Top 5 Bad Glute Exercises and What to do Instead
Sculpting a perfect pair of glutes is at the top of many people's fitness goals.
While many people want great glutes, not many people truly know how to train effectively to get them.
With the rise of the Instagram 'coach', most of whom have no coaching experience or qualifications, we see a lot of bad exercise recommendations posted all over the internet.
You will have probably seen so many glute exercises popping up in 'booty building' workouts online - but most of them won't get you the results you want.
But as world-leading body transformation specialists at Ultimate Performance, we have taken a look at some of the worst five you should avoid - and suggested alternative exercises that need to be part of your training programme.
But first we tackle some of the myths around training your glutes...
Glute Training Myths Busted
If you really want to train the glutes, you need to understand the main movements that the glutes are responsible for.
You also need to understand the fundamentals of muscle growth so we can effectively apply the right stimulus to build those glutes.
Time for the most results-based personal training company in the world to put some of these booty building myths to rest.
For physique, there are two main reasons that people train their glutes. To either build size and shape (or booty), or to try and shrink it.
What we’re really talking about when we talk about developing the glutes is adding size to the muscle, shaping your bum.
What people are talking about when they train their glutes because they want a smaller bum is what we call spot reduction – unfortunately, this is impossible. Training your glutes will not make your bum smaller. Let’s look at why.
You can’t spot reduce fat
Search around anywhere online for ‘bum building workouts’ and ‘bum slimming workouts’ and you’ll probably get many of the same exercises.
How would the same exercises both build AND reduce the glutes?
The answer is – they don’t.
Just because you’re working a muscle in a certain area, doesn’t mean you’re burning fat on that area.
When you do an ab crunch, you don’t burn stomach fat. So, workouts claiming to be ‘bum slimming’ are just flat out false advertising.
When you train the muscle of the glute, you’ll build muscles on your glutes if you accompany that training with the right nutrition.
This will build the size and shape of your glutes. However, you’ll need to be in a calorie surplus (at least sometimes) to achieve this.
If you are in a calorie deficit, you’ll lose fat. If you happen to be doing a ‘The Ultimate Bum Burning Workout v2’ from YouTube, that’s just coincidence.
You lost fat on your butt because you were eating well for your goal - the workout itself didn’t burn fat on top of the glutes!
So to be clear, if you’re training your glutes because you want them to be smaller, you’re wasting your time. Every single glute exercise is a bad glute exercise for burning fat on the glutes.
If that’s the goal, check out some of the many articles on training (and eating) for fat loss on our website.
With that myth (that keeps hanging around), out of the way, let’s get talking about the best and worst exercises to develop your glutes.
What do the glutes do?
To properly train all fibres of the glutes (gluteus maximus to give them their full name), we must consider all the ways that the glute moves the leg. The glutes perform three main movements. They extend, abduct and externally rotate the leg.
Extension of the leg would be a glute kickback.
Abduction of the leg is when the leg is lifted out to the side away from the centre line, like when taking a step to the side.
External rotation is when the leg turns outward, pointing the feet out like a duck.
So, the best exercises to work the glutes need to cover these three main actions of the muscle, while adhering to the three fundamental principles of hypertrophy discussed above.
How to Get Great Glutes
If you want to develop your glutes these four main principles will help develop them fast.
Time under tension is essential for muscle growth. We always try and ensure muscles stay under tension when training for hypertrophy (muscle development). One way to do this is to keep the muscle you are working ‘squeezed’ - never relaxing it. Actively squeezing a muscle throughout the exercise will keep it under constant tension.
To properly achieve this, you need to learn the movement first. Only then can you start using the squeeze to create a strong ‘mind-muscle connection' to the working muscle. If you don’t have a strong mind-muscle connection to the glutes, you’ll struggle to engage them and make them the prime mover in the exercises we talk about later.
If you don’t place enough load through a muscle, it won’t grow. That doesn’t mean that the weight needs to be heavy by any means. You should have perfect technique and a good mind-muscle connection before loading. When you do start loading, it shouldn’t compromise that technique or that squeeze – if it does, it was too heavy.
The optimal time under tension for muscle growth is between 20 and 90 seconds, so any weight that doesn’t lead to failure by the end of 90 seconds wasn’t heavy enough.
If you can perform an exercise for over 90 seconds before reaching failure, it’s not a good exercise for growth. This applies to quite a few of the popular but misguided exercises that we’ll look at next.
The eccentric (lowering) portion of an exercise has the greatest impact on muscle growth.
Therefore we focus on slow eccentrics during our hypertrophy training.
If you want to build the glutes, then exercises that have an eccentric component are important. They must also allow you to control the eccentric phase properly.
This lets you increase the amount of time spent during the eccentric phase of the lift as well as generally increasing the time under tension for the set.
4. Proper Range
If the exercises you perform for your glutes aren’t taking the muscles through their full range of motion, you’ll get poor development.
Does every exercise need to take the glutes from full flexion to full extension? No, but a proper glute workout should target the lengthened, middle and fully contracted ranges of the glute.
