Safe & Effective High Intensity Glute Workouts

High Intensity Glute Workouts Are Safe & Effective

Plus they are easy on the knees and help support the low back!

High Intensity Glute Workouts Are Safe & Effective

Plus they are easy on the knees and help support the low back!

Image of a member training on the leg press

Backside. Behind. Bottom. Bum. Butt. Derriere. Fanny. Posterior. Rear. Rump…

We’re talking about the glutes.


The “glutes” are a critical muscle group for function and appearance. They are key muscles that assist in walking, running, balance, supporting the lower back, keeping our pelvic girdle in alignment, and taking stress off of the knees.

The glutes are the primary muscle group that provide shape to the lower body, and by increasing the size of your glutes, you can enhance your shape from both a side and front view.

In this article we cover the function of the glute muscles and some safe & effective exercises you can do to train your backside…or whatever name you use for it!

What Muscles Make Up The Glutes?

The glutes include three muscles:

  • The gluteus maximus is the largest, hence the name. It’s the back of your butt. When you grow this muscle, you have more shape when looking from a profile view. This muscle is critical for walking upstairs or hiking, and for getting out of a chair.
  • The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are the smaller glute muscles. They are actually more on the side of your body than on the back. If you increase the side of these muscles, you’ll notice thicker hips from a front view. They make your hips wider. They are also critical muscles for walking, lateral movement (e.g. moving along the baseline in tennis), and also help to maintain balance and prevent falls.

Safe & Effective Glute Exercises

Below is a list of highly effective exercises that target the glutes and are safe on the knees.

Image of a training working with a female member on the leg press

Leg Press

The Leg Press Machine is an incredible piece of equipment because it allows you to fully target the biggest muscle groups in the body, the glutes and the legs. Because the leg press addresses all major muscles in the entire leg in one brief exercise it’s one of the best workout machine for glutes.

How to do it:

  • Using a seated Leg Press machine, begin with feet hip width apart on the footplate of the machine.
  • Slowly push through your heels, keeping your buttocks down in the seat, pushing each repetition to the point just shy of locking out your knees.
  • Resist the weight all the way down to your starting position, but don't rest!
  • Slowly begin another repetition while keeping your muscles engaged the entire time.
  • Repeat until you achieve momentary muscle failure.

You can tell that the exercise is correct if you feel your glutes working and can keep your hips from lifting off the seat.

Read about how Michelle targeted, tightened, and lifted her glutes.

Trainer giving an example of a glute bridge workout

Glute Bridge

This exercise works as it targets the gluteus maximus and requires little help from other muscle groups. In other words, your glutes are primarily relied upon to perform the movement. A recent study also showed that the glute bridge is very effective in recruiting gluteus maximus muscle fibers (Kennedy et al., 2022).

This exercise is for people who don’t have access to a lot of equipment, workout at home, or anyone who wants to add to their glute workout. It should be avoided with people who struggle to get onto and off of the floor.

How to do it:

  • This exercise is simple. Lie on your back on the floor. Rest your head on the ground and keep your arms straight and by your sides.
  • Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground, roughly six inches away from your butt.
  • Push your heels into the ground and drive your hips up as high as possible.
  • When reaching the highest point, hold for two seconds.
  • Slowly lower your butt until it briefly touches the ground, then start the next repetition.

You can tell that the exercise is correct if you feel your glutes working and can raise your butt to the point where your body forms a straight line, from your knees to your neck.

With using only body weight, it’s likely that you’ll perform many reps. Perform as many reps as you can until you can’t raise your butt the full distance. If you can perform over 2 minutes, consider performing a single-leg bridge (one leg is straight and resting while the other knee is bent).

Hip Mobility is just as important as hip strength. Learn what you should know about hip strength and mobility.

male doing an abduction exercise

Seated Hip Abduction Machine

This exercise is important as it works the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. In other words, you should feel it more on the sides of your butt (if you put your fingers on the sides, you should feel them working). The gluteus medius and minimus are strengthened when pushing your thighs out to the side.

