The Best Exercises to Activate Your Glutes

By Adrianna McDonald

There is a misconception that squats are a girl’s best friend when it comes to booty development. The truth is that squats are a multi-joint exercise and work the whole leg including the glutes but they shouldn’t be your primary glute exercise.

The glutes are a large muscle group and respond well to volume (high rep) training, so it would be wise to train these muscles specifically 2-3 times a week. The key is to add a variety of glute exercises and use body weight variation with progression to heavier weighted exercises.

The most important factor is to be able to contract the muscle and feel the burn in the right place with every repetition. Proper movement is crucial in getting the desired result. Don’t forget about changing the angle and the exercise position i.e horizontal, vertical, prone or supine. Below is the list of specific strengthening exercises, which in my opinion do wonders for glutes development:

  • Hip Thrust & Bridges

This is a far more superior exercise to squats or deadlifts when it comes to the glutes. There are different variations to this exercise and the more you do, the better. You can start with glute bridges if you haven’t tried the hip thrust yet and progress to single leg bridges, and then onto a weighted bridge (band, plate, barbell) and finally to a hip thrust using a step or bench. Some gyms are better equipped than others and you may even find specific hip thrust machine.

  • Kick backs

These are my favorite. In this exercise you can really feel your butt working and completely exclude the legs. The pure glute isolation lets you completely focus on form and quality. It has many variations from bodyweight, ankle weighted to cable and glute machine kickbacks. Make sure you use them all! (not in one workout though ;-))

  • Back extensions

This may be a new thing for you if you only performed this exercise to target your lower back. But trust me, this exercise can set your glutes on fire! It’s a very efficient way to increase metabolic stress and time under tension for the glutes. Just focus on engaging (a.k.a squeezing) the glutes. The load comes from front-to-back and it incorporates the upper glutes in addition to the lower glutes.

  • High step up

To recruit the glutes and hamstrings you have to place the majority of your weight on the to heel of your foot. At first try to master the eccentric (going down) phase of the exercise, taking at least 3 seconds to lower from the top to the bottom of the exercise.

Doing step-ups from a high box with the weight shifted to the heel is going to target your hamstrings and glutes more. The increased range of motion slows you down and provides more strength and stability benefits. But remember, just like with any exercise, you need to apply the principle of variations to your training to prevent plateaus. Start step-ups with your own body weight and increase the height before increasing the weight.

  • Reverse hyperextensions

Even though the reverse hyperextension is a bodyweight exercise, you still have the ability to increase the resistance by using ankle weights, a pendulum machine or holding a dumbbell or medicine ball between your feet. Remember: before you add any resistance, make sure you master your form.

To have a great feel of gluteal contraction this exercise has to be performed without flexing or extending the lumbar spine (your lower back). Reverse hypers have an extreme eccentric component if you perform the exercise correctly and stop the pendulum from pulling your lower back into flexion. With proper technique the glutes will contract very hard at the top of these movements at end-range hip extension.

As one of my favorite coaches says:

“Squats and lunges are the kings of quad exercises; deadlifts and good mornings are the kings of erector spinae exercises; hip thrusts and pendulum quadruped hip extensions are the kings of glute exercises; and weighted back extensions and glute ham raises are the kings of hamstring exercises.” – by Bret Contreras


Exercise of the week: Wide Leg Press

The leg press is a great exercise for strengthening and growing your leg muscles, despite it being considered as much easier than squats.

A 45 degree leg press machine has a seat in which the body reclines at an angle and the leg press is in an upward diagonal direction using a sled mechanism. This version of the leg press is more for working on getting a nice sweep in the quads (vastus lateralis).

Assume a wide stance and turn your toes out in a frog-style position. Allow your knees to come down outside of your body, so you’ll be sort of pushing your knees out as you lower the platform.

The concentric portion of the lift should be done explosively. Ideally your leg press will have stops that will allow you to perform rest-pause reps. Set the stops relatively high and let the weight rest for 2 seconds before blasting it back up explosively.

Even though this exercise is meant to mostly work the quads, by squeezing your heels together on the movement up you will involve the hamstrings and inner thighs, and if you bring it low enough your glutes will say HI as well  (never miss a chance to work on your glutes!)💪



  1. Set up for the wide stance 45 degree leg press by loading the weight plates you want to use on the leg press machine.
  2. Sit down on the leg press machine and position your feet further than shoulder width apart, one on each edge of the foot plate.
  3. Extend your legs to take the weight off the racks, and release the safety stops. Your knees should be slightly bent at the start of the movement, as this will ensure the weight is on your quads.
  4. Slowly lower the weight down until your legs are just past a 45 degree angle.
  5. Push through your heels and extend your legs to move the weight back up to the starting position.
  6. Repeat movement for desired number of reps.

Exercise Tips:

  • Your knees should not be locked out at the any point during this exercise.
  • When moving the weight up, push through your heels and squeeze them towards each other.
  • You can involve the glutes more in this exercise by going deeper (lower).
  • Always be sure that the safety stops are locked securely when finishing the exercise.

Exercise of the week: Romanian Deadlift

Now that I am 14 and a half weeks out from the competition, training and nutrition are really starting to take the spotlight in my daily routine. Of course, training is key in getting my body ready for the stage takes a lot of hard work in the gym.

I always start my week with leg day since, as a female bikini competitor, it is important to have rounded hamstrings and glutes. Therefore, my trainer Adrianna has made sure that training posterior chain is a priority in my program. One of the crucial exercises to achieve this are deadlifts and there are a few variations.

This week we did the toes-elevated Romanian deadlift (RDL) version which makes it easier to tense and load the hamstrings, especially if you are very flexible. When performing the lift, it’s important to think of pushing the hips back and letting the torso bend forward in response to the hips moving backwards. This will maximally load the hamstrings. See the video below to get a better understanding:

In the next post you will find out a bit more about my nutrition and how that is another crucial factor in looking fab on stage.

Stay tuned.