The main 3 buttock muscles that you need to know are the Gluteus Maximus (the main buttock cheek and strongest muscle in the body), the Gluteus Medius (sits on the side of your buttocks) and the Gluteus Minimus.
The buttock muscles are responsible for extending your hips. So when you walk or run it is your buttocks that extend your legs backwards. The Hamstring muscles also work to extend the hips but they should work as a secondary hip extensor.
Unfortunately due to incorrect exercise techniques, spending too much time sitting down and overactive thigh muscles, the Buttock muscles become lazy and the hamstrings will often do their job.
1 – Hip Bridge
A simple starter exercise that can really activate the Buttock muscles if performed correctly. Lie on your back with legs pulled in and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands by your side with your palms pointing upwards. Next push your hips towards the ceiling squeezing your buttocks tight at the top.Â Be very careful not to overextend your hips by using your lower back to gain extra movement. Hold at the top position for 5 seconds and slowly return to the start. Try to push from your heels throughout the entire movement.
2 – Single Leg Hip Bridge
Once you have mastered the Hip Bridge you can move onto this more advanced version. The exercise is performed exactly the same as the hip bridge except this time you place one leg in the air pointing towards the ceiling throughout the whole exercise. During the exercise ensure that the hips stay flat by using your core muscles. You can make the exercise harder still by placing the one leg on a medicine ball or BOSU ball. Aim for 12 reps each leg.
3 – Mule Kick
This is a great exercise to activate the Buttocks while disabling the hamstrings. Start by kneeling on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Next take the one leg backwards slowing going back and up. Keep a slight bend in the leg to disable the hamstrings from working. As you get to the top of the movement squeeze the buttocks tight. Ensure not to overextend the leg and use the lower back. The lower back should stay in a neutral spine position throughout the exercise.
4 – Side Kick
For working on the side of the buttocks I like the sidekick. The exercise is called a sidekick but really is more of a slow side leg press. Start by standing tall and facing forwards. Next, pick up one leg and slowly push it our sideways. Stop when the leg is fully extended and hold the position for 5 seconds. Next return the leg and repeat without putting the foot down. Start off with low side kicks and build up higher and higher for a real challenge. You will notice that the stationary hip also gets a good workout.
5 – Reverse Lunge
Brilliant for working the buttocks if performed correctly. From a standing position take one leg back and then drop the knee to kiss the ground or come very close. It is essential that the lunges are deep enough. Failure to drop the rear knee down deep enough will not activate the buttocks correctly. Next, pull up from the front heel to the starting position. The more you use your heels to pull you forward the more buttock activation you will achieve. Start off will bodyweight only and progress to holding a pair of Dumbbells or Kettlebell.
6 – Step Ups
The step up is a very functional movement that beautifully carries over into real life. Not only is this exercise practical but it also seriously activates the buttocks. Find a step that is the same height as your own knee height. Next step up onto the step pulling from the front heel. One common mistake made during this exercise is using the 2nd leg to help push the body up into the top position. Try to ensure that the whole movement comes from pulling will the top leg. Curling the toes back on the 2nd leg can prevent you from pushing up with this leg. Start with bodyweight and progress to holding dumbbells.
7 – Bulgarian Lunge
A beautiful exercise that forces the buttocks to work seriously hard. Start in a lunge position but with the back leg on a 6 – 12-inch step behind you. Drop down into a deep lunge ensuring that the front leg reaches at least parallel with the floor. Drive up from the front heel and lock the leg out at the top. Start with bodyweight and when you can perform 12 on each leg begin holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the one hand.
8 – Side lunge
Not only does this exercise strengthen the buttocks from another angle but also will improve your hip mobility. Begin by facing forwards and then take a big step out to the side. Keep your weight on your heel as you bend at the hips pushing your buttock backwards and keeping your chest up. The one leg should stay straight. Try to get the one thigh parallel to the floor before driving back up from the heel to the top position. Take your time with the first few repetitions as you warm up your groin muscles.
9 – Deadlift
The grandfather of all Buttock muscles. Whenever you lift something heavy up off the ground you should be using your buttocks. The deadlift simulates lifting something heavy up off the floor. During this movement, the thighs and Buttocks do most of the work and the back should maintain with a nice static neutral spine. Keep your chest up throughout the movement and drive your hips through at the top.
10 – Single Leg Deadlift
With this exercise, you can really focus in hard on the buttock muscles while challenging your core and balance at the same time. Standing on one leg push the hips backwards and bend the knee as you drop down towards the floor. Keep your weight on your heels and your chest up. Next drive back up from the heel to standing and push the hips forwards and squeeze the buttocks.
11 – Squat
Squats are amazing for developing the buttocks but you must drop down so your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. The importance of getting the correct depth during squatting cannot be overemphasized. Failure to reach parallel with the thighs will result in minimal amounts of activation of the buttocks especially if faulty recruitment patterns are present. If you have big thighs and flat buttocks then the chances are you need to learn to squat deeper.
12 – Pistol Squat
An extremely intense buttock exercise that develops so much more than just your backside. The Pistol Squat involves dropping into a deep squat while keeping one leg out in front of you throughout the whole exercise. Once you can squat well will both legs you can try this advanced variation. You may want to begin by holding onto something like a chair. Once you have perfected the Pistol Squat you can ramp it up by holding Dumbbells or a Kettlebell.
Developing nice well functioning Buttocks is usually more about correct exercise technique than working harder. Spend some time practising each of the movements and don’t progress too quickly until you are ready. Starting will exercises that are too advanced for you will only force your body into compensating the movement and activating the wrong muscles.