Glute Isolation Exercises

The gluteus maximus, or glutes for short, is one of the most important muscles in your body. They are involved in more movements that you can count, including walking, running, jumping, climbing stairs, and lifting objects from the floor.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have very weak glutes. That’s because we spend way too much time sitting than we should.

Sitting puts your glutes into a stretched, relaxed position. Habitual sitting can cause your glutes to become lazy and untoned. Deconditioned glutes can affect your ability to generate power, reducing athletic performance. Also, no one wants saggy, soft glutes!

Whether you want to look or perform better, it’s time to pay a little more attention to your glutes. In this article, we reveal the 15 best glute isolation exercises.

Glute Anatomy 101

Glutes is usually short for gluteus maximus. However, there are other muscles that make up the glute complex that are no less important.

Providing you use the best glute exercises, you should have no problem building a strong and muscular butt. Still, it’s always helpful to know a little about the underlying anatomy of the muscles you want to develop.

And don’t for a moment underestimate the importance of the glutes. They are biomechanically similar to your deltoids or shoulder muscles. In fact, some people even call them the deltoids of the hip.

Glute Anatomy

The muscles that make up the glutes complex are:

Gluteus maximus 

This is the muscle you are currently sitting on! The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body and also potentially the most powerful. Located on the back and side of your hip, the functions of the gluteus maximus are:

  • Hip extension
  • Hip lateral (external) rotation
  • Hip abduction (superior or upper portion)
  • Hip adduction (inferior or lower portion)

Gluteus medius

The gluteus medius is located above and beneath the gluteus maximus near the iliac crest of the pelvis. It works with the gluteus maximus and also has some additional functions:

  • Hip abduction (movement away from the midline of the body)
  • Hip medial (internal) rotation
  • Pelvis stabilization

Gluteus minimus

This is a small triangle-shaped muscle located within the posterior aspect of the hip. Like the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus also works alongside the gluteus maximus, and its functions are:

  • Hip abduction
  • Hip medial rotation
  • Pelvis stabilization

The gluteus maximus might be the most prominent muscle in the glute complex, but the other glute muscles deserve your attention too. They might not contribute as much to butt mass, but they are critical for hip stability and performance.

If these other, smaller glute muscles are neglected, your hips won’t be as stable, and that will affect your athletic performance. So, because of the complexity of this part of your body, you must train your glutes from several different directions to ensure you develop all of these muscles.

15 Top Glute Isolation Exercises

Isolation exercises involve one joint and a small number of muscles. Examples include biceps curls, leg extensions, and calf raises. However, the glutes invariably work with the hamstrings and erector spinae muscles. In fact, it’s tough to isolate the glutes completely.

Because of that, some of the following exercises emphasize rather than fully isolate the glutes. That doesn’t make them any less effective for working your glutes but explains why there are exercises listed below that involve additional muscles and movements.

So, here are the 15 best glute isolation exercises and some exercises that emphasize your glutes, too:

1. Cable hip extensions

Cable hip extensions target your gluteus maximus. This exercise involves minimal lower back stress and very little hamstring engagement. As such, it means you can focus all your attention on your butt, training one side at a time. You’ll need a low cable machine and an ankle cuff for this exercise, but you can also do it with a resistance band.

Find out more about this glute-busting exercise here.

 

2. Cable hip abduction

This exercise targets the gluteus minimus and medius, as well as your tensor fascia latae.  These muscles lift your legs out and away from the midline of your body. Using a cable machine and a cuff is one of the most effective ways to train gluteus minimus and medius.

Learn how to do cable hip abductions here.

 

3. Cable pull-through

The cable pull-throughs are a very effective glute exercise. Powerlifters use them as an accessory movement to increase their squat and deadlift performance, where the glutes play a critical role. This back-friendly posterior chain exercise is also popular with anyone who wants to develop a shapelier butt.

Learn how to do this exercise here.

4. Donkey kicks

Donkey kicks are a glute exercise that often features in group workout classes. It’s straightforward to learn, easy to perform, and you don’t need any special equipment to do it, so it’s perfect for home exercisers, too.

How to do it:

  1. Kneel down on all fours, so your shoulders are directly over your hands, and your hips are over your knees. Your arms should be straight, and hands about shoulder-width apart, fingers pointing forward. Tuck your chin in and lengthen your neck.
  2. Brace your core and ensure your lumbar spine is neutral, i.e., slightly arched.
  3. Extending your hip, and keeping your knee bent, lift one leg out and behind you, pushing your heel up toward the ceiling.
  4. Take care NOT to hyperextend your lower back. Instead, keep your hips/anterior pelvis pointing straight down at the floor.
  5. Lower your leg back down and repeat on the same side or alternate legs as preferred.
  6. Make this exercise harder by wearing ankle weights.

 

5. Smith machine donkey kicks

If you like donkey kicks but find them a little too easy, try this weighted variation. Doing donkey kicks with a Smith machine is an easy way to overload your glutes. With very little balance required, you’re free to focus on pushing your glutes to failure in relative safety.

Learn how to do this potent glute exercise here.

 

6. Hip thrusts

Hip thrusts are a popular glute exercise that can be done using nothing more than your body weight for resistance. They can also be made harder by adding a barbell. For an even more intense workout, try hip thrusts with a booty band around your knees to increase glute activation.

Hip Thrust

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms on the floor by your sides.
  2. Drive your feet into the floor and push your hips up toward the ceiling. Your knees, hips, and shoulders should form a straight line.
  3. Lower your butt back down to the floor and repeat.

Make this exercise harder by holding a weight on your hips, using one leg at a time, or placing your feet or shoulders on a step or bench to increase your range of motion.

