Gluteal muscles - The muscles that make up the butt
Concentric- The part of the exercise where you push the weight away from you
Hip extension - Bring the leg backwards
Hip abduction - Bring the leg outwards
External rotation - Rotate the leg outwards
Concentric exercise - Moving a weight away from the pull of gravity

Training and shaping your butt has become extremely popular and as soon as you enter a gym you’ll see various glutes exercises with rubber bands, machines and ropes. But how effective is it to do side walks with a rubber band around your knees? Is it an optimal butt exercise or is there something even better? In order to discuss this we need to take a closer look at the anatomy of the butt, the muscles that are included and the movements of these muscles. Here’s a brief summary:

The butt consist of three muscles: the large M. Gluteus maximus, the smaller M. Gluteus medius, and M. Gluteus minimus. M. Gluteus maximus main motions are hip extension (i.e. bring the leg backwards), hip abduction (i.e. bring the leg outwards) and external rotation of the hip while M. Gluteus medius and M. Gluteus minimus are mainly activated during hip abduction (i.e. bring the leg outwards). The butt therefore makes three different movements: move the leg backwards, move the leg outwards and rotate the leg outwards.

When we know which muscles make up the butt and what movements these muscles do, we can with some logic thinking choose exercises at the gym where these movements are included. I will now mention 5 primary exercises that based on the anatomy what we now know,  optimally activates the butt.

Deadlift must be one of the best exercises considering how many muscles it activates, but above all, deadlift is a great butt activating exercise due to its motion path - the exercise consist of a hip extension and allows a big load. This is the reason why deadlift is a better butt exercise than squats, primarly deadlift is a hip extension while squats primarily are a knee extension (and therefore activates more of the quadriceps than the butt).

As many people know there are different types of deadlift where traditional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts are two versions. If you think about the anatomy again you might understand that traditional deadlifts gives a larger hip extension than sumo deadlifts. That’s because the sumo deadlifts gives you a more upright posture in the upper body. However, sumo deadlifts is a good exercise if you want to train your inner thighs.

Stiff-legged deadlift
Here we have a third type of deadlift which in the concentric phase is a pure hip extension. Because of this, stiff-legged deadlift is a great exercise for the butt, but also for the hamstrings/back thighs that also are a part of this movement. In order to make the exercise optimal, make sure that there is only  movement at the hip joint, there should be no movement at the knee joint, keep them locked throughout the exercise. If you want extra focus on the butt, angle your toes slightly outwards to add a hip rotation.

Hip thrusters
If you ask people what butt exercise they would choose if they only had to choose one, most people would probably answer hip thrusters. Considering how well isolated it is for the butt it’s not surprising that so many love it. The exercise, which is predominantly a hip extension, allows a big load while it’s very easy to perform. All you need is a bench and a bar or if you want you can do the exercise either in the smith machine or with free weights.

The lunge exercise is a great exercise for training your butt and legs unilaterally (one leg at the time) through hip extension, while it also challenges the balance and coordination. This means that the external load (the weight) have to be lower in comparison to a dead lift for example. Lunges, despite the difficulty with a heavy load, is very effective in activating the butt. In addition, the exercise has many different variations where walking lunges and bulgarian split squat are two.

Hip abduction
The above mentioned exercises have mostly been different ways of doing hip extensions, but as mentioned in the beginning of the text the gluteus muscles also do the hip abduction movement. This is best done in a hip abductor machine where you sit down with bent knees and press your legs outwards. The reason why the machine is better than the cable machine or rubber bands is that the machine does not imply any balancing requirements and allows a greater load.

When you want to train a specific muscle group you should first look at the anatomy and see what the desired muscles actually do, and with that knowledge build a suitable training program. This, of course, applies not only to the butt but also to the back muscles, the arms, abs and so on. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you step into a gym - going back-to-basics may even be better considering that basic exercises usually allows a bigger load, something that is really important when you want your muscles to grow.

Emma Fredriksson, bachelor's degree in sport science and health, physical therapist student and bikini fitness athlete