It’s amazing that the glutes comprise our body’s largest muscle group. Whether you’re a runner, a strength trainer, a yogi, or a cross-trainer, the glutes move and control your hips pretty much in every way. So it is important to keep them healthy and moving.
With most people experiencing increasingly longer hours sitting at their desks, the glutes end up becoming highly underutilized due to inactivity. This could result in weak glutes, which could lead to weaker hamstring muscles. With weaker muscles, we’re all susceptible to injury. Not to mention, a strong glute complex contributes to less low back pain and a nice-looking rear!
As always with any strength exercise, a proper warmup is the best way to start. Focus on light cardio and dynamic stretching to really open up the lower body muscle groups.
Here are five exercises that will help strengthen, condition, and tone your glute complex.
Sounds easy, right? It’s essentially the motion of climbing stairs. Most of us dread the stairs because they leave us out of breath. The step-up is a just one step! The goal of a proper step-up is to perform the motion slowly and with control.
HOW: You will need a “step” which could be a sturdy bench, chair, riser, or box. Simply place one foot on top of the step and push through the center of that foot to bring yourself up to standing on both feet evenly. Make sure to tuck the hip and squeeze your glute muscles together while tightening your core. When lowering, push the hips back and slowly lower down. You can alternate the foot that steps up first or keep it consistent and then change. Try to get 10 repetitions per leg for one set.
ADVANCED OPTION: For a challenge, feel free to add weights to your hands or increase the elevation of your step.
The squat is one of the best exercises for the entire lower body. It also challenges the core.
By performing an air squat with hands placed behind the head, you’re allowing your lower body to stay controlled and manage the load of your body weight effectively. The glute complex gets conditioned on the way up when you squeeze and contract the muscles together.
HOW: Place your hands behind your head without pulling on your head, with the fingertips touching. This also helps keep your head and chest open and not hunched. From here, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Stay in this position for three to five seconds and then push off your feet back up to standing.
Make sure your knees track over your feet and don’t collapse inward or push past your toes. Push back to the starting position.
3. Hip Thrust
Who doesn’t love a good hip thrust? The best part about a hip thrust is that it’s a safe and effective exercise, even for beginners. Many strength conditioning warmups use the hip thrust to activate the glute muscles. According to Liz Barnet, NYC-based fitness and food coach, “It’s essential to engage both the glutes and general core against the downward force of gravity.”
HOW: Lay down on a mat or comfortable surface with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Try to ensure that your lower back is flat on the ground. This is the proper starting position. Push through your feet and raise your hips as high as you can without arching your lower back, like a bridge. Hold this position for a couple seconds (don’t forget to breathe while holding) and then slowly lower yourself back to the ground.
ADVANCED: The hip thrust works your hamstring muscle group as well. Challenge yourself by placing dumbbells near your hip joints or raising one leg into the air when thrusting. Make sure to perform the leg raise on the opposite leg, too!
Lunges are no easy task. With each step and lunge you take, the weight shifts from the bottom of your foot through the calves, quads, and glutes as you come to stand with both feet together. Your hips play an important role in this motion and it’s important to contract and squeeze your glutes as you come to stand. With proper and effective lunges, your glutes may be on fire for a couple of days!
HOW: Stand with your feet together and take a big step forward with your foot. Push up into a standing position, bringing your back foot forward. That’s one rep. By alternating the leg you step forward with, you’ll be performing a “walking lunge.” Try to perform a total of 10 reps for each leg.
ADVANCED: Once you are comfortable with this move, challenge yourself by adding weight.
5. Resistance Band Lateral Side Steps
This move is excellent to perform anywhere, anytime. All you need is a mini resistance band, which will provide all the resistance you need. “Because of our sedentary lifestyles, lateral movement of the gluteal muscles tends to be overlooked. As a result, lateral band steps are a great way to isolate this movement,” says Barnet. Not to mention, the movement is a great way to activate and strengthen the whole muscle group.
HOW: The mini band should be placed around your shin (mid calf). Place both feet inside the mini band and keep your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart. Make sure to keep that core tucked, avoiding a sway back and positioning your tailbone towards the floor. Take 10 short steps to the right and then 10 steps back to your left where you began.
ADVANCED: Grab a set of weights and hold them in your hand when moving laterally.
[This article was previously posted in Healthline on July 24, 2015]