 

7. Clamshell with a booty band

This exercise directly targets your gluteus minimus and medius. Located on the outer aspect of your butt, these muscles are responsible for the external rotation and abduction of your hips. Developing these muscles is good for increasing hip stability and will also give a rounder, fuller-looking butt.

How to do it:

  1. Put your booty band around your knees and lie down on your side. Stack your hips and bend your knees to 45-degrees.
  2. Rest your head on your lower arm and brace your core to stabilize your spine and pelvis.
  3. While keeping your feet together, lift and rotate your upper knee outward as high as possible without moving your hips or pelvis. Do NOT lean backward.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat before rolling over and changing legs.

 

8. Fire hydrants

Fire hydrants are so-called because, when you do them, you look like a dog lifting its leg to pee! Unsavory imagery aside, this is a good exercise for isolating gluteus minimus and medius. Because they’re done on all fours – the quadruped position – this exercise is spine-friendly and provides a good core workout.

Fire Hydrant Exercise

How to do it:

  1. Adopt the quadruped position with your knees directly under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Brace your core and make sure your spine is neutral, i.e., your lower back is slightly arched. Tuck your chin in and gently extend your neck.
  2. Keeping your knee and hip bent to 90-degrees, lift one leg up and out to the side. Keep the rest of your body stationary. Raise your leg to about 45-degrees. Make sure your knee and hip remain aligned.
  3. Pause with your leg raised for 1-2 seconds and then, smoothly and controlled, lower your leg back down.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps and then swap legs.
  5. Make this exercise more demanding by wearing a booty band around your knees.

 

9. Frog pump

Frog pumps combine hip extension with abduction and external rotation, making it feel like a combination of hip thrusts and clamshells. As such, it involves all your gluteal muscles, which makes it a very functional, time-efficient exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet together so you look not unlike a frog. Press your knees apart to engage your outer hips.
  2. Push your hips up by driving the outsides of your feet into the ground.
  3. Contract your glutes at the top of the movement.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  5. You can make this exercise harder by resting and holding a weight on your lower abdomen.

 

10. Lateral band walk

This exercise emphasizes your gluteus minimus and medius, but the gluteus maximus is also involved, as are your quadriceps. This is an excellent exercise for improving hip stability and firing up your glutes before squats, lunges, running, etc.

How to do it:

  1. Put a booty band around your legs just above or below your knees. Step out to tension the bend. Bend your knees and descend into a quarter-depth squat. The deeper you squat, the harder your quads and gluteus maximus have to work.
  2. Keeping your knees apart, take a series of steps to the left, and then return to your starting position in the same way.
  1. Take wide enough steps that there is constant tension on the band.

 

11. Side Plank with Hip Abductions

Planks are a popular core exercise, and doing them on your side focuses on your obliques or waist muscles. However, your lateral glutes are also involved in this exercise, and lifting and lowering your uppermost leg will really challenge all of these muscles, making this a great core/glute combo.

Side Plank

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your side and rest on your elbow and forearm. Lift your hips, so your body is straight. Brace your core.
  2. Keeping your body straight, lift (abduct) your uppermost leg to about 45-degrees. Do not allow your body to drop out of alignment or your hips/shoulders to twist.
  3. Lower your leg and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  4. Do the same number of reps on both sides.

 

12. Lateral lunges

Lateral Lunges

Lunges are a superb way to develop more muscular, stronger, shapelier legs. Because they’re a unilateral exercise, you’ll need to use your glutes to stabilize and extend your hips simultaneously, making them very functional and time-efficient. All types of lunges are good for working your glutes, but lateral lunges are the most glute-centric of the lot!

Learn how to do lateral lunges here.

 

13. Booty band goblet squat

While goblet squats are most definitely a quad-dominant leg exercise, doing them with a booty band will really fire up your glutes. If you want to work your butt more than your quads, use a light weight and a stronger band and really focus on pushing your knees outward.

How to do it:

  1. Put a booty band around your legs, just above or below your knees. Step out and into a shoulder-width stance, toes turned slightly outward. Push your knees out against the band.
  2. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
  3. Pressing your knees outward throughout, bend your legs, and squat down as deep as you can without rounding your lower back.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

 

15. Single-leg Romanian deadlifts

While regular two-legged Romanian deadlifts are an effective glute exercise, doing them on one leg increases gluteus minimus and medius engagement. You’ll need to use these muscles to stabilize your hips. They’re also helpful for improving balance and hip mobility. Do them with or without weights as required.

Learn how to do single-leg Romanian deadlifts here.

 

15. High reverse plank

Planks are generally associated with core training. However, if you turn over and do reverse planks, you end up working the muscles on the back of your body, including your glutes. This is an isometric exercise, which means your muscles generate force without movement. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can to make this exercise as effective as possible.

Discover more about this simple yet challenging exercise here.

More on Glutes:

Wrapping Up

Weak glutes can lead to hip, knee, and lower back pain. That’s because they play a critical role in hip joint stability. If your femurs roll in or out as you walk, run, jump, squat, or lunge, those extra movements will increase wear and tear on your joints. Strengthen your glutes, and your knees and hips will track better.

Your glutes are also the “engine room” that drives you forward. So, if you want to run faster or jump higher, or even just walk further without getting tired, working on your glutes will help.

Use the exercises in this workout to target your glutes and eliminate weakness. There is no need to go all glutes, all the time. However, including at least a couple of glute exercises in your leg workouts can really pay off.

Always include hip extension, hip abduction, and hip rotation exercises in your workouts to challenge and develop all three glute muscles – maximus, minimus, and medius. This will ensure that you hit your glutes from all angles and get better results from your training.

Side Plank