There are many glute exercises out there. Some are traditional exercises that have been done for years, some are modernized or modified versions of exercises, and others are just gimmicky. So many glute exercises…but which ones should you do?
Let me start off with the obvious answer: It depends. Your exercise selection should be matched to your training history, goals, and individual characteristics (injuries, imbalances, etc.). Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about the exercises. A systematic review of the literature was published in March 2020 comparing gluteus medius activation levels across a variety of different exercises. In no particular order, they analyzed all variations of back squats, front squats, belt squats, overhead squats, split squats, single leg squats, lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and step-ups.
Before looking at the list below, keep in mind that the research was focused on gluteus maximus activation. Other factors, such as load, fatigue, velocity, etc. could affect activation patterns for different people. Okay, here is the list in order from highest to lowest gluteus maximus activation:
The step-up exercise and its variations presented the highest levels of gluteus maximus activation followed by several loaded exercises and their variations, such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, and squats.
This list will come in hand when programming for glute hypertrophy, hip extension strength, or accessory work for Olympic or power lifts. Just because an exercise has higher activation patterns for the gluteus maximus does not necessarily mean it’s a better exercise. Exercise programming should be tailored to the individual and offer a variety of exercises.