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To build a strong booty, performing multiple variations of squats and deadlifts is a smart move. But that’s not all you should do. After weeks or months of training, these classic movements can begin to feel tedious. The solution: Mix glute isolation exercises into your routine.
ICYDK, isolation exercises include any movement that calls on just one joint and, in turn, works one muscle group. Glute isolation exercises use the hip joints and the glute muscles, says Christina Myers, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and performance enhancement specialist.
Meet the expert: Christina Myers, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and performance enhancement specialist. She founded the Lift Heavy Princess virtual program leading powerlifting and bodybuilding.
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To check whether a butt-building move is an isolation exercise or simply involves the glutes, consider how many joints come into play, suggests Myers. For example, “if you get on a hip extension machine and only the hip joint is actively flexing and extending, that’s an isolation exercise,” she notes. On the flip side, a compound exercise uses more than one joint. “In a squat, your ankles, knees, and hips all move—those three joints are the main movers, ” adds Myers.
Ahead, discover seven moves that single out the butt muscles, learn all about the glutes, and find out why glute isolation exercises are so worth adding to your training program, according to experts.
What are the glute muscles?
A trio of muscles make up the glutes.
- The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle of the group, is closest to the skin’s surface, and is in charge of extending the hips, says Myers.
- The gluteus medius, which sits on the side of your butt near your hip, is responsible for hip abduction (moving your leg away from the midline of your body) and internal and external rotation.
- There’s also the gluteus minimus, which primarily acts as a hip stabilizer and abductor. The smallest glute muscle, the glute min is particularly difficult to isolate, as it sits deep beneath the maximus and medius muscles, says Myers.
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You can think of compound lower-body exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges, as the cake (base) of your workout plan. Since the moves call on multiple joints, you’re able to train a handful of muscle groups with just a few exercises, says Myers. (Efficiency!) You’re also able to add a heavy load to compound moves, which helps you build muscle, she adds. Essentially, if building a seriously strong, muscular booty is your goal, compound exercises are a must, she notes.
Glute isolation exercises, on the other hand, are the sprinkles on top of your training program. They aren’t always necessary to achieve general lower-body strength goals if you’re performing a variety of compound movements, but these single-joint moves can help spice up your workout and leave your muscles quivering (in a good way), says Myers.
Pro tip: You only need to do one or two isolation exercises at the end of your workout to burn out a particular muscle group, according to Myers.
Exercises that isolate the glutes can also be useful if you’re dealing with a specific muscle weakness or you’re in the early phase of rehab after suffering an injury, according to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Sticking with single-joint actions in the early stages of a corrective exercise program can help ensure your nervous system isn’t overloaded and prevent improper movement patterns from being reinforced, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Plus if you have specific physique goals, like bodybuilders, you may also want to mix glute isolation exercises into your routine. The moves can help target and define the muscles that aren’t progressing as quickly as others, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
How To Add Glute Isolation Exercises Into Your Routine
Whenever you work your lower body, consider adding on a glute iso move. “The more times per week you’re training [a muscle], the more quickly you get results,” says Myers. Just remember to take at least 24 hours of rest in between workouts so your muscles have the opportunity to fully recover, says Myers.
- If you work out four or five days a week with dedicated upper-body and lower-body sessions, include one or two glute isolation exercises at the end of each lower-body workout, suggests Myers.
- If you do two or three full-body workouts per week, power through one or two glute isolation exercises at the end of every training session, she recommends.
While these moves will surely make your booty feel like it’s on fire, don’t forget to incorporate compound exercises (think: single-leg deadlifts, sumo squats, lateral lunges) into your routine, too, says Myers.
“With the majority of true glute isolation exercises, you can’t load very heavy, [so] you’re going to run out of ways to progressively overload them pretty quickly,” she notes. “Don’t neglect the compounds—that’s where you get the most bang for your buck.” Make sure to put the compound moves at the top of your workout, when your muscles are still energized and capable of lifting heavy loads without compromising your form.
7 Best Glute Isolation Exercises
Ready to treat your booty to a killer workout? Pick one or two of Myers’ favorite glute isolation exercises to add into your routine to fire up and build a toned butt. Though some exercises will focus more heavily on the gluteus maximus or the gluteus minimus, all moves will work the gluteus minimus to an extent, she says.
Instructions: If you’re using weights, complete three sets of 8 to 12 reps, which will help encourage hypertrophy (muscle growth). For bodyweight-only exercises, complete three sets of 15 to 20 reps, which promotes muscular endurance, Myers recommends.
1. Dumbbell Hip Thrust
Why it rocks: Your glute max will be put to the test during a round of hip thrusts, which involve hip extension, says Myers. The glute isolation exercise can also be heavily loaded, which makes it ideal for building muscle, she notes.
- Sit on the floor in front of a bench (or box/chair/raised surface), with butt resting about six inches (the length of your hand) away from the bench and feet planted flat on the floor. Rest upper back against the bench, bend knees to a 45-degree angle, and place a dumbbell in hip crease. Hold the ends of the dumbbell with both hands. (Option to modify and use bodyweight only, as shown.)
- Gaze forward, draw shoulders down and away from ears and engage core, which will help stabilize spine. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.)
- On an exhale, engage glutes and drive through all four corners of feet to press hips up toward the ceiling, allowing rear deltoids to lean back across the top of the bench slightly. Continue lifting hips until knees, hips, and shoulders are aligned and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep both hands on the dumbbell throughout the entire movement and make sure to maintain a neutral neck.
- On an inhale, slowly lower hips back to the floor, allowing knees to bend back to a 45-degree angle. That’s 1 rep.
