Glute exercises are one of the easiest ways to strengthen and tone: 6 best to try, according to top PT's

The only moves you need for bigger, stronger glutes.

A woman doing an RDL, one of the best glute exercises
(Image credit: Getty)

Glute exercises have had a lot of attention recently. That's good news because your glutes are one of, if not the, most important muscles in your body to keep strong.

A form of weight training, alongside ab exercises, resistance band exercises, dumbbell exercises and kettlebell exercises, they're one of the easiest ways to build strength and tone your body.

How so? Well, according to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, the glute max (aka the central muscle in your glutes) is the largest and most powerful in the human body. Think of it as your powerhouse, helping stabilise your pelvis and spine, push you forwards when you walk or run, and support you in virtually all forms of movement, whether you're bending down to sit on the floor for a movie marathon or squatting with a barbell. 

Did you know? Many of us have weak glutes, write the researchers of a 2015 study into glute function. They say that our lifestyles - particularly sitting down for long periods of time - reduces the activation of the glutes which makes them weaker. In turn, we end up relying on muscles like our hamstrings, quads and back to do many of the things our glutes should be responsible for.

That can be why weak glutes are associated with injury: a 2016 study published in the European Spine Journal found that glute weakness was much more common in people with chronic low back pain than pain-free individuals, showing the importance of strong glutes for easing aches and pains. 

That's why we've turned to the experts to round up the best glute exercises to try to strengthen your glute muscles. I'm Chloe Gray, a health and fitness writer who regularly interviews the best in the industry, a qualified personal trainer and someone who has been strength training (especially my glutes) for nearly 10 years. I've also asked the following amazing PTs to share their fave glute workouts:

Wondering how much weight should you start lifting? We've got a guide to that too, as well as explainers on strength training for beginners and how to avoid gym anxiety.

Glute exercises: your guide to the best

What are the different muscles in your glutes?

As we mentioned before, the glute max is the largest muscle in the body. But the glute max isn't the only muscle that makes up the glutes as we know them. In fact, there are three muscles that form our glutes: 

  • The glute max: the largest, most central muscle in the glutes
  • The glute med: found on the outside of the bum and hip area
  • The glute min: the smallest muscle that lies deep in the glute, under the glute med

Strengthening all three muscles is really important, but different exercises will be most effective for targetting each individual area. 

For the glute max, big lifts like hip thrusts will engage the area. But the glute med and glute min are best worked with hip abduction movements - meaning exercises that move the leg to the side, away from the body. More on that to come. 

What is the best way to strengthen your glutes?

The best way to strengthen your glutes is simply to strength train. We go through everything you need to know about weight training for women in our guide, but the basics are to pick weights that you can lift for anywhere from five to 15 reps and that feel really challenging to you. 

Yep, no matter what you see on Instagram, the best way to strengthen your glutes is not doing 100 pulses with your body weight, but to lift. And lift heavy. 

6 glute exercises to try tonight

The best glute exercises ultimately come down to choice. Ideally, your glutes will be engaged during most exercises, but as we mentioned earlier that's sometimes not the case with our modern ways of living. So, the following recommendations are all glute-specific exercises that will help you build your glute muscle. 

Keen to try a whole session? Try this glute workout from an expert PT, instead.

1. Hip thrust

Every single PT from our list recommended this exercise as a one-stop shop for stronger glutes. "Simply, it's the king of glute exercises," says Heaton-Armstrong. "It stimulates the glutes from top to bottom and is safe for any knee or ankle instability. There is no better way to build a strong butt."

Research is also on the hip thrusts side: in a 2019 review, researchers found that barbell hip thrusts lead to better activation of the glutes compared to squats and deadlifts. In fact, no matter what variation of hip thrusts were used (for instance, how high the bench was that the participant's back was resting on or where the feet were placed), the glutes were always the most used muscle. In short, hip thrusts are an exercise that work your glutes no matter how they're done. 

How to: Sit on the floor with your back resting against a bench or box (if you are at home, you can use a sturdy chair or sofa). Position yourself so the edge of your surface rests just under your shoulder blades and your feet are flat on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. 

If you are using a dumbbell or barbell, place it across your hips. Push your ribs down and pubic bone up to engage your core, then press through your feet to raise your hips off the floor. When you are at the top of the exercise, your legs should be at a 90-degree ankle. Slowly lower back down, then repeat. 

How long: Aim for 12 reps.

2. Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts (sometimes referred to as RDLs) are known for being a hamstring move, but fun fact: they also target the glutes. In research, including one study from 2020, EMG data shows that the glutes are the second-most used muscle used in RDLs, so they are loaded up a lot during the exercise. 

"For me, this is my favourite posterior chain exercise as it effectively targets my glutes as well as my hamstrings, the muscles in my back and works my grip strength," says Stafford. 

Remember: we are all different, so play around with your positioning, like adding a slight bend to the knee or where your feet are placed, to find the position that feels most glute-focused for you.

How to: Stand tall with your feet placed shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells or a barbell in your hands. Tuck your chin, as though you are holding a tennis ball on your collarbone, squeeze your core and have a tiny bend in your knees. 

Begin to hinge at the hips by pushing your bum back, as though trying to close a door behind you. Keep the weights close to your legs as they lower to the floor. At the bottom of the move, squeeze your glutes to come back to the standing position. 

How long: Aim for 12 reps.

3. Glute bridge

Glute bridges are similar to hip thrusts, except rather than resting on a bench you lie on the floor. This means you have a smaller range of motion (the hips can't move as much) but it makes them simpler for beginners or as a form of glute activation. "Adding a thick resistance band can add extra burn," adds Breeden. "I love this exercise as it's simple, effective and you can instantly feel the glutes working." 

How to: Lie on the floor with your feet flat, around shoulder-width apart, and knees pointed to the ceiling. Tuck your tailbone by drawing your ribs down and pressing your pubic bone up. Slowly peel your back off the floor until your hips are as high as they can go, maintaining the 'tucked' position, then lower back down. 

How long: Aim for 12 reps.

4. Single leg hip thrusts

Make your hip thrusts even more tricky by raising one leg. "These are simple yet effective driving all the weight through one glute at a time," says Laura. "Drive up to full hip extension using one foot and control back down - even at bodyweight, this will get you going."

How to: Begin in the same way as a hip thrust, with your back resting against a low bench or box. Tuck your tailbone and engage your core before lifting one foot off the floor, bending the knee. Press through the foot that is on the ground to lift your hips into the bridge position, then lower down without assistance from the raised foot. 

5. Step-ups

"This exercise for lower body strength and balance - there’s a real art of patience and confidence with this one," says Hoggins. "Challenge yourself to use that supporting back leg as little as possible and really drive up with the leg on the box and feel that hit to your glute. Use a weight if you’re ready to level up."

Although step ups aren't as popular as exercises like squats or deadlifts, research is on their side. In a 2020 Journal of Sports Science Medicine report, researchers found that step ups had the highest levels of glute max activation than moves like deadlifts, lunges and squats.

How to: Place a bench or box in front of you (not too high - ideally it's no taller than knee height). Place one foot on the box and straighten the leg that is down. Ensure your hips are a little hinged forwards, then press through the raised foot to step your bottom foot up to tap the top of the box. Slowly lower back down, tapping the bottom foot onto the floor, before driving up again. 

How long: Aim for 12 reps on each side.

6. Side lying hip raise

When it comes to those abducting exercises that target the glute med, try side lying hip raises. You'll notice that in the movement you're opening your legs, moving them away from the centre, which is the best way to target the glute med. 

How to: Lie on the floor on your side with your forearm down and legs bent at right ankles. Your feet should be in line with your glutes. Press into the calf of your bottom leg to push the glutes off the floor, opening the top leg as you do so, keeping the hips flat so you don't roll forwards or backwards. Lower back down. 

How long: Aim for 12 reps on each side.

What is the best glute workout?

As above, any workout that you enjoy and genuinely look forward to doing is best - each individual is different.

That said, the above six exercises have been tipped by PT's as the best glute exercises you can try. Give them a go in succession - try 3 sets of each - for a failsafe glute workout you can do from home or from the gym.

Chloe Gray
Contributing Health Writer

Chloe Gray is a freelance journalist who writes and talks about health, fitness, and wellbeing through a feminist lens. She was part of the launch team for Stylist magazine's fitness brand, Strong Women, and has written for i news, Women's Health, Red magazine, Good Housekeeping, Refinery29, and more. She's all about building mental and physical strength, eating delicious food that fuels you well, and making the fitness industry more accessible and enjoyable. She's also a qualified fitness trainer and research nerd, so you can be sure everything you read is backed by proper science.