Impact-Site-Verification: 1728352514
Free UK delivery on orders over £50 & Free Worldwide shipping on orders over £75


Upper Glute Workout: Build that Upper Glute Shelf

February 07, 2024

Upper glute workout article header

So, you’re looking to build the upper glutes and get that ‘Butt shelf’ look – well, you’ve come to the right place. Building the upper glutes is a shared goal amongst many lifters. It’s the upper glutes that give the shelf look that many people desire and completes the overall rounded heart shape look.  

If you feel that the upper glutes are lacking, it may be time to pay them a bit more attention. You may already be doing the popular compound glute movements such as squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts, but if we don’t pay particular attention to the upper glutes, you may be missing the final piece of the puzzle for overall glute aesthetics.

Today we’ll look at how best to target the upper glutes, and piece together the best upper glute workout.

Table of Contents
Upper glute anatomy
Upper glute shelf exercises
Upper glute workout
7 Upper glute building tips
Upper glute workout FAQ’s



Upper Glute Anatomy

Glute anatomy diagram

As you can see from the picture above, the glutes are made up of three muscles – the gluteus maximas, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus medius.

The muscles that make up the upper glutes and therefore are responsible for developing the ‘shelf’ look are the superior portion of the gluteus maximas (upper division) and the gluteus medius.

Upper glute diagram


To understand how to target these muscles, we must learn what their roles are.

Firstly, the gluteus maximas is responsible for hip extension. Ie – increasing the angle between the thigh and the pelvis, think coming out of a squat position or moving the leg behind backwards when you’re stood up.

While any exercise that involves hip extension will effectively target both the upper and lower portions of the gluteus maximas – some exercises are geared up for developing the upper glutes more so than the lower glutes.

These exercises are horizontally loaded hip extension exercises. Exercises such as hip thrusts are horizontally loaded exercises whilst squats can be considered vertically loaded exercises. So these are the exercises we’ll want to incorporate into our routines when building the upper butt is our goal (More on this later).

Secondly, we have the gluteus medius. The primary role of the medius is abduction at the hip joint. What this means is moving the leg out towards the side, away from the centre line of the body.


Hip abduction diagram

The second role of the gluteus medius is hip external rotation, this is simply rotating the feet so that they point outwards.

Knowing this, we can understand which exercises will be good for targeting the upper glutes - leaving the lower glutes to be covered in a seperate article.


Upper Glute Shelf Exercises

So, we’ve learned that in order to build the upper glutes we need to focus on two different types of exercises.

Firstly we need horizontally loaded hip extension exercises to build the upper gluteus maximas and secondly, we need to incorporate exercises that focus on hip abduction to build the gluteus medius.

Even though we’re only focusing on half of the gluteus maximas, it’s still the biggest of the 3 glute muscles and has a large say in the way our glutes look.

For that reason, it makes sense that we start our workout focusing on building the upper region of the gluteus maximas when we’re feeling fresh and have the most energy. Once we’ve got some decent sets under our belt – we can then move on to the abduction exercises.

Starting with the horizontally loaded extension exercises we have:


Barbell Hip thrust

Made famous in 2006 by the Glute guy ‘Bret Contreras’ the barbell hip thrust quickly came a staple exercise for those on the quest to building the size of their butt. With the ability to perform the exercise with the weight acting directly against the target muscle, you can effectively overload the gluteus maximas and build strength and size in the buttocks. A real game changer in the booty-building community!

Barbell hip thrust exercise example

How to:

  • Setup a flat bench and place a barbell loaded with the desired weight parallel to it
  • Sit on the ground in front of the bench and rest your shoulder blades against the side of the bench
  • Keeping your legs flat on the floor, roll the barbell over your knees and onto the pelvis
  • Hold the barbell with both hands and keep the barbell over the pelvis
  • Bring your feet towards your bum so that the knees are in a flexed position. We’re now in the correct starting position.
  • Pushing through both of our heels, drive the hips and therefore the barbell up towards the ceiling
  • When your thighs become in line with your back, you have reached the top of the movement. Carefully lower the weight back towards the floor
  • Complete the desired number of reps and rest


KAS Glute Bridge

Similar to the barbell hip thrust, the KAS glute bridge is an awesome exercise to activate the upper glutes. The setup is the same as the Barbell hip thrust, but instead of dropping the hips all the way to the floor, the aim with the KAS glute bridge is to keep the shins perpendicular to the floor and prevent the knees from travelling towards the body. This will mean that the range of motion is a lot smaller, but we can keep constant tension on the glutes helping to achieve the round and sculpted look.

