Trainers Reveal: The Best Butt Exercises of All Time
Barbell Hip Thrust
Get ready to blast your backside with this butt-burning move from Bret Contreras, MA, CSCS, and author of Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening.
How to do it: Sit on the ground with your back against a bench, feet planted firmly in front of you, and a padded barbell in your lap. Keeping the lumbar spine and knees stable, raise the barbell by extending your hips, making sure to push the hips upward using the glutes. Rise until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (full hip extension), and then slowly descend back to the ground.
Contreras recommends mixing up your reps and sets for this move and aiming for anywhere between 3-4 sets of 6-20 reps. "Some days you can go heavy for lower reps, some days you can go lighter for higher reps, and some days you can do both. I will warn you though, high-rep hip thrusts are brutal. The booty-burn is excruciating!"
Glute and Hamstring Extension
This booty-shaping move recommended by Jessica Lozano, NCSA, a certified personal trainer at the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida, challenges glutes of all strength levels. If you're new to exercise, start out with 3 sets of 15 reps. Intermediate exercisers should try 4 sets of 15 reps, holding 10 lbs, and advanced glutes can handle up to 5 sets of 15 reps, holding 25 lbs.
How to do it: Start standing, leaning forward on a back extension pad, with your toes turned out, knees bent (like a frog). Keeping your back flat, bend at your hips as far down as possible. To come up, push your thighs into the pad and squeeze your glutes, keeping your back straight the entire time. At the top, give your glutes an extra squeeze. Use a controlled tempo during the exercise: aim for a 2-3 second count on the way down, 1-2 seconds on the way up.
Lunge with Arm Reach
"Reaching forward with the arms at knee height creates additional hip flexion, placing more emphasis on the gluteus maximus," says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "When the arms are reaching forward, creating additional forward lean in the trunk, then the glutes are lengthened at both the bottom and top, creating more effective lengthening of the muscle."
How to do it: Stand tall with feet approximately hip-width apart and arms extended at chest height. Step forward with your right foot. As your weight comes down on your right leg, lean forward at your waist and reach with both hands at approximately knee height. Return to standing by pushing the right foot into the ground and driving the body back to the starting position. That's one rep. Repeat 6-10 times on the right leg, then do the same number on the left leg.
Want to make it more challenging? McCall suggests using a medicine ball, dumbbells, or a ViPR for added resistance.
The step-up is one of the best butt exercises you can do to work on strength, power, and balance in a unilateral fashion (one side at a time), says Declan Condron, an exercise physiologist for PumpOne. "We all perform this basic functional movement many times a day, every day. It targets all the main large muscles of the legs, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, and really helps develop a nice shapely, toned rear end."
How to do it: Stand upright with one foot on a bench or step, holding dumbbells by your sides with your arms straight. Push off your top foot and step up onto the bench (or step) with both feet. Step down onto one foot, keeping the other foot on the bench and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg.
This prone version of a jumping jack is sure to fire up your glutes, says Rick Richey, a master instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and owner of R2Fitness in New York City. During the move, make sure your knees stay straight, feet are always off the floor, and focus on squeezing your glutes. As your legs move apart, you can emphasize the upper and side glute fibers more, and as you bring your legs together, you are still very much activating those cheeks.
How to do it: Lie facedown on the floor or mat. Extend your arms and legs into an 'X' shape and then do 'jumping jacks' in this position (no actual jumping involved). Do 3 sets of 30 seconds.
If you feel this move in your lower back, Richey recommends lowering your arms and chest to the floor and just doing the leg movement until you feel ready to add the upper body.
The Uni-Leg Chair Squat
"You cannot cheat on this exercise," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University and creator of the Perfect Legs, Glutes, and Abs DVD. "This move takes the best glute activation a squat can offer and the best hip and thigh activation that a lunge can offer all rolled into one truly challenging but oh-so-worth-it exercise!"
How to do it: Start by sitting close to the edge of a chair with arms crossed, chest lifted, right foot solidly on the floor, and left leg elevated about 8 inches. Engage your abs and lean your torso slightly forward to prepare to stand. Dig your right heel firmly into the exercise mat (or floor), shift glutes backward (as you do in a regular squat), and straighten you right knee not quite to full extension while squeezing up on your glutes. Hold your left leg up off the mat and balance for 3 counts. Lower slowly and repeat. Do 2-4 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Quadruped Hip Extensions
"While this exercise may seem simple, an ACE research study actually found this move to elicit the most muscle activation for the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius when compared to other common butt-shaping exercises (squats, leg press, etc.)," says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "It also elicits a significant amount of muscle activity in the hamstrings (which is important for sporting a great-looking backside). Plus, it can be done just about anywhere so it's convenient for those who may be exercising while traveling or at home," Matthews says.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees (quadruped position) with your knees below your hips and your wrists below your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg. Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
To ensure safety and effectiveness of this move, avoid sagging or arching your back by continuing to brace your core, and avoid rotating your hips by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise. Complete 8-12 reps with the left leg and then switch sides, completing 8-12 reps with the right leg.
