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8 Glute Exercises To Build Muscle and Reduce Back & Knee Pain

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At the risk of sounding old… When I first started my personal training career, nobody cared about glutes. If you were an athlete, you probably did a few hip thrusts.

Around the year 2010, that really changed.

The Instagram generation became obsessed with glutes and glute exercises. Equipment designed specifically to help you train your glutes hit the market. Programs were written about it. Some trainers even became (self-appointed) ‘glute gurus’.

The attention that became focused on glutes has actually benefited the wider industry because more research went into training them. 

In this article, I’m going to consolidate that learning into a single supplementary program. You can use this alongside your general training workouts to improve your buttocks. 

It’ll explain the correct exercise selection and technique. 

In addition, you’ll learn about the different movement planes for training the glutes and the correct variety of exercise selection for them. 

All of these glute exercises are entirely possible in a home gym without the need for specialist equipment.


The only glute exercises you need

The Bun Show program part 1 (infographic)

You’ll train the same glute workout twice per week throughout the length of time you run the program. My suggestion is you go for 8 weeks without a break, then take a break of up to 2 weeks before continuing with it again. 

The workouts are high volume and medium/high weight. The focus is on isolating the glutes, making them work hard, and maximizing the contraction and movement quality. Our focus isn’t on outright strength here. 

Of course, we want strength to improve throughout the program, but never sacrifice movement quality in search of bigger numbers.

Only increase the weight of the glute exercises when you can complete all of the reps of every set of an exercise.

Program design notes…

You’ll see there are a lot of single-sided (unilateral) glute exercises here. Of the 8 glute exercises in the program, 6 of them are unilateral. This isn’t accidental…

Research titled ‘Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises’ published in 2020 by Walter Krause Neto et al showed that…

‘The step up and its variations may elicit the highest level of glute max activation – possibly due to the stabilization requirement of the exercise.’

Furthermore, the research showed that…

‘Several bilateral exercises e.g. hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts, and lunges can also provide very high levels of glute max activation.’

Thanks to this research, this program is built around glute exercises that are proven to be effective. This is how and why you only need one workout in the program. We force each side to work on its own and as a pair. This maximizes contraction, stabilization, and range of movement of each glute.

More information on movement patterns

The primary focus of the Bun Show program are the following three movements…

  • Abduction
  • Flexion 
  • Extension
Hip joint range of motion

These are the movements that have the most athletic crossover. They’re also the most ‘protective’ to train in the sense that they guard against injury effectively. They also engage the most gluteal musculature.

Exercises used in these movement patterns are sufficiently varied enough to keep the interest and variety up, so the workouts are engaging and challenging. 

Equipment you need

You’ll need access to the following items of equipment to perform this program:

  • Squat rack
  • Barbell
  • Weight plates
  • Weight bench
  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Resistance bands

8 glute exercises

1. Barbell Squats

The back squat is the original glute targeting exercise. 

A favorite amongst athletes, bodybuilders, personal trainers, and strength coaches alike. It’s a great way to train the legs and glutes. For maximum glute activation, go DEEP! If you need to wear weightlifting shoes or use a wedge to do so, go ahead!

Equipment needed for barbell squats:

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

How to do a barbell squat:

  • Place the bar across the upper back – not the neck
  • Take a breath in and engage the core – this keeps the lower back safer
  • Keeping the chest up throughout, push your hips back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Drive feet into the floor and stand back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Note: check out our squat alternatives and barbell squat alternatives if you want more ideas on how to develop your lower body muscles with similar exercises.

2. Hip Thrust/Hinge

The hip thrust is a great glute exercise, combining the purest elements of hip flexion and extension with the ability to increase weight significantly. It’s a direct glute exercise, easy to perform and doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or technique. As glute exercises go, it’s one of the very best.

Equipment needed for hip thrusts:

  • Barbell
  • Bench to lean on
  • Pad (optional for comfort)

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do hip thrusts:

  • With your back and shoulders on the bench and feet flat on the floor, place the barbell on your lap
  • Drive the barbell up using your glutes until you’ve reached full hip extension.
  • Pause at the top, then slowly lower your hips down.
  • Repeat

Note: check out our hip thrust alternatives or our hyperextension alternatives if you want ideas on how to switch up some of these exercises.

3. Weighted Step ups

Step ups combine a few important elements of glute training for me. As a single leg exercise, they offer no hiding place for a weaker side, forcing it to strengthen. Secondly, there’s a stability element to them which activates the glutes further and improves injury resistance. Finally, they make your legs and glutes work really hard!

