7 Glute Isolation Exercises You Need to Try Today (2023)

Your glutes are the powerhouse muscles of your body. They are responsible for hip extension, internal and external rotation, and abduction, which together make it possible to walk, run, jump, and change direction. In other words, your glutes help you move, and they help keep your pelvis aligned to support proper posture and prevent back pain.

While some of the most common glute exercises, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts are excellent for targeting these large muscle groups in a compound manner (hitting multiple muscle groups at the same time), if you're really looking to shore up potential muscle imbalances or weaknesses, you should also consider glute isolation exercises. These exercises specifically target one or two of the glute muscles (often the smaller, less-worked glute medius and glute minimus) to develop strength and even out imbalances.

Because internal rotation and abduction movements are performed less frequently in day-to-day life than hip extension—and because they're often not targeted in common compound glute exercises (like squats and deadlifts, which focus on hip extension)—the glute medius and minimus can become comparatively weak when compared to the glute maximus. These weaknesses and imbalances can lead to back and knee pain, particularly in those who do a lot of walking or running (which largely engages the glute maximus), or those who sit all day for work.

To help prevent these muscle imbalances and to develop a well-rounded (pun intended) glute musculature, it's important to add glute isolation exercises to your routine that help target each of the glute muscles. The following seven exercises are a great place to start.

Your Glute Muscles and Their Roles

The glutes actually consist of three separate muscle groups—the glute maximus (the largest muscle in the body), the glute medius, and the glute minimus. The glute maximus is primarily responsible for hip extension and hip external rotation (when you turn your thigh outward from the hip).

The glute medius and minimus, on the other hand, are smaller muscle groups that work together to help perform hip abduction (taking a step laterally away from your center line) and hip internal rotation (when you turn your thigh inward from the hip).

Hip Thrusters

Hip thrusters primarily target the glute maximus through hip extension. This is considered an isolation exercise because there is significantly less engagement of the quads and hamstrings than is typical for other compound exercises like squats and lunges.

This is an excellent exercise for targeting and strengthening the largest glute muscle—especially if your goal is to develop size and power in your glutes. This exercise is typically performed with a loaded or unloaded barbell, but you also can try it with dumbbells or plate weights if you don't have a barbell.

  1. Sit on the floor with your upper back against a sturdy bench.
  2. Bend your knees so your feet are planted on the floor and your torso and thighs are forming a "v."
  3. Place the barbell (or other weight) across your hips at the crease of your thighs.
  4. Press through your heels and forcefully drive your hips straight up, fully extending them as you lift your glutes away from the floor, squeezing your glutes as you perform the extension.
  5. Stop when your hips are fully extended.
  6. Hold for a count, then slowly and steadily allow your hips to hinge, lowering them back toward the floor, without actually touching down.
  7. Continue the exercise, making sure to isolate the glutes to perform the hip extension—this isn't a "lift" that engages your torso or back to press the weight up.

6 Barbell Glute Exercises Focused on Increasing Your Strength

Lateral Step Ups

7 Glute Isolation Exercises You Need to Try Today (1)

Step ups themselves are one of the best ways to target the glute maximus. Plus, they're considered a compound exercise, so you are actually targeting your quads, hamstrings, and calves, as well. That said, when you perform a lateral step up, rather than a standard step up, you're also engaging your glute medius and minimus to perform the abduction portion of the exercise.

This fact makes it an excellent way to warm up and prepare for a full glute isolation workout. You can perform this exercise with or without weights. But, if desired, hold a dumbbell in each hand or place a weighted barbell across your shoulders (only if you have the strength, balance, and experience to do so).

  1. Stand with a sturdy bench or plyometric box placed just to the outside of your right foot. It should be wide enough for you to stand on top of it with both feet at the same time. The height is up to you, but a 12- to 24-inch step is a good place to start.
  2. Step up onto the bench with your right foot and rise to standing, placing your left foot on the bench as well.
  3. Step back down, leading with your left foot and following with your right.
  4. Continue the exercise for a full set before switching sides.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge

The single-leg glute bridge is another hip extension exercise that unilaterally targets the glute maximus on each side of your body but will also target your glute medius to a small extent to help with stabilization. This exercise can help even out imbalances—particularly if one glute is stronger than the other,

  1. Lie on a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Engage your core and lift your right foot from the ground. You can hover your foot off the ground, or you can choose to extend your right knee.
  3. Press through your left foot and squeeze your glutes, pressing them up into the air as you extend your hips.
  4. Stop when your hips are fully extended and in line with your knees and shoulders.
  5. Lower your hips back toward the floor, stopping just before your glutes touch down.
  6. Continue the exercise for a full set before switching legs.

Donkey Kicks

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Donkey kicks are an excellent beginner-friendly glute isolation exercise that help unilaterally target the glute maximus, and to a lesser extent, the glute medius. For individuals who aren't quite ready for the single-leg glute bridge—which requires greater stability and core strength—donkey kicks are a good way to target the glutes with a single-side hip extension you can perform on your hands and knees.

  1. Start in all fours on a mat with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips, like a tabletop.
  2. Engage your core and shift your weight slightly to the left so your right knee can lift off the ground.
  3. Flex your right ankle so it forms a 90-degree angle and squeeze your glute, pressing the sole of your foot toward the ceiling.
  4. Keep your knee and ankle bent at 90-degree angles as you extend your hip.
  5. Stop when your right hip is fully extended.
  6. Keep your torso steady throughout this motion; your back shouldn't cave and your hips shouldn't twist.
  7. Lower your right knee back toward the floor, stopping just before it touches down.
  8. Continue the exercise for a full set before switching sides.

