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Glute isolation exercises can target and build your glutes without involving other surrounding muscles.
Many exercisers may think it is time-saving and efficient to concentrate on compound exercises that work multiple muscles simultaneously, but that may not always be true.
Larger or stronger muscles may dominate and overshadow smaller ones when you solely concentrate on compound exercises. That could eventually render some of the small muscles inactive. The glutes are a good example.
The glutes are part of your core muscles. The core muscles comprise the major and the minor core muscles.
The major muscles comprise
- transverse abdominis,
- internal and external obliques,
- erector spinae,
- pelvic floor muscles,
- rectus abdominis
Your glutes, together with your lats and traps, form the minor core muscles.
You may need an isolation exercise to help wake up small inactive muscles to enable others to work properly.
Thus, targeting your glutes with a compound exercise may not have the desired effect. That is where glute activation exercises come in.
Benefits of glute isolation exercises
The glutes are responsible for most of the movements we make with our legs, including the action that moves our legs backward, straightening our legs at the hips, moving the legs sideways, and rotating the legs around the hips.
Sitting, standing, jumping running, are all actions that rely on the glutes.
The glutes are also responsible for the stabilization of the hip joints.
Because we spend so much time seated, our glutes become long and weak. Other muscles (hamstrings, lower back) become synergistically dominant and take over squat and lunge actions. That makes it difficult for the glutes to perform as expected.
That can result in:
- An anterior pelvic tilt (accompanied by pelvic instability) and poor posture.
- A soft, ‘saggy’ bum.
- Damage to the back
- Damage to the hamstrings
- Knee issues, particularly for runners.
Glute activation exercises have many benefits, including;
- Glute isolation exercises will target and activate only the glute muscles, namely the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus muscles while excluding other core muscles. That can help wake up the glutes and stop other core muscles from taking over the functions of the glutes.
- Glute isolation exercises can help improve the performance of compound exercises.
- Glute isolation exercises can help build more active and stable glutes, improve the flexibility and mobility of your joints, and improve posture.
- They can help build lean muscles.
- Glute isolation exercises can help build a stronger core. Stronger core muscles are vital for your health and many activities, including lifting and moving items.
Best glute isolation exercises for building your backside
The best glute isolation exercises are those that involve hinging and thrusting movements.
Below are some of the best glute isolation exercises to help target your glutes.
Single Leg Hip Bridges
The single leg hip bridge, aka unilateral bridge or single leg glute bridge, is one of the best glute isolation exercises for isolating and strengthening the glutes and the hamstrings.
The exercise involves lifting one leg and using the other to help do the thrusting.
And because you flex one knee and your hips do not flex above 90 degrees, your hamstrings stay in active insufficiency throughout the movement, helping to isolate and target the glutes.
It is a bodyweight exercise that requires no equipment. Thus you can do it anywhere at your convenience.
The movements are easy to master, making the glute isolation exercises at home accessible to all exercisers, irrespective of their fitness levels.
Though not required, you can use an exercise mat for comfort.
Steps to follow
- Lie on the floor or exercise mat, bend one knee and place the foot flat on the floor.
- Stretch your arms by your sides with palms flat on the floor.
- Lift the other leg and stretch it in front of you.
- Push down on your foot on the floor, tighten your abs and butts, squeeze your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine, and raise your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knee are in line.
- Hold the position for about three seconds. Then
- Lower your hips slowly to the floor in a controlled manner
- Repeat for the desired number of reps for the same raised leg.
- Change legs and go through the movement with the other leg.
It is necessary to go through the motions of the bodyweight glute isolation exercises with both legs to avoid muscle imbalance.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The hip thrust is a variation of the glute bridge and is one of the best glute isolation exercises to target and build your glutes.
The exercise requires you to balance yourself on a bench while lifting a barbell with your hips.
You may find the movement awkward if you are a novice. Thus it may be good to master the exercise without the barbell till you are confident enough. Having a partner to assist you could also be a good idea.
- You will need a weight bench and a barbell for the exercise.
- Ensure you set the height of the weight bench to that of your knee or below.
- Secure the bench to ensure it doesn’t slide.
- If necessary, place some thick padding around the bar for comfort and protection.
Steps to follow
- Sit on the floor and lean your back on the long side of the weight bench. Keep both feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Your torso should form about a 45-degree angle with the weight bench.
- Center the barbell over your hips and hold onto it to ensure it doesn’t roll over. The best position for the bar is across your upper hip flexors and lower abdomen.
- Squeeze your glutes and use your hips to press the barbell upward towards the ceiling.
- Keep pushing the bar upward until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in line. Your upper back should be resting on the bench. Ensure you keep your core tight and your eyes on your body throughout.
- Lower the bar slowly and stop just before your hips touch the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes and repeat.
B Stance Hip Thrust
The B stance hip thrust is just like the conventional hip thrust but with a tweak. You do the exercise with one of your heels touching the floor instead of both feet on the floor.
Thus, most of the force comes from one foot instead of both. It is one of the best glute isolation exercises that target one side of your glutes at a time, helping to correct any imbalances.
Steps to follow
- Get into the normal hip thrust position by sitting on the floor and resting your upper back against the weight bench.
- Place one foot on the floor and let the other foot rest on its heels.
- Balance the barbell on your hips and hold it
- Push down the foot on the floor, and with little support from the heel of the other leg, use your hips to lift the barbell until your hips, shoulders, and knees are in line.
- Lower your hips slowly and stop just before it touches the floor.
- Switch your legs and go through the motions for the other side of your glutes.
The reverse hyperextensions are glute isolation exercises that can help improve glute health and prepare you for exercises like the deadlift and squat.
