10 Must Do Exercises to Properly Activate Your Glutes
Have you ever felt so good after your heavy leg or booty day in the gym only to wake up the next day feeling it more in your quads or hamstrings? Chances are you are were not properly activating your glute muscles prior to your workout. In fact, chances are you are not really activating your glutes in your daily life!
This is something I see on a daily basis in my clinical practice as a Physical Therapist. Most of the time it’s just our lifestyle of increased sitting which causes the glutes to slowly stop firing as much over time. The problem is, most of us don’t even realize they are not active!
It is so important to learn how to activate your glute muscles properly before and during your workouts not only so you can see the best muscle gains but also to protect yourself from injury! The gluteal muscles work together with your core to protect your spine and stabilize your body. The stronger your glute muscle are, the better it is for your spine, especially your lower back. It is clinically proven that being able to properly activate your glutes leads to decreased lower back pain!
Another important factor to address when learning to properly activate your glutes is hip flexor tightness. Your hip flexor muscles are the big muscles in the front of your hip and your thigh. When they are tight ( likely from sitting too much), they can pull on your lower back ( causing pain) and they can limit your ability to activate your glutes properly!
So how can you fix this?
Today I will cover the best glute activation exercises and hip flexor stretches to perform before your workouts to get those muscles fired up so you can maximize your results!
Here is what you do:
Perform this routine before your leg and cardio workouts ( at least 3x a week). Complete all exercises for 30 repetitions each.
After you finish the glute activation exercises, perform the hip flexor stretches as outlined below. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds 3x on each leg.
Let’s get to it!
Best Glute Activation Exercise Routine
- Squats with resisted abduction
- Place a resistance band around your thighs right above your knees and stand with your feet hip width apart. Perform a squat keeping your abs engaged and weight back through your heels as shown. Return to start as your squeeze your glutes. Perform for 30 reps!
- Standing kicks backs ( with or without band)
- Stand with your feet hip width apart. You can place a resistance band around your ankles to make this exercise a little more challenging. You will still work your glutes either way! You can start off without the band and always progress to adding it as you become stronger! Slowly lift your left leg behind you keeping your leg straight as your squeeze your glutes. Repeat this for 30 reps and then switch sides.
- Standing hip abduction ( with or without band)
- Begin in the same position outlined above. Engage your abs and lift your leg out to the size as shown, then slowly return to start. You should feel this exercise on the outside of your hip, working the glut medius muscle!
- Clamshell ( with or without band)
- Lay on your side with your back nice and straight, knees bent and feet together as shown. If you are using a resistance band, place the band around your thighs just above your knees. Keeping yours abs engaged, lift your left knee up towards the ceiling as your activate the glute medius muscle on the outside of your hip. Slowly lower back down to start. Perform 30 reps and then repeat on the other side.
- Sidelying hip abduction
- Lay on your right side with your legs out straight as shown. Keeping your abs engaged, lift your left leg up towards the ceiling and slowly lower back down to start. Make sure you lead with your heel, keeping your toes pointing forward as this will help to activate the glutes. Perform 30 reps and the repeat on the opposite side.
- Donkey Kicks
- This is one of my favorite exercises for targeting the glute max muscle. Begin on hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips as shown. Keeping your back straight and abs engaged, lift your left leg behind you and up towards the ceiling as your squeeze your glutes. Lower back to start. Perform 30 reps and then repeat on the opposite side
- Quadruped Hip extension
- Begin on hands and knees as outlined above. Extend your leg straight behind you to assume the starting position as shown. Slowly lift your leg up towards the ceiling keeping your knee straight as you squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Return to start. Perform 30 reps on each side.
- Prone hip extension
- Begin on your stomach with your legs out straight as shown. Keeping your abs engaged, lift one leg up towards the ceiling as you squeeze your glutes. Slowly lower back down to start. Repeat 30x total on each side. Be careful not to move your spine. You should not feel stress in your lower back when you do this exercise, you should feel it in your glutes!
- Bridge with resisted abduction
- Place a resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor as shown. Engage your abs and lift your hips up off the floor as you try to pull your legs apart against the resistance. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Slowly lower back to start. Repeat for 30 reps.
- Single leg bridge
- Begin on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your right leg straight up in the air as shown: this is your starting position. Lift your hips up off the floor as your press through your left heel, focusing on squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. Lower back to start Repeat for 30 reps on each side.
Bonus: Hip flexor stretches to improve glute activation
As I mentioned earlier, it is so important to stretch your hip flexors so that you can allow for full hip extension which will improve your ability to properly activate your glutes to get the most out of your workouts!
Add these 4 hip stretches into your routine after you finish the glute activation exercises for BEST RESULTS!
- Crescent or low lunge
- Begin in a low lunge position with your right leg forward and left down on your mat. Be careful not to be directly on top of your left knee cap ( you can also place a towel under your knee for support). Begin by placing your hands on top of your right knee and pulling your navel in towards your spine. You should feel a nice stretch in your left hip flexor ( left thigh) as shown. You can take this a step further by raising your arms up overhead and extending into a slight backbend as shown for a deeper stretch. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. Switch and repeat on the opposite side.
- Low lunge with a quad stretch
- Begin in the same position as outlined above. This time bend your left as your reach behind you to grab hold of your left foot. Gently pull your foot towards your butt until you feel a stretch in your left thigh as shown. You may not have to pull very far. If this is too much for you, you can always use a strap or a towel around your foot/ankle instead as shown below. Hold this for 30 seconds and perform 3 times on each side.
- Low lunge with a twist
- Begin in a low lunge position as outlined above. Bring your hands into a prayer position in front of you and twist to the right as you bring the outside of left elbow to the outside of your right knee as shown. Draw our navel in towards your spine on your inhale and as you exhale twist to the right. You should still be feeling a stretch in your left thigh and now a nice gentle twist in your back. Hold for 30 seconds and perform 3x on each side
- Wide legged child’s pose:
- Begin on hand and knees, spreading your knees as wide as your comfortable can. Gently sit back on your heels as your bring yourself into child’s pose as shown. You should feel a nice inner thigh stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x.
So there you have it, the 10 must do exercises for activating your glute muscles before your workout. Get into the habit of performing these exercises along with the hip flexor stretches on a regular basis ( 3x a week) and you will notice a HUGE difference with your workouts: a tighter stronger butt, improved flexibility and less back pain!
If you are looking for some awesome leg and booty workouts, you can check out a few of my favorites here!
You can also check out some more ideas for stretching and yoga routines here!
Hope you have enjoyed today’s workout!
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Until next time,
Dr. Allie Flowers, PT, DPT, RYT