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The 5 Best Glute Exercises for Mass

October 02, 2022

5 best glute building exercises

Everyone wants a sculpted butt, right? Not only does a well-trained backside look good, but it has numerous benefits including reducing the risk of injury and increasing athletic performance.

A quick search on social media can uncover hundreds of different booty workouts. The truth is, most of these workouts posted are not very good at targeting the glutes – they just look good and get a lot of likes!

If you’ve tried these glute workouts and experienced little gains, then you’ve come to the right place. We will uncover the best glute exercises you should be doing to add mass to the ass’!

 

Glute Anatomy

Glutes, short for gluteal muscles are the largest muscle group in the body. They consist of 3 different muscles: The Gluteus Maximas, the Gluteus Medius and the Gluteus Minimus.

Glute anatomy picture

 (Image from Fitness Volt)

Gluteus Maximas

The gluteus maximas muscle is the largest of the three gluteal muscles, providing most of the shape to the buttock region.

Arguably the most powerful muscle in the body, the gluteus maximas muscle is the main extensor of the hip and aids in abduction and external rotation.

Hip movements

(Image from Brain Lab)

Gluteus Medius

The Gluteus medius is located underneath and above the gluteus maximas. In terms of size, it's smaller than the maximas but larger than the Minimus.

Working alongside the gluteus maximas, the role of the medius is to abduct and internally rotate the thigh at the hip joint. It is also a vital muscle in hip stability.

Gluteus Minimus

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three muscles and sits underneath the medius. This muscle again works in synergy with the other two muscles to abduct and internally rotate the thigh at the hip joint. Again, it is a vital muscle in hip stability.

 

Glute activation

To get the most out of our glute-building exercises, we need to make sure that we activate them properly before our working sets.

Glute activation refers to doing specific exercises that warm up the glutes and get them firing.

Many of us have jobs that involve sitting at a desk all day. The sitting position takes the load of the glutes, and they may become weak/deactivated throughout the day whilst they’re not being called upon.  

If we don’t effectively warm up/activate our glutes before our workouts, then the muscles will not engage properly during the exercise, and we may find our lower back and hamstrings overcompensating to lift the loads.

Properly activated glutes will reduce the risk of injury and help with athletic performance.

Our favourite glute activation exercises include:

  • Banded Glute Bridge
  • Banded Squats
  • Banded Side Shuffle
  • Clam (Banded or not)
  • Banded side-to-side squats.

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Now we’ve covered the basics, let's get down to the best glute exercises for mass!

 

Best Glute exercises for mass

Barbell Hip Thrust

Coming in at number 1, the best glute exercise for mass has to be the barbell hip thrust.

Barbell hip thrust exercise example

It was a close fight for the top spot between the barbell hip thrust and the barbell back squat (yes we have just revealed the 2nd exercise) but the barbell hip thrust has come out on top.

A study conducted in 2015 measured EMG activity (the recording of electrical activity in a muscle) of both the squat and barbell hip thrust after completing an estimated 10 rep max set. The results conclude that the barbell hip thrust activates the gluteus maximas to a greater degree than the barbell back squat [1].

Another study conducted in 2019 compared gluteus maximas activation from the squat, barbell hip thrust and Romanian deadlift when completing a 1 rep max. Results show that the gluteus maximas activation was higher in the barbell hip thrust compared to the barbell back squat. [2]

A third study from 2018 was conducted to compare the gluteus maximas activation when completing a barbell deadlift, a hex bar deadlift and a hip thrust. 13 resistance-trained males were tasked with completing a 1 rep max of each exercise (in random order). Unsurprisingly, the hip thrust emerged triumphant and activated the glutes to the highest degree [3].

The first studies tested glute activation after 10 reps whilst the 2nd and 3rd studies tested 1 rep max. In each of the 3 studies, the glute maximas activation was at its highest activation when completing the hip thrust – pretty good evidence as to why we have it in our top spot!

 

Barbell back Squat

As you already know, our second-best glute exercise for building mass is the barbell back squat.

Barbell back squat example

Known by many fitness enthusiasts as the king of all exercises, the squat is a compound exercise that recruits many muscle groups and joints.

Although the squat puts emphasis on the quadricep muscles, they also target the glutes, hamstrings, calfs, back and abs. We can also utilise some clever form tweaks to target the glutes even more than we’re used to.

Avid gym goers like to cite the term ‘Ass to grass’ if you’re looking to grow some legs Tom Platz would be proud of. But when it comes to glute development, it seems there may be a better approach.

