We tested 17 of the most popular glute exercises on 4 subjects, male and female, to find which ones are the best at building a powerful, well-rounded butt. And we’ll use these results to create a simple glute workout perfect for you and guaranteed to transform your butt.
So we used Betty, a $1,200 EMG machine that measures muscle activation, to find out what the best glute exercises are.
Here’s how the most popular glute exercise (which everyone thinks is 'The Best Glute Exercise'), the hip thrust, did.
Out of all the exercises we tested, it led to the highest activation in both the lower and the upper glutes. But despite the high activation, there are actually other exercises that would very likely grow your glutes better than hip thrusts do.
By the way: many of the best glute exercises you'll come across here are the EXACT ones I've programmed in Built With Science programs' glute workouts. So, if you want to fast-track your results and transformation, definitely take the quick analysis quiz below to discover the best program for you and your body:
Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:
Before I share why that is and what the best glute exercises at the gym are, let me first explain what exactly we tested.
So the glutes are actually an extremely complex muscle to measure. I needed all the help I could get to determine the best glute exercises. Luckily, biomechanics expert Coach Kassem who has run several of these experiments in the past offered to help out.
After speaking with him, to see if certain exercises favored different parts of the glutes, I decided to put the sensors on the:
... to run the experiment to find out what the best glute exercises are.
Now, to make sure the sensors stuck to our booties, each of us needed a smooth, hairless butt. Fortunately, out of the 4 subjects we tested this on, only one of us needed some work done.
To be honest, Raza could have had it worse. Apparently, some studies take it to the extreme and rub sandpaper on the butt?
Now, before testing the best glute exercises, there were two variables we had to account for:
With that out of the way, we were ready to get started testing for the best glute exercises.
To sift out the best glute exercises, we tested a total of 17 glute exercises by doing 1 set of each and then taking a 5-minute break between each set.
After a long day, we were done with measuring. But there was one more exercise I wanted to measure, and Tahnee was the perfect candidate.
Before I dive into the results and discover what the best glute exercises are, it’s important to understand that more activation doesn’t always mean more growth.
For example, even though the hip thrust led to the highest activation, the downside is that it works the glutes the most at the top position when your butt is fully contracted.
Whereas recent research has shown that exercises that challenge muscles at the bottom position when they’re fully stretched tend to be better for growth. Feel free to check out this past article, "Stretch-Focused Training: The New "Hack" That'll Help You Gain Muscle Fast?" for more information on how stretch-focused training could help maximize your gains.
So while it is a great exercise to help you really feel your glutes working and is something I’m going to throw into the sample glute workout I’ll show at the end of the article, it’s not the only glute exercise you should be doing.
This is especially true because, based on the data, it seems like different exercises targeted different parts of the glutes.
Let’s start with the best glute exercises for the lower glutes. There were 2 types of exercises that targeted this region very well.
The first type was lower body presses. These are exercises where your foot is pressing against the floor to raise your body up.
We tested barbell squats, step-ups, different types of lunges, and of course, Bulgarian Split Squats.
For each of these exercises, we used a slight lean forward at the torso and tried to keep the shin vertical over the foot rather than letting the knee travel forward. This form seemed to help activate the glutes even more by reducing the involvement of the quad muscles.
And I actually covered this form in more depth in this past glutes article I did. So do check it out after this article if you want to learn how to properly execute some of these exercises.
Now, although these did favor the lower glutes more, there was one unique type of lunge that performed surprisingly well for the upper glutes. We’ll talk about that later on.
But it’s important to note that the lower body presses we tested varied in difficulty.
Raza, a beginner, had a hard time doing the more complex variations, such as Bulgarian Split Squats and Front Foot Elevated reverse lunges.
These variations are one of the best glute exercises (i.e., great for growth) because they stretch the glutes at the bottom even more than regular lunges do.
But they’re challenging. So for beginners, I’d recommend sticking to a basic reverse lunge or split squat and then gradually start progressing to these more difficult exercises over time.
So the second type of exercise that did very well for the lower glutes was deadlifts. We tested both the conventional deadlift and the glute-focused Romanian deadlift.
Anyways, both types of deadlifts favored the lower glutes quite well. And if you remember from the past smartest back workout article, deadlifts also performed very well at activating the whole back. Making a great choice to work the whole backside of your body at once.
Now one thing I did find interesting was how similar the results were between us males and Tahnee, the female.
A big misconception is that females need to train completely differently than men do, and vice versa. But the best glute exercises for women will also be the best for men.
The difference comes with how you program those exercises in.
For example, if you wanted to prioritize your glutes, then you’d do more volume and exercises for them compared to other muscles.
And for those who want a done-for-you science-based program that shows you exactly how to train based on your goals, just take our analysis quiz below::
Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:
Ok, so far, based on the data, it seems like exercises where your butt is moving backward and then forwards, also known as “hip extension”, are the best glute exercises for the lower glutes.
But what about the best glute exercises for the upper and side glutes, AKA the “Brazilian Butt Lift”?
Well, this part of the glutes primarily helps with a motion called “abduction”, which involves moving your leg away from the middle of your body.
There are a few exercises that seemed to work really well for this.
Let’s start with cable kickbacks. We tested this with the leg lifted straight back or out at about a 30-degree angle.
Theoretically, since the leg travels out to the side, the angled version should better line up the tension with the upper and side glutes. The results? For all 4 subjects, the angled version better targeted both the upper glutes as well as the glute medius.
Next, abduction movements. These are exercises that directly train the function of the upper and side glutes. We tested seated and standing banded abductions and even the seated machine abduction which we had to borrow from another gym.
All of these variations favored the upper glutes and the glute medius significantly more than the lower glutes.
But we also tested a unique type of lunge I learned from Coach Kassem that ended up activating both the upper glutes and the glute medius very well.
We used just a small step up for the front foot, turned the toe in slightly, and then rather than stepping directly back with the other leg, we stepped back and slightly to the side behind the body.
This puts the upper glute fibers and the glute medius into a deeper stretch than traditional lunges do. I’ve honestly never done these in my own training, but I’m definitely adding them in after seeing how well they performed.
Ok, so let’s put all the best glute exercises together into a well-rounded glute workout.
To do that, I’d recommend first starting off with the toughest movement by picking a hip extension dominant exercise to favor the “lower glutes”.
This exercise will also be the most important one for growth, so it’s a good idea to do it while you’re fresh. But after that, I’d throw in hip thrusts for some extra overall glute work which isn’t as tiring on the body.
Then, to finish it off, I’d recommend adding 1-2 exercises from the best glute exercises in the “upper glutes” list, depending on how much you want to prioritize this region.
So here's what that'll look like:
I’ve also put the full workout into a free downloadable PDF, which you could download below:
Click the button below to grab your FREE copy of the glutes workout:
So, you now know what the most effective glute growth exercises are. What now? Once again, you can check out this article for the smartest, most time-saving back workout. And if you're a fan of my EMG-focused articles, I've actually done a bunch of them now, so feel free to take a look at these articles, too: