You don’t usually hear guys complaining about their butts—perhaps because they are doing one of the best glutes-shaping exercise out there, one you may be skipping: the deadlift.
This compound movement builds muscle, burns calories, and strengthens joints. It’ll also make you stand taller and therefore look slimmer instantly thanks to the amount of back activation required.
There are several variations on the deadlift, and while all of them hit your glutes, hamstrings, core, quadriceps, and lower back, alternating between the different techniques will target specific muscles and head off workout boredom. Here are four to try.
The Romanian Deadlift
In addition to working your hamstrings, Romanian or straight-leg deadlifts can help improve flexibility in these often-tight muscles.
How to: Hold a barbell in front of hips with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Maintaining bend in the knees and keeping chest out, back straight, and abs engaged, push hips back and lower the bar to just below knees. Pause, then return to standing.
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A wider stance forces your glutes to work even harder and gives you greater stability to lift heavier.
How to: Stand with feet about twice shoulder-width apart, toes pointed outward, and a barbell against shins. Without rounding lower back, bend knees and grab the bar with hands about a foot apart. Press through heels to lift the bar off the ground, thrusting hips forward and squeezing glutes as you stand as quickly as possible. Lower the bar back to the floor, keeping it as close to body as possible.
Standing on a platform encourages a greater range of motion, thereby recruiting more muscles and burning more calories. You can perform classic or Romanian deadlifts in this manner. Shown is the Romanian, but for the classic, simply place a bar in front of a step, box, or weight plate, then stand on the step to perform the deadlift.
How to: Standing on a 6-inch step or box (if this is too tall, stand on a weight plate), hold a barbell in front of hips with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Maintaining bend in the knees and keeping chest out, back straight, and abs engaged, push hips back and lower the bar below knees (but not too far as to stress hamstrings). Pause, then return to standing.
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Positioning your feet so your toes point out puts greater emphasis on your quads, the front of your thighs.
How to: Load the barbell and roll it against your shins. Stand with heels close together and toes pointed out to about 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Keeping back straight and chest up, bend at hips and knees to grasp the barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Pressing into heels, lift the barbell off the floor as you stand up and thrust hips forward, squeezing glutes. Lower the bar back to the floor, keeping it as close to body as possible.
The Ultimate Deadlift Workout
When adding the deadlift to your program, it’s important to train it so that it benefits you in the primary way it’s supposed to—by building strength. Fewer repetitions with heavier weights are the way to go for lean, powerful muscles, but you don’t want to max out every workout, especially with such a demanding exercise.
The best way to take advantage of deadlifts is to alternate between one week of 4 to 6 sets of 10 to 12 reps with less weight and one week of 5 to 6 sets of 4 to 6 reps with more weight. This way your body gets the chance to recover from the demands of the heavy-lifting weeks, creating the perfect balance between strength training and general conditioning.
Exercises photo by Vanessa Rogers Photography.