When you do a squat, can you feel your butt muscles working? If you can't, you're not alone. For many people, big compound movements like squats engage other muscles to do the heavy lifting. You can tell if this is happening if, for example, you get that burning sensation in your quads when you do squats. Unless you know how to activate the right muscles and fire up your glutes, then you'll continue to recruit the big, dominant muscles like the quads.

Glute activation exercises are important because your gluteus maximus, medius and minimus play a pretty important role in maintaining your posture and helping you power through the day. Yet they can easily get neglected in your training when the bigger muscles around them take over.

Where is your Gluteus Maximus?

The gluteus maximus is the largest part of your gluteus muscles (glutes) which makes up the muscles in your bum. The glutes also play a role in the function of nearby bones and muscles such as the pelvis and hips.

What are the consequences of under activating your glutes?

Glute activation is not only important for building strength in your buttocks, but it also helps you avoid injury. Under activating your glutes forces surrounding muscles such as your hamstrings to help during big movements.

Not only can this lead to weaker power and an imbalance of muscle strength, but also cause a range of injuries and pains. Weak glutes can cause:

  • Lower Back Pain

  • Knee Issues

  • Chronic Tightness

Benefits to building glutes

Having strong glutes not only help you avoid injuries, it can also help with every day activities. Strong glutes can help:

  • Provide Proper Pelvic Alignment

  • Improve Posture

  • Improve Running and Walking

  • Reducing Lower Back Pain

Stretch your glutes

If you've got tight glutes, it's important to do a quick stretch before any leg workout or exercises that may recruit your legs such as deadlifts. This will help activate the glutes, reducing the risk of injury, help you progress further with muscle development and help alleviate any pain in the area.

Some great glute stretches include:

  • Weightless Glute Bridges

  • Supine Glute Stretch ( otherwise known as a Figure 4 Stretch)

  • Crusifix stretch

  • Leg Swings

  • Foam Roller

Grow your glutes now

As much as compound (multi-joint) movements provide functionality and great neurological demand, they can easily distract you from focusing on isolation exercises, which are fundamental to growth. Focusing on one muscle or muscle group at a time is an effective way to activate muscles that get ignored by multi-joint movements. As a bonus, it allows you to build muscle as you increase the volume of your training session, without overloading your nervous system and hindering the recovery process.

So if you think you are not engaging your glutes enough (and don't worry, it's super common, particularly amongst those fairly new to exercising), try these 5 glute activation exercises to build strength in your butt and wake up the glutes!

You'll need a range of gym equipment for this workout – find it all at Fitness First. Aim to do 3 to 5 sets of the workout, 3 times a week for 12 weeks to start seeing and feeling the difference.

1. Single leg pushdowns (20 reps on each leg)

This is done on the assisted chin up machine. With the resistance under your heel as you push down, you have no choice but to activate those glutes to push the platform to the floor. Top tips: Maintain your hip alignment, and flex your knee beyond 90 degrees at the top. The bigger the range of motion, the more glute muscle fibres are used.

2. Donkey kicks (20 reps on each leg)

This is done on the leg curl machine, although you're on the floor and you're pushing it upwards to get those butt muscles working hard. Top tips: Activate your core and really squeeze those glutes at the top of the movement.

3. Straight leg cable kicks (20 reps on each leg)

For this one, you'l need a resistance cable and a bench. To isolate your glutes, keep your leg straight – this way, it's only your hip joint that's working, and you won't rely on your hamstrings to get that leg in the air. Top tips: Keep your wrists under your shoulders and switch on your core to avoid movement of your spine.

4. Prone hip extension with abduction (20 reps, 1-2 seconds each rep)

This is a great exercise to activate your gluteus medius. In fact, it gives all the muscle fibres in your glutes a great workout! Place an elastic band around your legs just above the knees for further glute activation. Top tips: Hold your knees as wide open as you can to add resistance, and raise your legs as high as you can to work more fibres.

5. Split squats (20 short reps on each leg)

It's important to keep the resistance on your glutes in this exercise. Do it on the smith machine with a raised step to increase your range of motion, which in turn activates more of the muscle. Top tip: The wider the stance, the more of the glutes that you'll activate.

This workout is as good as it gets for your glutes. It's designed by Ana Coppola, a senior personal trainer at Fitness First for over 10 years and author of Brazilian Butt Express. It combines the perfect amount of isolation, compound and dynamic movements, which all target the butt muscles in this area.

Want more butt exercises?

If you're loving this workout and want more exercises that are geared towards switching on your butt, book a session with a Fitness First personal trainer today.


Show by