Images courtesy of the American Council on Exercise®
"This is a signature sprinter move to improve power, and the added bonus is that it really pumps up your glute muscles too," says Samantha Clayton, a former Olympic athlete and personal trainer.
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right leg back into a reverse lunge, going as low as you can while keeping your back straight and making sure your left knee doesn't go too far past the toe. Hold this lunge position for a 3 count then drive your right knee forward and upward.
"Try to do this while working on your coordination, driving opposite arm to opposite knee. The aim is to get height, not distance, with each step," Clayton says.
Don't let the small range of motion fool you. Your buns are sure to be burning with this exercise from Tracey Mallett, a certified Pilates instructor and creator of the Booty Barre Workout and DVD program.
How to do it: Stand at a chair, barre, or sturdy countertop. Place you forearm down on the barre and bend both knees. Keeping your knee bent, lift your outside leg behind your body until your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Place the outside hand on the supporting thigh and resist as you extend the spine. Lift your raised leg up and down in small pulses, keeping the hip elevated to focus deep into the glutes. Do 2 sets of 20 small pulses on each leg.
Training tip: "Keep the body pitched forwards from the hips so that the work is in the gluteus. not the lower back," Mallett says.
Heavy Barbell Squat
You already know that squats are one of the best butt sculptors you can do, and adding heavy weight makes them even more effective, says Elizabeth Hendrix Burwell, co-owner of High Performance Gym in Greenville, South Carolina. "A good goal would be to squat your own body weight," Hendrix Burwell says. She recommends starting off with at least 4 to 6 warm-up sets to work your way up to a work set, which should be performed at the heaviest weight you can safely manage for 3 sets of 5 reps.
A sample squat series might be: 2 sets of 5 reps at 45 lbs, followed by 5 reps at 65 lbs, 5 reps at 85 lbs (progressive warm-up), and then 3 sets of 5 reps with 105 lbs.
How to do it: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance, toes slightly turned out. Leading with your hips, lower your butt down to hip level, then stand up. Tip: From standing to squatting and back up again, the barbell should remain in a straight vertical line and always over the center of the foot, Hendrix Burwell says.
Pretzel Side Kick
Warning: You'll feel the burn for days (and days) after you do this exercise from LA-based celebrity trainer and fitness expert Stephanie Vitorino.
How to do it: Start seated with your right knee bent directly in front of your hip and left knee bent behind your left hip. Rotate your torso and place your hands on either side of your right knee. Brace your core as you lift your left knee and foot off the floor, keeping your chest lifted. Keep your left leg lifted and extend to kick, leg parallel to the floor. Bend your left knee back in and release it to the floor. That's one rep. Do 15-20 reps on each side.
Training tip: If lifting your knee is too challenging, start by just lifting your foot and then add a side kick when you're ready.
Box Step Squat
This move from Gretchen Zelek of DOD Fitness combines two butt-shaping exercises we all love to hate—lunges and squats—to shape and lift your rear end.
How to do it: Bring your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, palms pressed together in front of your chest. Squat down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Step your right foot out to right side as wide as possible, then bring your left foot in toward the right, coming back to starting position, still maintaining your deep squat. Step your right foot back, as wide as possible, then bring left foot back, maintaining the deep squat. Next, step your left foot out to left side as wide as possible, then bring your right foot in toward the left. Finally, step your right foot out to right side as wide as possible, then bring left foot in toward the right. That's one rep. Repeat 10 times. Want to make it harder? Do it entirely on your toes!
Long and Lean Lift
"I love this exercise because it will make even grown men cry," says Nicole Nichols, fitness expert for SparkPeople.com. "I do it often in my Pilates classes as well as in my body-sculpting workouts. It's deceptively hard. The supporting leg that you're balancing on will really feel the work in the glutes. Focus on that leg and squeeze the glute, pushing the hip forward as you do the leg lift on the opposite side," Nichols explains.
How to do it: Kneel with your left hand below your shoulder and left knee below your hip. Extend your top leg out on the mat and reach your top arm up. Lift your top leg as high as possible, then lower to ground. Repeat for 1 minute, then switch sides and repeat on other leg.
Bridge with Leg Extension
"The bridge isolates the gluteus maximus because the leg is bent at the knee and therefore the hamstring is less active," says Robert Forster, certified trainer and founder of Phase IV and Forster Physical Therapy. "Extending the opposite knee serves to put that much more work onto the glute of the stationary leg, and balancing on the one foot recruits the other glute muscles on the outside of the pelvis for stability. This gives great shape to the buttock in general."