Equipment needed for step ups:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do step ups:

  • Place the front foot on the step 
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Step up onto the box by pushing up through the front foot – don’t cheat by springing off the floor using your bottom foot!
  • When both feet are on the box, lower the back leg down slowly and under the control of the front leg
  • Repeat as many times as required per leg

4. Rear foot elevated split squats

The rear foot elevated split squats allow for great squat depth, plus the single-limb nature of the exercise reduces strength imbalances between limbs. It’s a great way to focus a lot of work on the glutes, whilst taking weight off the lower back. This is an exercise that will really challenge you, so start lighter than you think you’ll need to and build up from there.

Equipment needed for rear foot elevated split squats:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do rear foot elevated split squats:

  1. Place the back foot on the bench behind you and hop your front foot ahead
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  3. Keeping the chest up throughout, bend your back knee towards the floor and lower the front thigh until it reaches parallel to the floor
  4. Drive front foot into the floor and stand back to the start position
  5. Repeat as many times as required.
The Bun Show program part 2 (infographic)

5. Single leg deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts can be performed using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, but I suggest the kettlebell because the handle and grip is better suited. It requires excellent balance and single limb stability under load. The exercise really challenges the core and it lights the glutes up! Pro tip – if you’re not used to these, lift a much lighter weight than you think you’ll need – done properly they’re very humbling!

Equipment needed for single leg deadlifts:

  • Kettlebell

How to do single leg deadlifts:

  • Hold the kettlebell at your side with one hand, your back straight and both feet on the floor
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt forward at the torso, taking the opposite leg straight back as you do
  • You will be standing on one leg, so move slowly and keep your balance and the kettlebell moves towards the floor
  • When the kettlebell touches the floor and your torso is parallel to it, return to start position with a straight back and controlled movement
  • Repeat as many times as required for the set, then switch sides

6. Side Plank Clamshell

The strength and stability of the hips help to control movement at the lower back and hip junction. This is very important to help offset discomfort around the hips and lower back. The static nature of the exercise allows your glutes to work on their isometric strength, which is important for lower back health as well as glute strength.

Equipment needed for side plank clamshells:

Mat and bodyweight

How to do side plank clamshells:

  • Assume a side plank position with your bodyweight resting on your forearm and your legs bent at 90 degrees
  • Push your hips up from the floor, opening the top leg as you go
  • Lower your hip back down to the floor and repeat

If you want to focus more on your lower body muscles, be sure to check out our article on lower body workout.

7. Kettlebell goblet forward lunge

The goblet lunge is a perfect front-loaded variation on the movement pattern. It allows a large range of movement, and we know that the deeper the lunge the more glute activation we can get. Focus here on movement quality, getting deep into the exercise and using the glutes to force hip stability and control.

Equipment needed for kettlebell goblet forward lunge:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell goblet forward lunges:

  • Tightly grip the kettlebell on the upward diagonal of the handle section at chest height
  • Hold the kettlebell in front of you but close to your chest, keeping the bell steady throughout the movement
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and lunge under control on one side
  • When the back knee almost touches the floor, bring it through to the front for the opposite leg lunge
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

8. Lateral band walks

The lateral band walk is a simple yet very effective exercise. It’s not designed to build massive strength, but it’ll work on glute endurance, stability and movement quality. I personally use these with almost all of my clients and they’re a staple of my glute training. They train both legs at once – one side creates abduction, whilst the other side resists adduction.

Equipment needed for lateral band walks:

  • Resistance band

How to do lateral band walks

  • Stand inside the band and loop it around your feet (or knees to make it easier)
  • Open your feet to create tension in the band
  • Stride laterally with one leg, keeping tension in the band throughout
  • Bring the standing leg in towards the middle, but only slightly – you still need to keep the band under tension 
  • Repeat as many times as required

Note: these exercises require a variety of basic gear (barbell, dumbbells, bench, etc.), but not a glute machine. If you’re considering getting a glute machine, be sure to check out our best glute machine in-depth guide to help you with making the best choice for your needs.


Glute exercises: The bottom line

Don’t dismiss glute training as something only young girls on Instagram do. Strong glutes make you a better athlete, a more accomplished lifter and will help to protect you against lower back and hip injuries for years to come.

Take the glute workouts here, read the guiding notes and the explanations and get busy.

All of the glute exercises here are possible in a home gym with pretty standard equipment, so get yourself in there and build yourself some strong and powerful glutes. As you learned earlier in the article, there are plenty of benefits to great glutes!

If you are looking for another upper body workout to complement this one then check out all of our workouts here to find one that suits you.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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