How to fix weak glutes – 4 exercises targeting glutes not legs (video)

About 3 months ago, I started a strength training routine specifically for my glutes. I wanted to see if it would help with the knee pain I was getting when running longer distances. This sort of knee pain can often be related to weak glutes, so I was curious to see if strengthening them would help. The short answer is that it did.

Glute amnesia – aka dormant buttocks syndrome or dead butt syndrome

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Glute amnesia, also referred to as dormant buttocks syndrome or dead butt syndrome, occurs when your brain forgets how to activate the glute muscles. This can happen due to hours spent sitting at a desk (which places your glutes in a stretched position). Over time, rather than activating when they are needed during exercise and general movement, the glutes remain inactive and other muscles takes over.

This can lead to all sorts of issues like lower back pain, hip pain and knee pain, since the glutes should play a large role in stabilising the hips and spine.

Glute amnesia can also make it tricky to effectively train your glutes at the gym. Particularly if you are doing exercises like squats and deadlifts, where the quads and hamstrings respectively tend to take over. Bret Contreras, PhD, CSCS covers this in detail in his book Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training. He classifies squats as a quad-dominant exercise and deadlifts as a hamstring-dominant exercise based on electromyography (EMG) tests. I have also found this to be true in my own training.

The solution? Start using glute-dominant exercises to more effectively target and strengthen the glutes.

4 Exercises to Target Glutes

There is a range of glute-dominant exercises that you can include in your training to strengthen the glutes. I’ve listed some of my personal favourites below.

  1. Quadruped Hip Extension
  2. Barbell Glute Bridge
  3. Cable Hip Abduction
  4. Hip Abduction Machine
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The key thing to remember with each exercise is to really focus on squeezing your glutes. Developing this mind-muscle connection is essential, otherwise other muscles may still take over. I started with light resistance or bodyweight only until I could feel my glutes doing the work. Then I proceeded to progressively overload each exercise with more weight over time.

1. Quadruped Hip Extension

This has been one of the best exercises for me to isolate the glutes. It’s also sometimes called a ‘donkey kick’. You can do it with a resistance band around your knees, or add more significant load by using the landmine set up shown in the video below. With the landmine set up, I’ve been doing a mixture lighter sets of 15-20 reps and heavier sets of 10-12 reps. Sometimes I’ll also do burnout sets with a resistance band for 30-50 reps.

2. Barbell Glute Bridge

Glute bridges are great with just your bodyweight or with added resistance. If you tend to feel hip thrusts in your quads, barbell glute bridges are a useful alternative. To add load, you can hold a dumbbell on your hips, but I prefer barbell glute bridges. I use a foam pad on the barbell for padding (the same as you would use for hip thrusts). I also prop my head up on a bosu ball positioned against a wall so that my shoulders don’t slide backwards. I’ve been doing a mixture of lighter sets for 20-30 reps with a resistance band around my knees, and heavier sets for 10-12 reps.

3. Cable Hip Abduction

My preferred way to do standing hip abductions is with the cable machine as shown in the video below. You can also do it with a resistance band around your knees (either standing or lying on your side on the floor). However, the cable machine allows for more range of motion and it’s easier to add more resistance as you progress.

4. Hip Abduction Machine

If you have access to a standard gym, you should be able to find this machine. I like it because it has allowed me to add more weight as I progress, but you can do seated hip abductions with a resistance band around your knees if you don’t have access to the machine. I find that leaning my torso forward gives me the best overall glute activation. Sitting upright or leaning back targets the upper portion of your glutes more.

You can stay up to date with my workouts and training on my Instagram.

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