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on floor, and hands at your sides. Perform a pelvic tilt and then raise your hips off the mat to create a straight line with your body, aligning your knees, hips, and shoulders. Hold this position while breathing. Straighten out one leg, keeping the thighbone and knees exactly aligned, and hold. Repeat with other leg. Clench your butt so that your hips stay lifted the entire time. Forster recommends doing this exercise three times per week, starting with 5 reps per side, holding each for 5 counts for first week, then progressing to 8 reps/8 count on week two and then 10 reps/10 counts thereafter.
You will literally lift your buns with this awesome exercise that uses suspension straps to work your glutes, hamstrings, and core from fitness expert Chris Freytag. Don't have a suspension trainer? Freytag recommends using a stability ball instead.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your heels in foot cradles under an anchor point, arms extended by your sides. Pressing through your glutes, lift your lower back a few inches off the floor. This is your starting position. Pull your heels toward your glutes, lifting hips a few inches higher. Return to start. Do 2 sets of 15 reps. For an extra booty blast, Freytag recommends adding a set of "runners" (bending one knee in at a time) at the end.
Inclined Rear Leg Extension
This move engages all three major muscle groups in your butt, the hamstrings, and your core, says Kim Truman, a certified personal trainer in Dallas, Texas.
How to do it: Starting from a standing position, hinge forward at your hips, and lower your hands to the ground. Find your upper-body balance through hand placement aligned shoulder-width apart. Extend your right leg up and back, reaching your right heel up to the sky while squeezing your right glute. Slowly lower your leg, tapping your toes on the ground. Repeat the right sequence for 10-15 reps, then switch legs and do 10-15 reps.
Butt Sit Kick
This unique backside booster from LA-based fitness expert Amy Dixon is a lot harder than it looks. The result: Amazing butt-toning results!
How to do it: Stand upright in a curtsy lunge position with your left foot facing forward in front of your right foot, right heel lifted. Squat down, placing your left knee on the ground. Brace your core as you sit back onto your glutes and extend/kick your left leg. Bring your left foot back to the floor, shift back onto your right knee, and stand up, bringing your right foot out to the side. That's one rep. Complete 2 sets of 10-15 reps on one side and then repeat on the other leg. If you need to make the exercise easier, Dixon recommends using your hands as support on the floor.
Single-Leg RDL Circuit
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is an awesome booty-builder, says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Baltimore. "This circuit is so effective because it continuously hits the glutes in different ways by changing the point of maximal loading. The point of maximal loading (when the weight is heaviest because the lever arm is longest) when doing RDLs is when the torso is at 90 degrees from where the resistance is originating," Tumminello explains. To blast your glutes, you'll do the move three ways:
1. RDLs with a barbell (or dumbbell) to maximally load the glutes in the bottom range of the exercise.
2. RDLs using a low cable to maximally load the glutes in the middle range.
3. RDLs using a high cable to maximally load the glutes more in the top range.
How to do it: Grab a barbell (or a set of dumbbells) and stand on left leg. Keeping your spine naturally arched, hinge forward at the hips (push your hips toward the wall behind you), and allow the barbell to lower towards the floor. As you lower, bend your left knee slightly and lift your right leg behind you to counter your balance. Return back to start, keeping your back straight and lowering your right leg (right foot should remain off the floor). Repeat for 8-12 reps, and then do the same on the other leg. Next, grab a low-positioned cable and repeat. Finally, repeat the circuit with a high-positioned cable.
Click here to see a video demonstration of this exercise with figure competitor Kate Grevey Blankenship.
Single-Leg Ball Squat
"This exercise is an incredible butt shaper due to the unilateral design," says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag
. "This one-legged move takes the dominant leg out of the equation, forcing each glute to work with maximum muscle involvement. It also works balance and coordination."
How to do it: Stand on one leg while pressing an exercise ball into a wall with your lower back. Squat down slowly while tucking the raised leg underneath you, making sure the knee of the supporting leg stays behind the toes. Stop when the leg is bent to 90 degrees, then press back up to the starting position. Holland recommends doing 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps with each leg, several times per week.
Single-Leg Wall Lunges
This compound move works multiple muscles (with extra emphasis on your tush, of course!) at once. "You'll feel the contraction on both butt cheeks, thighs, and biceps," says Tamilee Webb, star of the original Buns of Steel DVD series.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand in front of a wall. Press one foot against the wall behind you, knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Lower your body down and forward into a lunge/squat. Make sure that the knee of your standing leg does not go too far beyond your foot. Perform a biceps curl on the downward motion. Stand back up by pressing through the heel of the base leg and semi-straighten the back leg (on wall) by pressing the heel into the wall. Lower your arms down by your side as you straighten. Your torso should be leaning slightly forward but straight. Webb recommends 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps on each leg. If you need to make it easier, try the move without weights.