Banded Lateral Side Steps

To really start targeting the glute medius and glute minimus, you need to choose exercises that use abduction. The banded lateral side steps are an excellent way to work against resistance as you take these lateral steps to the side. You'll need a small, looped resistance band to perform this exercise.

  1. Place the small resistance band around your legs and position it securely just above your ankles so it's taut, but not tight when your feet are roughly hip distance apart.
  2. Stand tall, with your hips and knees slightly bent, your core engaged.
  3. Step to the right as far as you comfortably can with your right leg, pressing against the resistance of the band to do so.
  4. Plant your right foot and step your left foot toward your right until your feet are hip distance apart again.
  5. Continue stepping to the right for the full set before reversing the movement and stepping to the left.

Side Lying Leg Lifts

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If you don't have access to a small, looped resistance band, the side lying leg lifts are another way to use abduction to target your glute medius and minimus. With this exercise, you work against gravity to move your leg away from your center line to perform the abduction.

  1. Lie on your right side on a mat with your feet stacked on top of each other, your legs extended.
  2. Place your left palm on the ground in front of your body to help with balance.
  3. Use your right arm to comfortably support your head.
  4. Lift your left leg straight into the air, extending it as high as you can as you squeeze the outside of your left leg to perform the movement.
  5. Keep your hips and torso as steady as possible. Don't allow them to twist or lift as you lift your leg.
  6. Lower your left leg back toward your right leg, carefully controlling the movement.
  7. Stop just before your legs meet.
  8. Continue the exercise for a full set before switching sides.

Hip Hitch

The hip hitch is a simple exercise often used in therapeutic settings, but it is an excellent way to target the glute medius and minimus. In fact, while incredibly simple, it has one of the highest EMG activation levels for the glute medius and minimus of all exercises.

  1. Stand on a step or a bench, balanced on your right leg with your left leg positioned just to the outside edge of the step.
  2. Keep your left foot even and aligned with your right foot.
  3. Engage your core and "drop" your left hip so your left foot lowers a few inches below the edge of the step.
  4. Squeeze your right hip to "pull" your left foot back up to the starting position. Essentially "hitching" your hip back up again.
  5. Continue for the duration of the set before switching sides.

A Word From Verywell

Glute isolation exercises are a great way to round out your lower body workout and to prevent or correct muscle weaknesses and imbalances between your glute muscles. That said, if you're unsure how to perform an exercise correctly, or if you're trying to correct knee or back pain on your own, it's best to consult with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer to make sure you're performing each exercise correctly and that you're performing exercises that will efficiently target your specific needs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does isolating your glutes work?

    Isolating your glutes works to help develop strength, stability, power, and balance through the three muscles of your glutes. While the glute maximus, in particular, is targeted frequently during daily movement as you walk, run, cycle, and stand up from a chair, the other glute muscles (the glute medius and glute minimus) aren't targeted as much.

    A glute isolation routine can help target these smaller muscle groups to help prevent and shore up muscle weaknesses or imbalances. It also can help improve overall movement and form with a more well-rounded musculature.

    Learn More:Glute Activation Exercises

  • What exercise has the highest glute activation?

    According to a 2020 study that looked at the activation of the glute maximus muscle during common compound exercises, the step up and its variations, like the lateral step up, elicited the greatest glute maximus activation. But the answer changes when we're looking at the glute medius and minimus muscles.

    A separate 2020 review and meta-analysis looked at which common and therapeutic exercises elicit the greatest muscle activation in the glute medius and minimus. Researchers found that the hip hitch was ideal for generating activation in both of these muscle groups. The same study noted that side step ups and variations on single-leg bridges and hip abduction exercises were also effective.

    And of course, just because a study indicates that step ups (or other exercises) have the highest glute activation, that doesn't mean that other exercises (like squats or hip thrusters) don't also have high levels of glute activation. This is why a full, well-rounded routine with a variety of different exercises is ideal for developing well-rounded glutes.

    Learn More:Best Glute Maximus Exercises

  • How long should a glute exercise last?

    This depends on the structure of your routine and your goal. When performing circuit workouts, doing a glute exercise (like squats or deadlifts) may last for 45 to 90 seconds, depending on the structure of the workout. The exercise would also likely be performed three to five times with other exercises performed between bouts.

    On the other hand, if you're performing a workout based on sets and reps, you're most likely to perform a given exercise for three to five sets, with between six to 15 repetitions per set. Again, this depends on the resistance you're using and the overall goal of your workout.

    If your goal is to develop more muscular endurance, chances are you'd perform glute exercises two to three sets for 12 to 15 repetitions. If you're looking to gain more strength, you might perform more sets, but fewer repetitions. A trainer can help develop a well-balanced, structured routine that will help you meet your goals faster.

    Learn More:How Many Reps and Sets You Should Do

2 Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Moore D, Semciw AI, Pizzari T. A systematic review and meta-analysis of common therapeutic exercises that generate highest muscle activity in the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus segments.Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2020;15(6):856-881. doi.org/10.26603%2Fijspt20200856

  2. Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, et al. Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: a systematic review.J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(1):195-203. PMID:32132843

7 Glute Isolation Exercises You Need to Try Today (5)

By Laura Williams
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.

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