gains.
To build muscle we need to be implementing a combination of compound exercises and isolation exercises. Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that target several different muscles in the same movement. These exercises are great as we can work with heavier weights, apply progressive overload easily, and benefit from being able to work multiple muscles at once.
Isolation exercises are then necessary to target the muscles that are neglected during the compound exercises. There also allow us to train muscles at different angles and through a different range of motion that can have popular muscle building benefits.
As a rule of thumb, 75% of our workout should consist of compound exercises leaving 25% of the workout to focus on isolation exercises.
We then need to consider the optimum amount of ‘work’ we need to do to optimise glute growth.
Volume refers to the amount of work we do in our training sessions. For today’s purposes, we’ll refer to volume as the number of sets.
It’s thought that between 10-20 sets are the optimum number of sets per muscle, per week to maximise muscle hypertrophy. Newbies can get away with sticking towards the lower as they don’t need to do as much ‘work’ to experience muscle growth, while experience lifters should probably aim towards the higher end.
Research has shown that muscle can be built in a variety of different rep ranges provided you take the set close to failure.
Saying that, a common rep range between 6-12 reps may be beneficial. It means your avoiding the risk that comes along with lifting the heaviest weights, and you’re also avoiding being restricted by your aerobic capacity which can happen in high rep (20+) sets. After all, we’re training to build muscle, not for endurance.
Like any muscle, building the glutes takes time. It also takes a dedicated approach to both training and nutrition if we want to see some impressive growth.
When it comes to exercise selection, there’s more than one way to make a bed. Yes, there are a lot of popular exercises that use barbells and cables; but if we don’t have these at our disposal, then that’s not to say we can’t build our butt.
Utilising dumbbells is a great way to add some size to the rear. Ensure you’re implementing the most important muscle building principle “Progressive Overload” and the glutes will have to grow to meet the increasing demands we place them under.