With these principles in mind, here are the top five bad glute exercises we see performed in the gym all the time, and what to do instead.
Bad Exercise #1 - Glute Kickbacks
The glute kickback seems to have become the staple exercise of nearly every glute workout in the world. Done to death in all its variations, from cable to bodyweight in every angle imaginable, this must be the most popular terrible exercise out there.
It seems great – it’s one of the few exercises that isolates hip extension and as a result you can ‘feel the burn’. But here’s why it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
The classic glute kickback or ‘donkey kick’ is performed on all fours with body weight. There’s just no load. You may be able to produce a bit of tension by just squeezing the glutes but the weight of your leg just isn’t enough load to produce any significant results.
Performing the kickback with an ankle strap on the cable is getting more common to try and combat this.
However, this generally makes the exercise more difficult to isolate. Often the lower back (or whole body) become in involved to try and swing the weight up.
As a result, all tension is lost from the glutes and the eccentric phase is completely neglected. No good for building great glutes.
Do Instead – Romanian Deadlifts
The Romanian deadlift offers many of the same benefits of isolation as the glute kickback, but allows you to properly load the exercise. It can be tough to maintain tension in the glutes on this exercise if you are unpractised with the technique.
Once your technique is well grooved, however, you’ll find that squeezing the glutes and maintaining tension becomes easier and your glutes will start developing faster than ever before.
Bad Exercise #2 – Abductor Raises
The abductor raise is from the same family as the glute kickback. You know the one, right?
Just lay on your side and just raise your top leg up a thousand times or so.
The positive is that it works the glutes in abduction which not many exercises do. The negatives are that there is no load and very little tension.
This is one of those ones that you’ll see performed for minutes at a time, hundreds of reps.
An exercise that is light enough to be done for such high reps will have no impact on the muscle’s development – it’s a waste of time.
Do Instead – Abductor Machine
This often under-rated machine works the glutes in nearly the exact same way to the abductor raise, but you can load it. It, therefore, allows you to progressively overload the exercise by adding extra weight and creating higher levels of tension.
Bad Exercise #3 – Half Squats
People don’t intentionally half squat – but many do. Sometimes it’s not knowing any better, other times it’s a lack of range of motion or it could just be letting the ego pick the weight.
Not squatting with full depth will limit glute development and could place excess strain on the lower back and knees.
Do Instead – Full Range Squats
To clarify, this means hamstrings fully covering the calves or ‘ass to grass’.
A full range squat is not just down to hip crease just past the knees. That may be acceptable competition depth in powerlifting, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The glutes must work harder and are better recruited when the crease in the hip is at maximum – when well below parallel in the squat.
Therefore, to properly train the glutes through their full range you must squat all the way down.
This is a great exercise for working the glutes in extension because they are taken from full flexion to nearly full extension with each rep.
Bad Exercise #4 – Box Jumps
Believe it or not, we’ve seen this one on quite a few glute workouts. Yet there is no load, very little eccentric, no tension and no range. If you want to avoid every single one of the fundamentals of physique development, then this is the exercise for you.
Box jumps are a great plyometric exercise for developing explosive power in athletes when performed for low reps. They may work as a metabolic conditioning exercise in very skilled and well-trained individuals with athletic backgrounds, which could aid fat loss. What they are not (really, really not) are a ‘booty shaping’ exercise.
Do Instead – Lunges
Lunges will elicit greater glute activation because the hip goes through a much greater range of motion.
In addition, you can load them, unlike the box jump. Lunges are also superior for metabolic conditioning. They are a much more efficient and safe way to raise the heart rate and deplete the muscles of the lower body for optimum fat burning.
Bad Exercise #5 – Side Steps with Bands
First, let it be said, if this exercise is being used for glute activation, then it’s a great exercise for that purpose. If it’s being used to build the glutes, then it’s not a great exercise.
There are two main issues with this exercise for glute development. The first is that there is no eccentric – no lowering of the weight. Since this is so heavily associated with muscular development, any exercise with no eccentric has limited uses.
In addition to this, the load is not consistent or measurable. Yes, different bands might have different tension but they can stretch over time, changing the tension they provide.
In addition to this, the stimulus isn’t consistent. This is because you might step 30cm sometimes and other times step 40cm, which changes the ‘load’. This is because how much tension the band gives is directly related to how stretched it is. This makes it very difficult to progressively overload.
Do Instead – Reverse Hyperextensions
The reverse hyperextension is a great exercise to target the glutes in extension.
It can also be used to train the glutes in external rotation if the legs are allowed to twist outward slightly at the end of the range. There are not many exercises that target this action of the glute which makes the reverse hyper a great inclusion to any glute workout.
Don’t make these five big glute training mistakes. If you want to sculpt your physique, anything less than the best exercises just won’t cut it – unless you want to spend the next 10 years chasing a dream without making it your reality!
Want to train with world-class personal trainers and get a taste of the real UP training experience? Click here to sign up for one of UP's famous Hypertrophy Camps.