How to:

  • Similar to the barbell hip thrust, set up a flat bench and place a barbell loaded with the desired weight parallel to it
  • Sit on the ground in front of the bench and rest your shoulder blades against the side of the bench
  • Keeping your legs flat on the floor, roll the barbell over your thighs and onto the pelvis
  • Hold the barbell with both hands and keep the barbell over the pelvis
  • Bring your feet towards your bum so that the knees are in a flexed position. To get to the starting position, we need to drive through the heels and lift our hips towards the ceiling
  • When your thighs align with your back, you have reached the starting position
  • Slowly lower the weight towards the floor. Once you go past a certain point, you will notice that your knees start to shift towards your body. At this point, will need to drive the weight back up to the ceiling. This exercise aims to keep the knees vertical to the floor. The range of motion will be a lot less than the barbell hip thrust and that’s the idea
  • Complete the desired number of reps and then lower the weight to the floor


Cable Leg Kickback

While on the surface this may not seem like a horizontally loaded exercise because you’re stood up, it is. The load isn’t pushing down on you like a squat would, instead the load is in front of you and the glutes need to work hard to push the weight backwards.

The cable leg kickback is a great exercise if you’re looking to give the hips and joints a break as the cable nature of the exercise makes it a lot lighter impact.

Cable leg kickback exercise example

How to:

  • Set up a cable machine at the bottom position and attach the ankle attachment. Set the weight to something you’re comfortable with
  • We’ll be working one leg at a time. Strap in one of your ankles and face the machine
  • Take a couple of small steps backwards until you feel the tension in the cable
  • Lean forward and hold onto the machine for support. Adopt a position where you have the knees slightly bent
  • Lift the leg with the ankle attachment on off of the floor, keeping hold of the machine for support
  • Pull the cable backwards, behind your body as per the picture above
  • Similar to the hip thrust examples, once your thigh aligns with the spine, you have reached the top of the movement
  • Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position and complete the desired number of reps before moving on to the next leg


Glute Hyperextension

Say hello to a killer exercise for your upper glutes – the Glute Hyperextension. If you’re lucky enough to have a glute hyperextension bench in your gym, you should most definitely take advantage of it. This exercise is a brilliant movement for targeting both the upper and lower glutes, the hamstrings, and the lower back muscles.

 Glute hyperextension exercise example

How to:

  • Position yourself on a hyperextension bench so that your hips are aligned with the edge of the bench. There may be an element of trial and error to get into a comfortable position
  • Hook your feet underneath the footpads to give you a platform to push off of
  • If you’re using your body weight as the resistance, you may want to cross your arms over your chest. If you’re using weights, you’ll want to reach down and grab the dumbbell/barbell/plate
  • Twist your feet slightly outwards on the platform. This helps to recruit more of the upper glute fibres
  • Round your upper back by tucking the chin into your body. Again this helps to shift the emphasis from the lower back onto the glutes
  • Slowly lower the upper body towards the floor, whilst maintaining the rounded upper back position
  • Once you feel a slight tension on the glutes, contract the buttocks to return yourself to the starting position
  • Avoid extending the back too far at the top of the movement and only go as far such that the upper body is aligned with your legs
  • Complete the movement for the desired number of sets and reps


Cable Pull-Through

When you break this exercise down, it’s basically like you’re performing a hip thrust – but just stood up. The load is behind you, and you’re glutes need to contract hard to shift the weight forwards, as you would with a hip thrust or glute bridge alternative. Again, the cable nature of the exercise prevents loading the joints and gives them a well-earned rest.

Cable pull through exercise example

How to:

  • Setup a cable machine so that it is on the lowest height setting with the rope handles attached
  • Facing away from the machine, bend down and grab the ropes between your legs
  • Holding both ropes with a neutral grip, stand up straight and take a couple of steps forward until you feel tension on the rope
  • Standing tall and straight, adopt a shoulder-width foot position
  • Bend both of your knees slightly. Hinge at the hips whilst maintaining a neutral spine. Lower the chest towards the floor and let the cable pass between your legs.
  • When you feel a stretch in the glutes, contract the muscles to return yourself to the starting position
  • Complete the desried number of reps


Time to move onto the abduction-based exercises to target the gluteus medius…


Hip Abductor Machine

Using a machine is always a good option if you’re looking to isolate and add size to a muscle. The hip abductor machine ticks many of the ‘How to select the best hypertrophy exercises?’ such as benefiting from an optimum strength curve, having a high level of stability, and being able to easily apply progressive overload – all key factors when it comes to muscle building.