This side glute workout is a great choice for anyone with healthy hip joints. It’s not recommended for those with sciatica or injured hip joints.

How to do it:

  • If possible, recline the back of the seat a few notches where you are visibly reclined (as if you were going to take a nap.
  • Move the legs of the machine all the way in and place your feet on one of the steps at the bottom. Position your feet at a place where your outer thighs – not your knees – are pressing against the thigh pads.
  • Rest your hands on the handles and rest your head against the back pad (if there is one).
  • Push your outer thighs out as far as possible. When reaching the furthest point out, hold for two seconds.
  • Slowly bring your legs together while still resisting the thigh pads.
  • Briefly tap the weight on the weight stack, then start the next.

You can tell if the exercise is performed properly if you can move the weight a far distance. If the weight is only lifted a few inches off the weight stack, the weight is likely too heavy. Another sign that you are properly performing the exercise is if the pads are pressed against your outer thighs and that your feet, nor your knees, are the sources of effort against the machine.

The use of the glutes with hip abduction increases as the seat is further reclined. You can recline your seat to increase the quality of the exercise when it comes to your gluteus medius and minimus. However, if the seat is reclined too far, then you may fall out of alignment with the axes of the machine. Your instructor can find the right balance between the two.

Second, while it’s tempting to use your feet to push the machine arms apart, focus your effort on pushing your thighs against the pads instead. Your gluteus muscles connect to your thighs, and if you focus on pushing through your thighs, you’ll likely “feel” those muscles more.

Female doing a standing abduction exercise using resistance bands

Standing Hip Abduction With a Resistance Band

This exercise is effective for training the gluteus medius and minimus. They assist with improving the shape of the glutes on the sides of your body. This works well because it features a large range of motion and uses the two smaller glutes in their natural movement.

This exercise is a great choice for people with very little equipment available to them. Almost anyone can perform this exercise. It can be challenging for people with poor balance.

How to do it:

  • Wrap a resistance band around one ankle and attach the other end to a machine or other stable structure.
  • Take a side step away from the structure that the band is attached to.
  • Stand upright, with your shoulder facing the structure.
  • If possible, rest your hands on a nearby table or other taller structure for balance support.
  • Keep your unbanded leg on the ground. Slightly raise the other leg in front of you so your foot is a touch off the ground.
  • Now you’re ready to start. Push the banded leg as far out to the side as possible.
  • Once reaching the furthest point out, hold for two seconds.
  • Move the banded leg slowly back to the unbanded leg.
  • When reaching the starting position, slowly push out again.

You should be able to tell if the exercise is performed correctly by simply feeling the muscles. Other ways to decipher proper form are the range of motion (are you pushing out a far distance or barely moving?) and your posture. Your posture should be upright the whole time. Avoid slumping over as you push out.

Perform this exercise until you can no longer push out the full distance. If you exceed about 20 reps, use a more challenging resistance band.

Male performing a bulgarian split squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

Think of this exercise as a squat or lunge with minimal help from one leg. It works the gluteus maximus and quadriceps on one leg. Since it is a single leg exercise, the gluteus maximus is forced to work harder.

This exercise is recommended for people who can handle a challenging exercise and who have moderate to strong balance. It’s not recommended for those with knee injuries or poor balance.

How to do it:

  • This can be performed with body weight and a bench. Use dumbbells if it’s too easy with body weight.
  • Stand against the middle of the bench, with the back of your legs pressed against the bench (facing away from the bench).
  • Take a large step with one leg, leaving your other leg pressing against the bench.
  • Place the back foot on the top of the bench. In other words, the top of your back foot is resting on the middle of the bench.
  • Bring your chest up and look forward. Now we’re ready to start.
  • While keeping the emphasis of the work on your front heel, slowly lower your body in a straight line towards the ground. Lower yourself as if you are trying to touch your back knee on the ground.
  • Lower yourself slowly and as far down as you can. Once reaching the lowest point, raise your body by pushing through your front heel.
  • When reaching the highest point (front knee slightly bent), slowly turn around and lower yourself again while your chest is up and you look forward.
  • After performing a full set, switch legs and perform another set.
  • If body weight was easy, hold a dumbbell in each hand and try the exercise again.

