It's not surprising that weak glutes can lead to a variety of problems including back, hip, and knee pain and injuries. But what is surprising is how many people, even recreational athletes, have weak glutes. The reason is that today many of us spend a lot of time sitting. Sitting for extended periods of time can result in tight, shortened hip flexors and hamstrings, and weak glutes that fail to fire properly. Athletes with lower body injuries who visit a physical therapist often take home a list of exercises to get the glutes firing. This research helps sort out which of those exercises really work.
Their study measured the actual muscle firing of the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius during some common gluteus rehab and therapeutic exercises. With the use of electromyography, the researchers were able to identify which movements activated the butt muscles to the highest percent. These results can help sports medicine specialists, physical therapists and even athletes decide which exercise include or drop from a rehab, pre-hab or a basic training program. The ultimate goal of these exercises is to get the glutes to fire properly, build a strong backside, prevent lower extremity injuries and maintain proper alignment and biomechanics.
Based upon this research, the exercises that produce the highest amount of electromyographic activity in the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus include some basic exercises that anyone can do with little or no equipment.
Best Butt Exercises - Gluteus Maximus
- These exercises produce the highest percentage of electromyographic activity in gluteus maximus muscle group.
- One-leg squat - 59% activation
- One-leg deadlift - 59% activation
- Sideways, front, and transverse lunges - 41-49% activation
Best Butt Exercises - Gluteus Medius
- These exercises produce the highest percentage of electromyographic activity in the gluteus medius muscle group.
- Side-lying hip abduction - 81% activation
- One-leg squat - 64% activation
- Lateral band walk - 61% activation
- One-leg deadlift - 58% activation
How to use this information in your own exercise routineDepending upon your overall fitness goals, you can use this information in a variety of ways. You can perform all the exercises in a rotating basis to get a variety of movements while still targeting the glutes. Or you can focus on the exercises at the top of the list to get the most 'bang for your buck' and build the muscle strength in a maximal and isolated way.
Based upon the results, it seems the best way to target the glutes medius is to regularly perform a side-lying hip abduction. This is the most effective way to strengthen the glutes medius, which plays a significant role in keeping the hips and pelvis aligned. This is an important and often overlooked way to prevent knee pain. In short, everyone should probably add side-lying hip abduction to their routine.
The one-leg squat and one-limb deadlift exercises are a good all-around way to target both the glut maximus and medius at the same time.
The walking lunge and the lunge with a twist are two more exercises that can be helpful for preventing and rehabbing lower body aches and pains. When done slowly, and with controlled movements, lunges place less stress on the joints, and are a generally easier and safer than plyometric jumping exercises or deep one-leg squats.
DiStefano, L. (2009). Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises [http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.2310,type.2/article_detail.asp] Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2796