The butt: that mystical mass of fat and muscle that has been pushed in our collective faces, figuratively and literally, since forever. Women are trying to grow/tone it because social media tells them to. Men are trying to grab it because...well, reasons. Butt exercises have been retreaded ad nauseum and I'm sure we've all stumbled upon websites/blog postings/youtube videos that claim to have the answer to get a larger ass but just says the same old stuff the last person said.
I've been going back and forth for a while between whether I should take the time to write this or not, but I feel like there's so much misinformation, or half-baked info, out there on this topic that I might as well. Plus, I haven't written anything in god knows how long. The point of this particular take isn't to just list a bunch of exercises that I could've gotten off some blog, but instead, to give you a better idea of the biomechanics behind them so you can see why some exercises are more effective than others, and can better choose which ones to do. So, here it goes, my take on how to grow that ass.
But first, a friendly public service announcement!
Do you have lower back pain and not know why? Do you find yourself sitting around most of the day because of school, work, or just general laziness? Is your ass not perky and full of meat like all the pictures you see on Instagram? If you answered yes to the first question, then you probably have anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
You might be asking yourself "what is this and what does it have to do with my butt?". Well, in short, everything. Anterior pelvic tilt is when your hips are rolled forwards (into the anterior position) due to a relaxation of the abdominal and gluteus muscles. These muscles are what are supposed to steady your lower spine, but by relaxing them, you force your much smaller lower back muscles to do the job resulting in poor posture, a flexed lower spine, and lower back pain. And because your abs and butt muscles are relaxed, they grow weak and insignificant.
On the right side of the figure, the woman has an exaggerated arch in her back, her stomach is pushed forward, and her ass is sticking out. This might look like a good pose for "the 'gram", but it's terrible for your back and is a hindrance if you want to grow that booty. Be like the woman on the left. Her hips are pushed forward, which engages her abs and puts her glutes under a slight amount of tension; enough to get them tightened, but not enough that you'll notice any discomfort.
If you understand the mechanics behind anterior pelvic tilt, then you'll understand why certain butt workouts are better than others and you can better choose which ones you do.
Two Points of Emphasis
We are largely prisoners of our flawed genetics and we can only naturally improve upon ourselves to a certain extent. So while these will definitely give you a meatier butt, they won't change your bone structure or widen your hips. Sorry (frowny face).
Also, let's be clear about something that we intuitively know but no one ever really says:
All butt exercises are leg exercises but not all leg exercises are butt exercises.
In other words, just because it works your legs doesn't mean that it targets your glutes. We know this statement to be true because squats, lunges, and anything that involves similar movements such as the stairmaster, step-ups, or leg presses are primarily a quadriceps workout and a butt workout second (or third, or not at all). We know this because we can feel our thighs cry for mercy while our butt laughs at them from above.
So what are butt exercises then?
Butt exercises are anything that forces us to contract our glutes.
Meaning, we don't have our hips rolled forward and ass sticking out (i.e. pelvic tilt). So the portions of squats or step-ups that do workout the glutes are at the tops of the movements when we're upright and can squeeze our glutes together (assuming we actually push our hips forward. Some people don't). Think about what percentage of the entire movements that actually occurs. It's pretty small. And some machines, like the leg press, actually inhibit it.
Now on to Butt Exercises!
What-the....boy, how in the hell is walking a butt workout? I do that shit everyday!
Yes, yes, buuuut, most people walk around with pelvic tilt and don't even know it because it feels so relaxed and 'natural'. However, if you consciously fix your pelvic tilt issues, then you put your butt muscles under tension (which is needed to grow any muscle). Fix this and you'll be doing a low-intensity butt workout every time you walk to work/class, daily errands, or wherever. It's literally a free butt workout you can do all day, every day. Who would've thought? Plus it's good for your abs.
Squats VS Lunges
Nobody loves a useless hashtag more than me, but that's exactly what #squatbooty is. It's nice. It rolls off the tongue. It's great to get women in tight clothing bending over for a camera. But that's where it stops. Squats are primarily a quadriceps workout. If you want to crush your thighs, squats is where it's at. If you want to crush them cheeks, we can do better.
Lunges are a better alternative because, if done properly, you'll have at least one cheek under tension the entire time. With squats, due to the mechanics of the movement, you end up tilting your pelvis as you squat down, so neither of your cheeks are actually under tension. In the figure below, you can see that the left glute is inactive, which corresponds with the leg that is bent. When doing squats, both legs would be bent meaning your butt is largely inactive. With lunges, keeping your back upright with your hips pointed forward forces one of your cheeks to always be under tension. In the figure, it's the right side. So lunges are the better option. Not only are lunges a better glute workout, they're also a better core workout because your balance is asymmetric compared to the more symmetric squats.
Stairmaster VS Treadmill
We've all seen these people at the gym, just plodding slowly along the stairmaster, one slow, boring step at a time, probably on their phones. And then after five minutes, their legs get tired, they grip the handrails, and slouch over.
Once you slouch, you're done. You've rounded the back, your butt muscles have relaxed, there's no tension on them at all. At least in the left image, she's got some tension on her butt by having her hips not rolled forward.
I prefer the treadmill over stairmaster. Because you're not walking vertically up stairs, your legs don't tire out as easily so you can go longer allowing your butt to get more of a workout (as long you're walking properly!). I find a brisk walk on a treadmill at an incline of 1-3% for 30-40 minutes is much better than slowly walking up the stairmaster (even if you decide to take every other step to increase step distance). You're just going too slow for it to be meaningful for your glutes.