A 2017 study was conducted to evaluate muscle activation between the full and partial squat. 15 resistance-trained males performed a back squat at their 10 rep max using the 2 different rep ranges. EMG data found that gluteus maximas activation was higher in the partial squat than in the full squat, while the perceived exertion between the 2 remained the same [4].

Comparing the front squat to the back squat, a 2015 study found no difference in gluteus maximas activation between the 2 exercises [5]. Due to limb length and body mechanics, some athletes may find it taxing on the lower back when squatting. As there is no difference between the 2 exercise variations, you should pick the one you’re most comfortable with.

As mentioned above, we can tweak our squat form to further target the glutes. Opting for a wider than normal stance width has been shown to further activate the gluteus maximas [6]. This wider position externally rotates the hips and allows for a deeper squat position, further activating the glutes.

 

Deadlift

Our 3rd best glute-building exercise is the deadlift. The deadlift is a popular exercise amongst bodybuilders, powerlifters, athletes and gym goes – and rightly so. It’s a true test of whole-body strength and is the epitome of weightlifting – picking something heavy up and putting it back down again.

Deadlift exercise example

The deadlift is one of the few exercises that target muscle all the way from the traps down to the calf’s. If you want to get stronger – then you need to be deadlifting.

When it comes to deadlifting, there are several different variations available that work by targeting different muscle groups, but today we’ll be focusing on the exercises that best activate the glutes.

A stuy published in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness compared the gluteus maximas activation between a conventional deadlift and a Romanian deadlift. 21 males performed each exercise with 70% of their Romanian deadlift 1 rep max. The results found significantly greater glutes maximas activation with the conventional deadlift compared to the Romanian deadlift. [8].

2 Separate studies, 1 conducted in 2000 [9] and another conducted 2 years later [10] both found no difference in gluteus maximas activation when comparing the conventional deadlift to the sumo deadlift. As a result, simply choose the variation you most enjoy and let’s hit some PR’s!

Lastly, the table below compares the glute activation when performing a conventional deadlift, a hex bar deadlift and a hip thrust.  

 Deadlifty variation graph

Figure 1 retrieved from Journal of Strength and Conditioning

As expected, the hip thrust resulted in the highest glute activation (more evidence as to why we’ve listed it as the best glute-building exercise).

The graph shows that the deadlift resulted in higher glute activation that the hex bar deadlift.

To conclude, we recommend either the conventional deadlift or the sumo deadlift when it comes to adding mass to the butt.

 

Step up

Step-up exercise example

A meta-analysis (Statistical analysis that compares the results of multiple scientific studies) compared the glute maximas activation of 10 different exercises. As you can see from the table below, the Step-up and the different variations elicited the highest activation as a % of maximum voluntary isometric contraction (basically the maximum possible force for each athlete for a certain exercise) [7].

Best exercise comparison table

Figure 2 – Retrieved form Journal of Sports Science and Medicine  

If we look back at our recent article ‘How to select the best hypertrophy exercises?’ We see note 3 as ‘Stability factor’. For an exercise to be a good mass builder, it’s crucial stability is taken into consideration – without stability, it’s hard to create force (a crucial element in building muscle) [11]

Looking at the same article, note 5 is load ability. Being able to progressively overload the muscle over time is the fundamental principle of building muscle. Arguably the easiest way to progressively overload muscles is to increase the weight over time.

Since the step-up exercise doesn’t have the highest stability factor, and that it may be hard to progressively overload the weight over time without risking an injury, we have decided to put the step-up in the 4th position.

 

Hip Abduction

The focus of the previous 4 exercises has been on the gluteus maximas. After all, it is the largest of the gluteus muscles, so it deserves the most attention.

The gluteus medius and minimus will also be targeted to a certain degree during these exercises, but for our 5th exercise, we have chosen one with the primary focus being on the Gluteus Medius (The second largest muscle).

As mentioned, the primary role of the gluteus medius is hip abduction. With this in mind, it makes sense that the chosen exercise replicates the primary role of the muscle.

If you have a Hip Abductor machine at your gym, then use it. It has a high level of stability, and we can apply progressive overload by increasing the weight over time.

Glute machine exercise

If you don’t have a hip abduction machine at the gym, we can use the resistance band variation. To perform the exercise, wrap a resistance band around both knees and push them outwards by squeezing the top of the glutes.

