5 best glute activation exercises of all time + why, when and how to do them

glute activation exercises
5 best glute activation exercises of all timeCarina König / EyeEm - Getty Images

Glute activation exercises are key for building strength and preventing injury, but does anyone actually understand how to do them? Here's your 101 on glute activation.

'Lifting heavy in the gym but feeling like the result's aren't quite showing all the hard work you're putting in? Well, I'll let you into the worse kept secret - glute activation exercises,' says Alice Liveing.

'Rarely does a session with a client pass without mention of glute activation. Why? Because if you’re a person who spends most of their time sitting down – whether that’s at a desk, on a sofa or in a car – chances are the muscles in your behind are becoming lazier by the day.

And if a sculpted bum appears anywhere on your wish list, something ’s got to give.'

Why are the glutes so inactive?

Because people - even active ones - use their glutes primarily for one main purpose: sitting down. And having groggy glutes means they are less prepared to handle strenuous exercise and transfer the added stress to other muscle groups.

'Poor glute activation (from not practicing glute activation exercises) is extremely common,' says elite personal trainer Harry Jameson. 'It leads to a higher probability of injury, poor running form and lack of tone.'

'Expecting your glutes to strengthen and lift after doing a few squats a week is wishful thinking,' says Liveing. Instead, the secret to getting the most out of lower-body work is to wake up your glutes with specific glute activation exercises.

What is glute activation?

Glute activation is done through a series of warm-up exercises to properly strengthen the muscles in your bum, which help to boost your ability to perform everything from pulls and squats to jumps and sprints.

How can you do glute activation exercises?

Switching on your glutes with glute activation exercises before you train them means they do the work, rather than relying on surrounding muscles to pick up the slack.

By firing up your entire posterior chain – the muscles that run up the back of your body, including the glutes, the erector spinae, calves and hamstrings – you’ll get the most out of each move, plus, you’ll lower your risk of injury.

It’s why we advise incorporating various glute activation exercises into a 15-20 minute dynamic warm-up before any lower-body movement, such as cycling, running or weight training.

Focus on glute activation exercises like these, which target the gluteus medius, minimus, maximus, and even your tensor fasciae latae (TFL for short; it’s a muscle on the outside of your hip that helps to keep your pelvis balanced when you walk or run).

Best glute activation exercises

1. Single-leg glute bridge

Cartoon, Leg, Arm, Drawing, Footwear, Illustration, Sitting, Sketch, Muscle, Art,
Cartoon, Leg, Arm, Drawing, Footwear, Illustration, Sitting, Sketch, Muscle, Art,

Targets: Glutes, core

Do: 2 sets of 8-12 reps on each side

(a) Lying on your back, bring your right knee up towards your chest while keeping your left leg bent, with the sole of your foot planted on the floor.

(b)Drive down through your left foot while raising your pelvis up towards the ceiling. Slightly tuck under and squeeze your glutes at the top before returning to the floor and repeating.

2. Lateral banded walk

Cartoon, Shoulder, Arm, Leg, Standing, Joint, Illustration, Animation, Knee, Human body,
Cartoon, Shoulder, Arm, Leg, Standing, Joint, Illustration, Animation, Knee, Human body,

Targets: Hip abductors, glutes

Do: 3 sets of 10 reps on each side

(a) Place a resistance band just above your knees, then stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

(b)Slightly bend at the knee, take a large step left with your left foot, then follow with the right, keeping tension in the band. That counts as 1 step. Do 9 more, then change direction.

3. Banded side-lying clam

Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist, Human leg, Joint, Knee, Waist, Comfort, Muscle, Abdomen,
Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist, Human leg, Joint, Knee, Waist, Comfort, Muscle, Abdomen,

Targets: Hip abductors, glutes

Do: 3 sets of 10 reps

(a) Loop a resistance band around your legs just above your knees. Lie on your side, propped up on your elbow, with your knees bent at 90°.

(b) Keeping your feet glued together, lift your top knee as high as you can without rotating your hip. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then return to the starting position.

4. Frog pumps

glute activation exercises
glute activation exercises

Targets: Glutes

Do: 3 sets of 10 reps

(a) Lie on your back, feet together and knees out, keeping your feet as close to your pelvis as possible, elbows bent, propped on the floor.

(b) With head lifted and chin tucked, raise your hips. Hold for 2 secs, then lower.

That’s 1 rep; do 10.

5. Quadrupled hip extension

glute activation exercises
glute activation exercises

Targets: Hip flexors, glutes

Do: 3 sets of 10 reps

(a) Start on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.

(b) Raise one leg up, keeping the knee bent at 90°, until the sole of your foot faces the ceiling. Lower your leg back to start.

That’s 1 rep. Do 10, then swap legs.

Can I use bands for glute activation exercises?

Absolutely. In fact, most of our go-to PTs won't start a session or a run without using a resistance band. Cut to WH's very own Amy Lane, who having experienced the benefits of using a mini band to wake up her glutes as part of her glute activation exercise routine now uses one before EVERY run.

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Quite simply, get with the band.

Can I use glute activation exercises to build a bigger bum?

Yes. But for the best glute gains read our guide on how to build a bigger bum. Simple.

Whilst you're here, read all about LISS, HIIT Training and Tantric Yoga.

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