It seems like there's an article being published every other day about the best exercises for your rear end, yet 99 percent of them seem to be the same information, rehashed. The worst part is, most of the exercises they list aren't necessarily the most effective for targeting the glutes and creating the lifted, yet rounded shape that is highly coveted by most of the readers.
As a personal trainer who specializes in getting women ready for fitness competitions, I've tried just about every exercise under the sun to help build the glutes (which tend to be one of the biggest weak points on the majority of the girls I train for competition) and while the squats, back lunges, butt-blasters and step-ups that you see repeated in every article on the subject DO work to some degree, they are not the most optimal exercises available.
Over the years, through my experience with my clients and my continued research on the subject matter, I have come up with a set of five exercises that are the key to building and shaping the butt muscles into the head-turning assets that they have the potential to be.
Remember, a muscular rear end will look better than a fat-covered rear end, especially with age. Even if your body genetically stores more fat in your butt area than the average girl's, adding muscle mass is going to greatly improve it's shape and definition.
Barbell Hip Thruster
This is potentially the king of all glute-building exercises and directly hits the gluteus maximus which is the largest muscle of the rear end. Because your gluteus maximus is largest (and consequently, one of the strongest) muscle in your body, it is important to train it directly with heavy weight to build the maximum amount of muscle possible.
To perform this exercise, place your back on a flat bench with your butt on the ground and your legs in "hook" position (your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, pointing straight forward). Position a weighted barbell over the crease of your waist (you can add a bar pad or rolled-up towel to make the exercise more comfortable if you want) and keeping your abs held tight, raise your waist to the ceiling by tightly squeezing the butt. Make sure that you're not compensating by hyperextending the lower back—only the glutes should be working in this exercise. Slowly lower the weight back down to the floor and repeat the movement for 8-12 repetitions.
Start with a light weight to get the technique down, but once you have a handle on the movement, do not be afraid to go VERY heavy on this—you would be surprised how much weight your powerful glute muscles can handle!
It's important not only to pay attention to the large gluteus maximus muscle, but the smaller gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles positioned on the outer portion of the hip as well. These muscles not only give shape to the rear end—they are an important factor in the health of the knee joints because they control the position of the thigh in relation to the hip, and strengthening them will improve lower body function and reduce chance of injury.
Side-lying clams directly target the gluteus medius and minimus, so they are an ideal addition to any butt-building regimen. To perform these, lie on your side with your legs in hook position, and keeping your abs held tight, rotate your top knee in an outward, arcing motion towards the ceiling, keeping the top foot touching the bottom foot. It's critical that your hips don't rotate with the leg—only the leg should be moving.
Bring the leg back to the starting position slowly and repeat this motion for 15-20 repetitions per side. To add resistance to this exercise, you can put a small mini-band around your knees.
This move is another effective way to target the muscles of the outer hips. Take a resistance band or a large mini-band, stand on the middle of it and then cross the band over to make an "x," holding the band with your hands facing each other and your arms held tightly at your sides. Take a moderately deep step to the side, making sure to keep your heel outside of your toe as you do so, and then step your other foot in the same direction.
Continue this movement across the floor for 20-25 steps in each direction. Make sure your upper body glides smoothly rather than rocking back and forth with each step to better isolate the hips.
Quadruped Donkey Kicks
This movement is based off of the "quadruped" stance, in which you position yourself on your hands and knees with your hips at a 90-degree angle in relation to your thighs. To perform the kick, extend one leg straight back behind you, straightening the knee out and flexing the glute on that side.
It's critical that you limit this movement to the leg and glute only—trainees who are new to this move will typically compensate during the movement by hyperextending their lower back to assist in raising the leg without realizing it. Having a partner place their hand on your lower back and ensuring that you don't pull away from their hand as you raise your leg is an easy way to ensure you don't compensate.
This exercise should be performed for 15-20 repetitions per side, and can be done one side at a time or in an alternating fashion. For added resistance, attach an ankle weight to each ankle.
The final exercise that I include in all of my competitor programming is running steps at a stadium (or any set of stairs, really). Newport Harbor High School's football stadium or Orange Coast College's stadium are both great places to do this, as are the steep stairs behind the Newport Theatre Arts Center off of Cliff Drive.
This exercise is especially great because it not only serves as a muscle building tool, but also doubles as a very effective form of cardio exercise. The best way to perform these are to do sets of 4 full climbs, skipping a step each time, followed by a single climb without skipping a step. The step-skipping climb should be done at a slower pace (more like power-walking), focusing on fully extending the leg with each step and tightly squeezing the glutes, while the 5th set should be performed at as fast of a pace as possible.
After reaching the top of the steps, regardless of which set you're on, give yourself 30 seconds to jog back to the bottom and then boxer shuffle until the time is up as a sort of "recovery" period. The full 5-set rounds of stepping can be repeated 3-4 times for a total of 15-20 sets. For more of a cardiovascular emphasis, sprint intervals can be performed between each of the 5-set rounds.
If you're unclear on any of these exercises, take a look at the videos above or feel free to post a comment below.
About the Author
As a local fitness and nutrition expert in the Costa Mesa/Newport Beach area, Certified Trainer, Strength Coach and Sports Nutrition Specialist Ben Ballinger helps people break mental and physical barriers every day by teaching them the power of positive thinking and mental discipline.
As a specialist in bringing out the "Inner Athlete" in his clients, who include female ex-athletes looking to regain their youthful body and athletic ability, young adult men looking to build strength and muscle and first-time female fitness competitors, Ben believes in scientifically-sound, field-proven methods of achieving optimal health, physique and performance.
For more information on Ben and his training and nutrition philosophy, visit his website at www.BallingerAthleticPerformance.com, or for information on his Costa Mesa-based strength and conditioning facility Training Ground OC, and how you can learn to unleash YOUR Inner Athlete, visit www.TrainingGroundOC.com.