This article originally appeared on Yoga Journal
For many of us, squats are our primary glute-strengthening exercises. Think of them as Utkatasana (Chair Pose) minus the arm work. But no matter how often or long you struggle to hold your squat or your Chair Pose, its effectiveness is limited in terms of building stronger glutes.
The Anatomy of Glute-Strengthening Exercises
There are three different gluteal muscles to consider: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. “Each of the three gluteal muscles must be targeted from multiple angles,” says Flo Master, aka Jerry Randolph, USA Boxing Certified coach and founder of FightCamp, who turned to martial arts after a career as a dancer for Usher, Jennifer Lopez, and Will Smith.
“If you don’t work the gluteals from different angles,” says Randolph, “they will be unbalanced, and you can risk injury.” Strengthening these muscles is essential for a pain-free lifestyle, he continues, explaining that strong gluteal muscles can help prevent injuries by enabling you to draw on your gluteal and leg muscles rather than only those of your lower back. Balanced gluteal strength can also strengthen and stabilize the pelvis. It can even improve your workouts and outdoor adventuring, especially if you engage in running, rock climbing, kickboxing, boxing, and football.
Besides, if you rely on the same exercise every time, your body will get used to it and hit a plateau. Chances are your mind will do the same.
4 Glute-Strengthening Exercises
There are a variety of glute-strengthening exercises that engage not only the gluteal muscles, but also the harder-to-target supporting muscles of the core, back, and legs. The following exercises help ensure that you work your glutes from every angle.
Single-Leg Hip Bridge
Bridges strengthen your glute muscles while toning your hamstrings. “Since you are balancing on one leg, you are also activating the gluteus minimus, which is one of the stabilizer muscles,” says Randolph. “This muscle helps to keep your leg extended straight versus falling off to the side.” This is essentially a variation on the classic yoga pose Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose).
How to: Lie down with your knees bent and both feet resting on the floor. Straighten your left leg and flex your foot with your toes pointing toward the ceiling. Raise your hips off the floor as high as you can and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Draw your belly button toward your spine to engage your core. Lower your hips to the floor for a second and then push them back up to repeat. Repeat for a total of 15 reps. Switch sides. Practice up to 4 sets on each leg.
“Many people consider the Romanian Deadlift to be the king of butt-building exercises,” says Randolph. “It’s that good. This exercise primarily works the gluteus maximus, but also works many other muscles that help to strengthen the whole lower body and back.” If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ll notice that you’re essentially practicing Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend).
How to: Stand tall while holding a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand or holding a kettlebell between your hands. Bring your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Slowly bend forward at your hips, keeping your arms straight and your hands close to your legs, as you lower the weights as far down your legs as you can without rounding your back or increasing the bend in your knees. Keep your core engaged, your heels heavy on the ground, and perform the movement slowly and with control. Push your hips slightly forward and squeeze your glutes to pull yourself upright and back to standing. Repeat as desired but only while your alignment remains precise. If you find yourself slouching, you’ve done enough reps.
Banded Fire Hydrant
This exercise activates the gluteus medius, which can be trickier to isolate than the gluteus maximus, says Randolph.
How to: Begin on all fours. Place a loop band above your knees. Lift one knee out to the side while keeping it bent at a 90-degree angle. Lower your leg and repeat for a total of 20 reps. Perform this exercise slowly. Switch sides. Practice up to 4 sets on each leg.
This exercise tackles the hardest-to-target areas of your backside at once. “It works because the leg is extended, making you rely on all gluteal muscles to perform the exercise. The lateral move to make the rainbow targets all three of the gluteals.” Throughout the exercise, engage your core by drawing your belly button toward the spine.
How to: Begin on all fours. Extend your right leg straight behind you, keeping your toes on the floor. Lift your right leg no higher than your hip, pointing your toes, and lower it to the floor. Lift your leg again, this time squeezing your glutes as you lower your leg behind you and about 1 foot to the left of your left leg. Bring your right leg behind you again and lower it to the floor. Repeat for a total of 20 reps. Switch sides. Practice up to 4 sets on each leg. To make this exercise more challenging, you can add ankle weights.
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