Deadlifts VS Hip Raises VS Cable Pull-throughs
The essence of a lot of glute exercises is all about straightening out the body using the hips as a hinge; sit back, let your hips roll forward, and your glutes relax, then straighten up and push forward through your hips to squeeze your glutes. This is the classic hip extension movement and any exercise that has this movement will work out the glutes.
The deadlift (and all of its variations) is a staple of a lot of people's workout routine, and for good reason. It's pretty much the consummate full-body workout, hitting your arms, back, core, and legs.
When doing the movement, make sure to never round your back, brace your abs to stabilize your lower back, always hinge at the hips, and push your hips forward at the top of the movement to get your glutes to squeeze.
Alternatively, cable pull-throughs are great, especially if you're unable to do deadlifts or lunges due to bad knees or other weak areas of your body. Just attach a rope to the end of a cable, keep your back straight and abs braced, lower your body just enough that you feel your hamstrings stretch, and then stand up pushing your hips forward so that your glutes clench. The only part of your body that should be moving is your hips, which act as a hinge as you straighten up. Your upper body should be rigid just like with a deadlift.
Lastly, hip raises. I put them last because, frankly, they're not the best, but people love to do them anyways. It's the same overall motion of the pull-through except you're on the ground. You can do these with or without weights and the movement is really straightforward. Start with a tilted pelvis and push through with your hips, squeezing your butt. I don't find they're all that good, though, because the bent knees tend to limit how much you can push upwards and the movement induces curvature into the lower back. Cable pull-through is better, in my opinion.
The Holy Grail of Butt Exercises...
This is a must-have in your arsenal of ass. If you want those meaty cheeks that make guys nut over Instagram models, then this is where it's at. While all of the exercises I've mentioned above hit the glutes, this one specifically hits the bottom of the glutes giving you that meaty crease between your cheek and leg that'll make even the most devout priest question his vow of celibacy. I present to you the rear leg raise (or kickback/donkey kick...I really don't think it actually has a universal name).
Now, there are many versions of this exercise; some less effective than others. I've got my preference, which I'll put forward first and then I'll talk about variations.
Basically, to do this exercise bend over so your upper torso is parallel to the ground and hold onto something for stability. Keeping a slight bend in one of your knees, raise your other leg behind you, keeping it as straight as possible until it's at least parallel to the ground (90 degrees from your starting point). Try to go as high as you can, which will be limited by your hamstring flexibility. Hold for a few seconds and bring it back down.
There are two very important aspects that I'd like to point out here. First, it's important to keep your leg straight, lifting a bent leg moves the focus of the exercise away from your butt and moves it to your hamstring. That's why leg curls are absolutely terrible for working your tush and you should probably never do them.
The second point is in order to maximize the benefit of this exercise, you have to raise your leg as high as possible to get your butt to squeeze as much as it can. Raising your leg as high as you can accomplishes two things. Firstly, gravitational resistance is maximized when your leg is parallel to the ground and anything lower than that will mean you're not providing your butt with the maximum amount of resistance. Secondly, raising your leg as high as you can maximizes the travel distance of your leg, thereby maximizing the work done on your butt muscles.
There are many variations of this. The most popular is probably strapping on an ankle wrap and attaching it to a cable (like the above and below pictures). This increases the resistance. I don't really like doing it this way because cables want to move in a straight line while, if done properly, your foot will be tracing an arc. So there's going to be this battle between the cable and your foot. If you can keep your leg absolutely straight for the entire movement while attached to the cable and still raise it to 90 degrees or higher, all the power to you! If you find your leg bending at the knee to accommodate the cable or you can't go very high, then ditch the cable. It's not worth it.
Another variation is doing it standing up so that you still get a squeeze.
My reservation with this is that because the travel distance is a lot shorter, your glutes aren't getting the benefit of a full range of motion (i.e. less work). If she bent over, she could lift her leg higher. But chances are as she lifts her leg higher, the strap she's using will ride up her calf towards her knee, causing it to bend more than it already is.
I've also seen this done on a stairmaster in between steps, although not quite with the same level of commitment as in the picture below.
Most just move their leg about ~50 degrees from vertical, which at that point, you might as well not be doing it and save it for when you're off the stairmaster (which isn't even a good workout for your butt anyways) and can do it with more conviction.
The next one is done positioned on all fours where you raise your leg above you. The main gripe I have about this is that the leg is bent during the motion so the butt isn't being fully activated until the leg gets straighter. But, if you're just starting out, then this will get you comfortable with the exercise until you can upgrade to the first one I mentioned!
GLUTEUS MEDIUS AND MINIMUS: The forgotten siblings
Everything I've mentioned above revolves around the gluteus maximus, but he's got two little brothers that are often ignored in pursuit of a booty with depth. These are the glute medius and minimus, which are found at the sides of the butt and might add to its width (and are good for overall stability as well!). Unlike their larger brother whose job is to move the leg forwards and behind us along the sagittal plane , these two guys move the leg away from us along the frontal plane.
I don't have much experience with this muscle group but the best exercises for them revolve around hip abduction. Most gyms have a hip abduction machine, but if not, then you can use resistance bands, cables, or place a plate along your leg and move it out to the side.
The above is the best stretch for your glutes. Pull your leg towards your body and at the same time, push you hips down towards the ground. You should feel it in your upper hamstring and lower glutes.
So I hope you read all of that and it was helpful. Try to implement some of these exercises into your workout routine, if you're not doing so already. Gyms might not be open in your area yet, but most of these are exercises whose movements don't require machines or weights. So you can do these at home and get started on the wonderful journey of growing a bigger booty today!