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Upper Glute Workout: Build that Upper Glute Shelf

January 23, 2023

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 upper glutes and the muscle that is responsible for developing that ‘shelf’ look is the gluteus medius.

To understand how to target the gluteus medius, we must first learn what its role is.

The gluteus medius primary role 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

We’ve learned that to effectively target the upper glutes we need to choose exercises that incorporate hip abduction, as that’s the primary role of the gluteus medius.

Below we have selected the best exercises you can start utilising today to grow that ‘shelf’ you’re after.


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. Hip Abduction Machine – 3 Sets of 12 reps
  2. Curtsy Lunge – 3 Sets of 10 reps (each leg)
  3. Banded Glute Bridge – 3 Sets of 15 reps


Upper Glute Workout at Home

  1. Side Lying Hip Raise – 3 Sets of 12 reps (each side)
  2. Clam Shells – 3 sets of 12 reps (each side)
  3. Banded Glute Bridge – 3 sets of 15 reps


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



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