Hip abduction exercise example

How to:

  • Sit on the abductor machine and set the position of the knee pads so that your legs start close together but in a comfortable position
  • Choose a weight for your desired rep range
  • Keeping your back on the pad, push your knees outwards
  • Once you feel a stretch in the upper glutes you have reached the top of the movement, slowly return to the starting position.


As you read through the article you’ll notice that many of the exercises require the use of a resistance band. There are many benefits to using a resistance band, but the reason we recommend them when training the glutes is due to their unique resistance curve. As you go through the movement the exercise becomes more difficult as the band becomes stretched. This means the most resistance will be at the top of the movement, forcing us to push hard, recruiting many muscle fibres.

We recommend the following resistance bands if you don’t already have some:


Recommended resistance bands


Click to buy


Clam Shells

Named due to the way the body position replicates a clamshell when you perform the exercise, the clam shells are another great exercise to target the upper glutes.

Clam shell exercise example

How to:

  • Set up a mat on the floor
  • Lie on your side with the hip and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Keep your feet together
  • Use the arm on the floor to support your head
  • Keeping the hips aligned, lift your top knee towards the ceiling without shifting the hips
  • Once you feel a stretch on the upper glutes you have come to the top of the movement, slowly return to the starting position.
  • Swap sides after you’ve done your desired amounts of reps


Curtsy Lunge

The curtsy lunge is an effective way to target the gluteus medius. It’s a compound exercise that also targets the gluteus maximas, quads, and hamstrings and will also engage muscles like the abs and calfs for stabilisation.

Curtsy lunge exercise example

How to:

  • This exercise can be done either bodyweight or with a barbell, if using a barbell, setup how you normally would during the squat exercise
  • Start by standing shoulder width apart
  • Keep your chest upwards and core tight throughout the movement
  • Keeping your weight on your right foot, lift the left leg up step backward and to the right at the same time (your left leg should cross behind the right leg)
  • Lower the hips towards the floor like you would do with a traditional lunge
  • Once the knee nearly touches the floor, return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the movement with the opposite leg


Side Lying Hip Raise

This exercise combines a side hip thrust movement with the abduction movement to create an exercise that will fire up those upper glutes. It’s another exceptional exercise that can be done in the comfort of your own home.


How to:

  • Lie on your side and bend your hips and knees both at 45-degrees, and keep your legs stacked on top of each other
  • Place your lower on the floor, underneath the shoulder so that the upper arm is perpendicular to the floor. Place your upper arm on the hips. We’re now in the correct starting position
  • Bracing the core, use your obliques and your glutes to lift yourself off of the floor.
  • While lifting yourself off of the floor, use your upper glutes to drive the top leg towards the ceiling. 
  • When you feel tension in the top of the glutes, mirror the movement to return to the starting position.


Seated Band Abduction

A similar movement pattern to the hip abduction machine, but this time we can do this exercise anywhere, no machines are involved. Performed either sitting on the floor or sitting on a chair, pick the variation that’s right for you. 

Seated band abduction exercise example

How to:

  • Sit on the floor and place a band around your knees
  • Bring your knees up so that their roughly a 45-degree angle to the floor
  • Lean back and put your hands on the floor for support
  • Keeping your feet together, push the knees apart away from the centre line of the body
  • Once you feel a stretch in the upper glutes you have reached the top of the exercise, slowly return to the starting position


Banded Glute Bridge

The glute bridge is a popular exercise primarily targeting the gluteus maximas (the largest glute muscle). Placing a band around the knees and pushing outwards throughout the entire movement means not only are the glutes maximas working hard to extend the hips, but the medius will be working hard to keep the knees pushed out. Double the benefits!

Banded glute bridge exercise example

How to:

  • Sitting on the floor in front of a bench/platform, place a resistance band around your knees
  • Lay with your back on the floor and bend your knees
  • Place one foot at a time onto the platform in front of you (you may need to shimmy towards/away from the bench to get your final position, you’ll want the upper leg to be nearly perpendicular to the floor)
  • Keep your feet shoulder width apart on the bench. Once comfortable push your knees outwards
  • Once you feel tension on the upper glutes, contract the glutes to bring your hips towards the ceiling (whilst keeping the tension on the band).
  • At the top of the movement, the hamstrings and back will be aligned. Once you reach this position, slowly return to the starting position.