You can tell if you’re performing a split squat correctly with a few signs. First, your movement should be straight up and down with minimal side-to-side movement. Second, you should feel both your quadriceps and the back of your butt on the working leg. (This exercise will let you know it’s working). Finally, you should be watching what’s in front of you. If you’re looking at the floor or your shoes, your posture is wrong.

My guess is you’ll want to stop the exercise due to the burning you may feel. Try to perform this exercise until you can barely push yourself up all the way, or until your balance starts to fail (which is not uncommon for muscles as they’re weakened).

Barbell Hip Thrusts

This exercise is effective as it mainly focuses on the glutes, provides a large range of motion, and doesn’t require much help from other muscles (i.e. quadriceps and hamstrings). Also, it’s an extremely effective exercise for recruiting gluteus maximus muscle fibers (Kennedy et al., 2022). In other words, it uses more of your biggest glute muscle.

This is recommended for people who have access to this equipment, plus won’t be bothered by the barbell resting on their hips. It’s not recommended for people with “bony” or sensitive hips or people with a history of lower back pain.

How to do it:

  • Load weights onto a barbell. If you’ve never done this before, starting with a 10- or 25-lb weight on each side will provide some resistance while allowing you to learn proper form.
  • Pad the barbell in the middle. You can do this by rolling a towel or yoga mat around the middle.
  • Lie your body perpendicular to a bench with your shoulder blades resting on the bench.
  • Roll the barbell over your legs to the point where it’s over your pelvic area.
  • Bend your knees, bringing your feet to a position where they are flat on the ground and while your hips are still down and your butt is resting on the ground.
  • Now we’re ready to start. Push your heels into the ground and slowly raise your hips. Push as high up as possible and then hold for two seconds at the highest point.
  • Slowly bring your butt and the bar downward, in a straight line.
  • Briefly tap your butt on the ground, then start the next repetition.

You can tell if it’s done correctly by paying attention to these two signs. One, can you feel your glute muscles? This should be obvious after a few reps. Second, are your hips reaching the height of the bench? If they aren’t getting close, either your form is off or the weight is too heavy.

Perform this exercise until your range of motion is diminished. In other words, you aren’t getting nearly as high as you did when you started the set.

These Glute Exercises Are Easy on the Knees

image of a female doing the leg press with a knee brace on

Because slow-motion strength training is safe on the joints in general; when you apply slow, methodical movements to your weight lifting, virtually any glute exercise will be safe on the knees.

How so?

Slow lifting speed (particularly at the beginning of the rep) eliminates force and momentum which is a common cause of exercise-related injuries (remember Newton’s Second Law of Motion from your physics class in high school?).

Another principle is to avoid locked out joints between the positive and negative phases of the exercise. For example on Leg Press, you don’t want to push far enough to where the legs are fully extended and the knee joint is “locked out.”

At that position, other than some minor balancing being performed by the muscles, the bones are supporting the load; therefore the muscles are doing practically nothing and the majority of stress and strain is placed on the joint.

When It Comes to Training The Glutes…

The most important thing to know about glute workouts is quality over quantity. There are many ways to train your glutes, but you will get great results with 2-3 exercises that are performed 2-3 times per week with an intense effort. Choose 1-2 exercises for the gluteus maximus and one for the smaller two glute muscles. Use a challenging resistance, push to “Muscle Success,” and periodically increase the resistance. This simple approach works better than a plethora of glute exercises with light weights, performed for many sets and reps.

The glutes are important for how we look, feel, and function. We often judge attractiveness by butt shape and size. Also, the glutes support joint health and make fundamental movements easier. Regardless of your exercise-related goals, investing in your glutes is a wise use of your time.

We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your glute workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.

  • Kennedy, D., Casebolt, J.B., Farren, G.L., Fiaud, V., Bartlett, M., & Strong, L. (2022). Electromyographic differences of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis between the barbell hip thrust and barbell glute bridge. Sports Biomechanics, 1-15.