2. Glute Bridge
Why it rocks: Glute bridges are one of the easiest glute isolation exercises to set up, making them perfect for beginners, says Myers. Once you master the glute max-focused move with your bodyweight, progress by performing it with just one leg, while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hip crease, or with your feet resting on a wall, she suggests.
- Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent at a 45-degree angle about six inches in front of butt, feet planted flat, and arms resting on the ground at sides, palms face-down.
- Gaze toward the ceiling and engage core, which will help stabilize spine. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.) Lower back should be pressing lightly against the floor.
- On an exhale, engage glutes and drive through all four corners of feet to press hips up toward the ceiling, keeping shoulders planted on the floor and gaze toward the ceiling. Continue lifting hips until body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders.
- On an inhale, slowly lower hips back to the floor, allowing knees to bend back to a 45-degree angle. That’s 1 rep.
3. Banded Clam Shell
Why it rocks: This glute isolation exercise targets the gluteus medius and, when paired with compound and single-leg exercises, can promote hip strength and stability, says Myers.
- Lie on right side on the floor, with knees bent at a 45-degree angle and feet aligned with hips. Stack right hip, knee, and foot with left hip, knee, and foot. Rest right elbow on floor directly below right shoulder, with right forearm perpendicular to body and palm resting on the ground.
- Wrap a mini loop resistance band around thighs a few inches above knees. Then, place left hand on left hip and engage core, which will help stabilize spine. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.)
- On an exhale, press left foot into right foot, engage glutes, and drive left knee up toward the ceiling, allowing legs to open up like a clamshell. Make sure to keep hips square and stacked.
- On an inhale, slowly lower left knee back to the floor to meet right knee, resisting the force of the band. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.
4. Bridge Hip Cook Lift
Why it rocks: A beginner-friendly move, this glute isolation exercise gets your butt muscles warmed up and hips ready to take on heavier lower-body workouts. “It’s a great exercise because pulling the opposite knee to your chest creates a lumbar-lock position,” she notes. “This prevents you from hyperextending your spine.” Basically, you can’t cheat this one.
- Lie face-up on mat with knees bent at a 45-degree angle about six inches in front of butt, feet planted flat, and arms resting on the ground at sides, palms face-down.
- Keeping left foot planted on the floor, hug right knee with both hands and pull it up to chest. Hold this position.
- Gaze toward the ceiling and engage core, which will help stabilize spine and press lower back lightly into mat. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.)
- On an exhale, engage glutes and drive through all four corners of left foot to press hips up toward the ceiling, keeping shoulders planted on the floor and gaze toward the ceiling. Continue lifting hips until body forms a straight line from left knee to shoulders.
- On an inhale, slowly lower hips back to the floor, allowing left knee to bend back to a 45-degree angle. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
6. Glute Kickback
Why it rocks: Also known as a donkey kick, this exercise is a basic hip extension movement. It can recruit all the glute muscles based on your foot position and direction of extension, according to Myers. As you get comfortable with the movement and build up strength, you can level up this glute isolation exercise by using a cable machine for heavier resistance.
- Kneel on the floor and place one end of a loop resistance band around left thigh, just above knee, and the other end around center of right foot.
- Settle into a table-top position on the floor with wrists stacked underneath shoulders, knees stacked underneath hips, knees bent at 90-degree angles, and toes resting on the floor.
- Gaze toward the floor slightly in front of body to maintain a neutral neck and engage core, which will help stabilize spine. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.)
- Pressing into palms and maintaining a flat back, lift right knee off the floor, engage glutes, and drive right foot back behind you on an exhale. Continue pressing foot back until right leg is fully extended.
- On an inhale, slowly drive right knee back to the floor underneath hips, resisting the force of the resistance band. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
7. Side-Lying Leg Lift
Why it rocks: This isolation exercise zeroes in on the gluteus medius. Banded side-lying leg lifts are perfect for resistance-training newbies, and they can also help warm up your booty ahead of a tough strength-building workout, says Myers. When you’re ready to progress the exercise, try performing the leg lifts while holding a side plank, which will add a core stabilization challenge, she adds.
- Lie on right side on the floor, with legs fully extended. Stack right hip, knee, and foot with left hip, knee, and foot. Rest right elbow on floor directly below right shoulder, with right forearm perpendicular to body and palm resting on the ground.
- Wrap a mini loop resistance band (option to modify and use bodyweight only, as shown above) around calves a few inches below knees. Then, place left hand on left hip and engage core, which will help stabilize spine. (Brace stomach as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.)
- On an exhale, engage glutes and drive left foot up toward the ceiling, allowing legs to open up into a “V” shape. Make sure to keep hips square and stacked and left foot flexed.
- On an inhale, slowly lower left foot back to the floor to meet right foot, resisting the force of the band. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Glute Isolation Exercises FAQ
Does isolating your glutes work?
Yes, but it works for specific goals. These glute isolation exercises can help you meet physique goals (achieve a specific booty shape) and address specific muscle weaknesses after injury.
However, if building overall muscle and strength is your primary goal, you’ll want to prioritize compound exercises. With these types of exercises you can lift heavier weights and progressively over time, says Myers.
What exercise has the most/highest glute activation?
Of all the glute isolation exercises, the hip thrust may activate your butt muscles the most. The barbell hip thrust activated the gluteus maximus significantly more than the back squat when loads equating to participants’ 10-rep maxes were used, according to a 2015 study on 13 trained women.
How long should a glute exercise last?
There’s no set amount of time you should spend doing a glute isolation exercise. Instead, you should focus on an achievable rep range based on the weight you’re using, says Myers. Aim to complete 15 to 20 reps for bodyweight movements and eight to 12 reps for loaded exercises, she suggests.