Upper Glute Workout

Upper Glute Workout in the Gym

  1. Barbell Hip Thrust – 4 Sets of 8 reps
  2. Glute Hyperextension – 3 Sets of 10 reps
  3. Cable Kickback – 3 Sets of 12 reps (each leg)
  4. Hip Abduction Machine – 3 Sets of 12 reps
  5. Banded Glute Bridge – 3 Sets of 15 reps


Upper Glute Workout at Home

  1. KAS Glute Bridge – 4 Sets of 10 reps
  2. Cable Pull-through – 3 Sets of 12 reps 
  3. Curtsy Lunge – 3 Sets of 10 reps (each leg)
  4. Side Lying Hip Raise – 3 Sets of 12 reps (each side)
  5. Clam Shells – 3 sets of 12 reps (each side)


Upper glute building tips

It’s vital to remember the most important muscle building principles when it comes to growing any muscle group, including the glutes.


Regardless of what muscle we’re trying to build, the principles remain the same. To build muscle we need to make sure we are supplying the body with the necessary fuel (calories) needed to grow.

In a muscle building phase, we need to be eating 200-400 calories more than we burn on a daily basis. This means if we’re burning 2000 calories every day, we need to be eating 2200 to grow.

Out of these 2200 calories, we need to work out how many grams of protein/carbs/fats we need. Although relatively easy to work out, it requires some explanation, so check out ‘How many calories do I need to build muscle?’ for the full breakdown.


Progressive Overload

Hopefully, the article mentioned above has provided you with the knowledge to work out what your nutrition should look like to build muscle; but what about our training?

It’s all well and good knowing the best exercises to grow the glutes, but if we’re not applying the basic muscle building training principle, we’re going to have a hard time adding any size.

And that is Progressive overload. In order to grow a muscle, we need to be increasing the stimulus placed upon it over time in order for the muscle to adapt and grow stronger/bigger. Arguably the easiest way to apply progressive overload is by increasing the resistance over time. But other ways include: performing more reps, completing more sets, and reducing rest times.

For a comprehensive explanation of progressive overload, check out ‘The foundation to building muscle’.


Upper Glute Workout (FAQ’s)

How long does it take to build the glutes?

If you stay consistent with your glute training, you can expect to see results within 8-12 weeks. Saying this, it’s worth noting that everyone is different and people will experience results at different rates. For example, a complete newbie can expect to see results quicker than an experienced lifter. It also depends on a variety of different factors such as genetics, age, consistency, and diet to name a few.


How many glute workouts should I do a week?

So, how many glute workouts should you do a week? Well, this again depends on several different factors including: training age, training intensity, and training volume. A better way to look at it would be to consider how many weekly sets you should be doing. The current recommendations show between 10-20 weekly sets are enough to build muscle, with the lower end of the limit geared towards newbie lifters and the upper end of the limit aimed towards experienced lifters.

Let’s use an intermediate lifter as an example, they may need around 15 weekly sets per muscle group to build muscle. Some research suggests that 10 sets per muscle group per workout is the optimum amount, and anything over this may result in wasted sets. We would therefore suggest 2 weekly glute training sessions for this lifter, completing 8 sets in one session and 7 sets in another session.


How do I grow the glutes?

If you’re looking to add size to the entire glute area, we need to be considering the 3 different muscles: gluteus maximas, glutes medius, and gluteus minimus. With the maximas being the largest of the 3 muscles it makes sense we give them the most attention. Exercises such as hip thrusts, squats, and step-ups have been found to effectively target the gluteus maximas.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the best exercises for glute growth, check out ‘The 10 best exercises for a bigger butt’


Final Thoughts

And there it is, you now know the exercises you need to incorporate into your routine to grow the upper glutes and build that ‘shelf’ look you’re after.

Remember, form comes first, once you’ve got that sorted, add resistance, and apply progressive overload.

Provide your body with the fuel needed to grow, and you’ll see results in no time!

As always, we hope you’ve enjoyed the article. If you have any questions, drop them down in the comments and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can – happy glute training!

 Upper glute workout by Robor Fitness Pin



Thomas D
Thomas D


Thomas is a dedicated fitness enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the gym. As a level 2 qualified gym instructor, he combines his passion for working out and nutrition to help others achieve their fitness goals. Thomas stays up to date with the latest fitness research and follows the work of top experts in the field. With a balance of textbook knowledge and real-life experience, he provides practical guidance to help others reach their full potential.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.