You can perform the exercise on a machine, a weight bench, or on the floor if you have none of the two. You can also use a stability ball.
Steps to follow
- Lie face down with your torso and waist on the weight bench and let your leg dangle off at the end of the weight bench. Ensure you can freely move your legs
- Stretch your arms and firmly grasp the sides of the weight bench.
- Extend your hips and brace your core. Then use your hips and hamstrings to raise your legs as high as possible behind you until your legs are above your hips. Keep your legs straight throughout the movement.
- Pause for a second and lower your legs slowly to your starting position
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Suspended Hip Bridge
Not very comfortable training with barbells? Why not use suspended trainers instead?
The suspended hip thrusts are one of the glute isolation exercises for working and strengthing your glute muscles.
You will need suspension trainers for the exercise. TRX suspension trainers are cheap to acquire and portable. You can carry them in your handbag or luggage, making it possible to do your glute isolation exercises whenever and wherever you want.
Steps to follow
- Hook the suspension trainers at a high point and adjust the height so that it is about 1.5-2 feet off the floor
- Lie on your back and place your heels in the straps, ensuring you keep your feet bent.
- Place your arms by your sides.
- Push down with your feet, and raise and extend your hips until you fully extend your hips. Pause at the top of the movement
- Lower your hips back to the floor to complete a rep
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
Quadruped Bent-Knee Hip Extensions
The quadruped bent-knee hip extension, aka donkey kick or glute kickback, is a good beginner-friendly
exercise that requires no gym equipment.
It is one of the best glute isolation exercises that allows you to work on each side of your glutes in isolation. The quadruped bent-knee hip extension can target and tighten your glutes much better than many compound exercises, and you don’t need any equipment.
The glute isolation exercises allow you to focus and correct weaknesses on each side of your glutes.
Steps to follow
- Begin the exercise on all fours. Ensure you bend your knees at 90 degrees and stretch your arms fully. Keep your knees shoulder-width apart, your neck and spine neutral, and your hands under your shoulders.
- Brace your core and ensure your back is straight.
- Raise one leg, and maintaining the 90-degree bend at the knee, point the sole towards the ceiling.
- Keep lifting the leg until you fully extend your hips. Ensure you keep your torso flat and stationary, and don’t rotate your hips.
- Pause, slowly lower the raised knee in a controlled manner, and stop just before it touches the floor. Then breathe in and lower the knee back to the floor.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions for that leg.
- Switch sides and go through the motions with the other leg
Kas Glute Bridge
The Kas glute bridge is very similar to the barbell glute bridge, except that it has a shorter range of motion. That allows you to remove the hamstrings and the quads from the equation, making it easier to target the glutes.
It is one of the best glute isolation exercises to consider for your training.
Steps to follow
- Sit on the floor, lean your upper back against a weight bench, and keep both feet firmly on the floor.
- Balance a barbell on your torso and hold it in place with your arms.
- Squeeze your glutes, push down your feet, and lift the barbell toward the ceiling with your hips. Ensure you keep your back straight and your eyes looking at your body. Ensure you continue squeezing your glutes until your hips reach full extension. Your knees should be at 90 degrees at the top of the movement.
- Start lowering your hips slowly and stop just before your knees start drifting; this should be about halfway to the floor. Squeeze your glutes as you lower your hips.
- Pause when you are halfway to the floor for 2-3 seconds, and repeat the upward movement.
Steps to follow
The clamshell exercise, aptly named after how a clam opens and closes its shell, is arguably one of the best glute isolation exercises for strengthening your glutes without targeting other core muscles (1).
Adding a resistance band to the clamshell exercise will increase the resistance and help target the glutes much better.
Steps to follow
- Place the resistance band around both thighs, just above the knees.
- Lie on your side and stack your hips and feet.
- Rest your head on your lower arm and bend your knees to 45 degrees. Balance your body with the other arm
- Pull your belly button in to engage your abs. That will help stabilize your pelvis and spine.
- With your feet touching each other and without moving your pelvis and hips, lift your top knee as high as possible. Ensure you keep your lower leg firmly on the floor.
- Pause for about two seconds and return the top knee to its starting position.
- Repeat for 20 reps
- Switch sides and go through the motion with the other leg.
Cable Standing Hip Extension
The single-leg cable hip extension is another isolation exercise for targeting the glutes.
It is a lower-body glute isolation exercise that can add strength and size to your glutes.
Steps to follow
- Attach an ankle cuff to the cable on the low pulley of a cable machine. Attach the cuff to your ankle.
- Stand about 2 feet from the cable machine and support yourself by holding onto the steel frame.
- Bend your knees slightly, tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes. Then exhale, and using a semicircular arc, slowly kick the leg with the cuff backward as high as possible. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement to help achieve full contraction.
- Then resisting the pull of the cable, slowly return the leg to your starting position.
- Repeat for 8-12 reps to complete a set
- Switch legs and go through the movement with the other leg.
Final words from LiveLIfe
- David M. Selkowitz, George J. Beneck, Christopher M. Powers. 2013. Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Volume 43 Issue2 Pages 54-64.
- Tobey K, Mike J. Single-leg glute bridge. Strength Cond J. 2018;40(2):110-4. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000323
- B.J. Lehecka, Michael Edwards, Ryan Haverkamp, et al. 2017. Building A Better Gluteal Bridge: Electromyographic Analysis Of Hip Muscle Activity During Modified Single-Leg Bridges. National Library of Medicine
- Contreras B, Cronin J, Schoenfeld B. Barbell hip thrust. Strength Cond J. 2011;33(5):58-61. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e31822fa09d
- ExRx.net. Hip Exercises