Banded hip abduction exercise for glutes

 

In terms of repetitions, a study published in 2015 compared the gluteus medius activation at 4 different rep ranges:

 Abduction exercise for glutes table

Figure 3 – retrieved from International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy  

As you can see, 7 reps and over elicited the most glute activation therefore we would recommend sticking between the 8-15 rep range when it comes to growing the booty.  

Training the gluteus medius is not only good for aesthetic reasons, but it also helps prevent injuries at the knees and the hips [13]. With knee problems being a common problem amongst weightlifters, anything we can do to reduce the chances of an injury is surely worth doing.

 

Eating for muscle building

When it comes to adding mass to any muscle group, we need to ensure our nutrition is in check to avoid our efforts in the gym being wasted.

To build muscle we need to be in a calorie surplus. This is where we’re eating more calories than we burn daily. Firstly, we need to work out our maintenance calories (number of calories we need to eat daily to remain the same weight) and we need to add 300-500 calories to it – and that’s how many calories we need to eat to build muscle.

Once we’ve worked out how many calories we need to add mass, we can split the calories between proteins, carbohydrates and fats. To learn exactly how to do this, check out ‘How many calories do I need when bulking?

 

The Best Booty Building Exercises - Final Thoughts

There we have it, our top 6 mass building glute exercises. When planning your next glute workout, program in the exercises mentioned, stay consistent, apply progressive overload, eat enough for muscle growth, and you’ll be sure to add mass to the ass!

Yes, we’ve discussed which exercises elicit the highest amount of glute activation, but at the end of the day – the exercises mentioned all still target the glutes to a high degree. Choose exercises that you enjoy – there’s no point dreading an exercise otherwise over time you’re likely to bin them off. Pick exercises that you are happy to consistently train and let’s grow the butt together. 

Ps. This applies to you too guys! 

 

The Best 5 Glute Exercises for Mass - backed by Science

 

References

[1] Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2015). A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. Journal of applied biomechanics31(6), 452–458. https://doi.org/10.1123/jab.2014-0301

[2] Delgado, J., Drinkwater, E. J., Banyard, H. G., Haff, G. G., & Nosaka, K. (2019). Comparison Between Back Squat, Romanian Deadlift, and Barbell Hip Thrust for Leg and Hip Muscle Activities During Hip Extension. Journal of strength and conditioning research33(10), 2595–2601. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003290

[3] Andersen, V., Fimland, M. S., Mo, D. A., Iversen, V. M., Vederhus, T., Rockland Hellebø, L. R., Nordaune, K. I., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2018). Electromyographic Comparison of Barbell Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift, and Hip Thrust Exercises: A Cross-Over Study. Journal of strength and conditioning research32(3), 587–593. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001826

[4] da Silva, J. J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Marchetti, P. N., Pecoraro, S. L., Greve, J., & Marchetti, P. H. (2017). Muscle Activation Differs Between Partial and Full Back Squat Exercise With External Load Equated. Journal of strength and conditioning research31(6), 1688–1693. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001713

[5] Yavuz, H. U., Erdağ, D., Amca, A. M., & Aritan, S. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of sports sciences33(10), 1058–1066. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2014.984240

[6] Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., & Petrone, N. (2009). The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. Journal of strength and conditioning research23(1), 246–250. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181876811

[7] Neto, W. K., Soares, E. G., Vieira, T. L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T. A., Sampaio, V. L., & Gama, E. F. (2020). Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. Journal of sports science & medicine19(1), 195–203.

[8] Lee, S., Schultz, J., Timgren, J., Staelgraeve, K., Miller, M., & Liu, Y. (2018). An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts. Journal of exercise science and fitness16(3), 87–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesf.2018.08.001

[9] Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise32(7), 1265–1275. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200007000-00013

[10] Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Moorman, C. T., 3rd (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise34(4), 682–688. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200204000-00019

[11] Behm, D. G., & Anderson, K. G. (2006). The role of instability with resistance training. Journal of strength and conditioning research20(3), 716–722. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-18475.1

[12] Macadam, P., Cronin, J., & Contreras, B. (2015). AN EXAMINATION OF THE GLUTEAL MUSCLE ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED WITH DYNAMIC HIP ABDUCTION AND HIP EXTERNAL ROTATION EXERCISE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy10(5), 573–591.

[13] Presswood, Laura1; Cronin, John PhD2,3; Keogh, Justin W L PhD3; Whatman, Chris MAppSc3. Gluteus Medius: Applied Anatomy, Dysfunction, Assessment, and Progressive Strengthening. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 5 - p 41-53 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e318187f19a

 


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