Why focus on butt exercises? Well, 2016 was dubbed by many as the year of the butt. But so was 2015. And 2014… 2013…
So we can deduce from this derriere deja vu that having a proud, strong, toned, lifted, and all around shapely booty is not a fad we should expect to see fade anytime soon. But strengthening up your buns with butt exercises isn’t just about building a physique that’s en vogue. Butt exercises are important to build strong glutes, which are a boon for overall health, helping to reinforce good posture, prevent back pain, and improve athletic performance. The butt also contains the largest muscle in the human body — the gluteus maximus — and strengthening it can boost power and performance in nearly everything else you do—both during your workouts and beyond.
If any of those benefits appeal to you (and at least one or two should) you’re probably wondering what butt moves you should do. “The best glute building programs include a variety of exercises,” says Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S., CEO and founder of Bandana Training. “There is no one perfect exercise that will give you the bubble butt of your dreams.” But the following four bodyweight moves are on most trainers’ shortlists of best butt exercises, and all of them can be done with little to no equipment.
4 of the Best Butt Exercises That Don’t Require Weights
It’s the first word out of many fitness professionals’ mouths when asked about bolstering bootyliciousness, and the popularity of the squat is well deserved. The bodyweight squat is an extremely effective move that targets the quads and glutes while working most muscles below the waist, including the hamstrings and calves.
- Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
- Keeping you back flat, push your hips back (imagine you’re closing a door with your butt), bend your knees, and “sit back” into the movement as you raise your arms in front of you.
- Lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then stand back up, contracting your glutes forcefully as you return to the starting position.
“To maximize the effectiveness of the squat, you have to feel your glutes throughout the movement,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., and Openfit’s senior fitness and nutrition content manager. “Actively engage them—don’t just drop down and stand back up mindlessly.”
Make it harder: Do the dumbbell squat, holding a pair of weights at arm’s length by your sides as you perform the exercise.
Quadruped Hip Extension
This butt-sculpting movement is especially effective at re-activating your glutes after long periods of sitting (we’re talking to you, desk jockey). Thieme says, “if you have niggling aches that are caused or exacerbated by sitting all day, such as back pain, this exercise is a must-do.”
- Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips.
- Keeping your right knee bent 90 degrees, raise your right leg behind you until your upper leg is in line with your torso (your lower leg should point toward the ceiling).
- Hold for 10 seconds, and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your left leg. Continue alternating sides.
Make it harder: If you have a workout partner, you can have them apply light pressure to your heel as you push up to increase the challenge. No partner? Ankle weights will also do the trick if you have access to them.
For NYC trainer Dominique Hall’s money, the step-up is a dependable butt exercise. The reason: Working one limb at a time—what fitness pros call “unilateral training”—creates instability, and forces your body to fight it. That not only increases muscle activation throughout your body (especially in your glutes and other core muscles), but also helps iron out muscle imbalances.
- Place your left foot on a box or bench. Your hip, knee, and ankle should all be bent 90 degrees.
- Keeping your chest up and shoulders back, push your body up with your left leg until it’s straight (keep your right foot elevated).
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, and then lower your body back to the starting position under control.
- Perform equal reps on both legs.
“Make your pace on the way up a one-count, and your pace on the way down a three-count,” recommends Hall, adding that the slower you go down, the longer you’ll keep your muscles under tension, and the better the payoff will be. Wanna switch things up? Stand with your left side to the bench instead of facing it head-on, and step up laterally. “The change of direction will hit your glutes in a different way,” says Hall.
Make it harder: Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides as you perform the exercise.
Sulaver is a big fan of the glute bridge, a butt exercise most people can master fairly quickly. “It’s a simple move that can provide a great deal of muscle activation,” he says. “You’re going to feel that booty working hard.”
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, arms by your sides, and palms facing down.
- Squeeze your glutes, raising your butt off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Pause, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Make it harder: Although typically a bodyweight exercise, you can increase the challenge by placing a weight on your hips (a sandbag is ideal, but a dumbbell or a barbell will also work). Another way to boost the intensity: Perform the move with both feet on a bench instead of the floor, or place just one foot on the bench while keeping the other elevated (a move called the single leg foot-elevated hip raise).