12 Best Compound Glute Exercises For Muscle Size & Strength

12 best compound glute exercises for muscle size and strength

Strong glutes are essential for good posture, the prevention of lower body injuries, and for producing power in actions like running and jumping. However, not everyone has the time or energy to add a multitude of glute isolation exercises to their training routines.

If that sounds like you, performing compound glute exercises (movements that work more than one muscle group) is beneficial. You can still train your glutes while training other muscle groups such as the quads and hamstrings at the same time, saving you time in the gym.

The 12 best compound glute exercises are:

  • Back squats
  • Sumo deadlifts
  • Good mornings
  • Barbell Romanian deadlifts
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Reverse lunges
  • Leg press with feet high on the platform
  • Frog squats
  • Lumberjack squats
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Reverse hypers

In this list, I’ve included exercises that you can use with barbells, dumbbells, machines, and bands so you have options for training your glutes regardless of what equipment is available to you.

In this article, I’ll review the functions of the gluteal muscles and discuss what makes a good compound glute exercise. I’ll also show you how to perform each of the compound glute exercises and offer programming recommendations so you know how to fit them into your routine.

What Makes A Compound Glute Exercise?

Before we get into how to perform each of the compound glute exercises, it’s important to understand the functions of the glute muscles and what makes a good compound glute exercise.

glute muscles

The glutes are made up of three muscles:

  • The gluteus maximus
  • The gluteus medius
  • The gluteus minimus

Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus is the largest glute muscle and the largest muscle in the human body.

Its main function is hip extension, but it also supports the pelvis and plays a role in external rotation of the thigh.

Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius sits along the outside of the pelvis.

Its primary role is to support the pelvis in synergy with the gluteus maximus, but it also helps with internal rotation of the thigh.

Gluteus Minimus

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three glute muscles.

It is located beneath the gluteus medius and works to internally rotate the thigh.

How To Choose Compound Glute Exercises

While isolation exercises target just one muscle, compound exercises work more than one muscle group. Compound glute exercises are easy to come across because many lower body movements work the glutes in addition to the quads, hamstrings, core, and lower back.

Compound glute exercises often include variations of squats, deadlifts, and lunges. But they can also include machine exercises like the leg press with your feet high on the platform.

In many of these exercises, the glutes may not be the primary mover, but they play an important role in either helping to stabilize your torso or in extending your hips. While they may not produce as much specific glute hypertrophy as isolation exercises, they can result in increased muscle mass and strength in the entire lower body.

Compound Glute Exercises: 12 Exercises

1. Back Squats

Back squats are one of the best exercises you can do to work a large number of lower body muscles. They primarily work the quads with some assistance from the hamstrings, inner thighs, core, and lower back. But the glutes are primarily responsible for bringing the hips into full extension at the top of the squat.

How To

  • Adjust a squat rack so the barbell is about even with your armpits.
  • Load the bar with your desired amount of weight.
  • Grip the bar with your hands outside your shoulders, squeeze your shoulder blades, and get under the bar with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Place the bar on your traps (for a high bar squat) or between the top of your rear delts and traps (for a low bar squat).
  • Stand to unrack the bar and take 2-3 steps back.
  • Brace your core, then bend your hips and knees at the same time, pushing your knees out as you descend.
  • Squat down until your hip crease is below your knees.
  • Push through the floor to stand back up.

If you struggle to activate your glutes while squatting, check out my other article: Can’t Feel glutes While Squatting? Check Out These 9 Tips.

Benefits

  • Because squats recruit so many different muscle groups, you can move a much higher amount of weight than you would be able to use in an isolation exercise like a leg extension.
  • Squats are a functional movement that can make daily activities such as getting up from a chair easier. Strengthening your lower body with squats also makes things like running, walking, and going up and down stairs easier.
  • The lower body strength and power that you can build with squats has a lot of carryover to sports like basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and volleyball.

Cons

  • Squats require a lot of hip and ankle mobility, which many people don’t naturally have. In order to squat well, you’ll need to do ankle and hip mobility drills regularly.

How To Program

Squats are often programmed as the main movement of your lower body workout, and there are several different ways you can program them.

If you’re a powerlifter, you’ll likely train in the rep ranges of 1-5. But if you’re in a hypertrophy block, you’ll likely train in the 8-10 range.

When you’re training for strength, you should select a weight that is about an 8-8.5 RPE. When training for hypertrophy, you should use a weight that feels like an RPE of 7 or something with which you feel like you have 2-3 reps in reserve at the end of each set.

If you’re confused about the differences between RPE and RIR training, check out RPE vs RIR: What Are The Differences? How To Use Them?

2. Sumo Deadlifts

Even though conventional deadlifts work the glutes, sumo deadlifts engage them more due to the wider stance. They also target the quads, hamstrings, and core, so you can work almost all of the large lower body muscles each time you do sumo deadlifts.

How To Do

  • Place a barbell on the floor and load it with your desired weight.
  • Set your feet so that your shins are about even with the smooth knurl rings.
  • Angle your feet out about 45 degrees.
  • With your arms hanging straight down, grab the bar with a double overhand grip or a mixed grip with your dominant hand in an overhand position and your non-dominant hand in an underhand position.
  • Once the bar is above your knees, begin to push your hips forward. Avoid overextending your back at the top.
  • Bring the bar back down to the floor in a controlled manner and make sure it comes to a complete stop before moving into your next rep.

Benefits

  • Even though many people consider the sumo deadlift cheating because of the shorter range of motion, it recruits more quad muscles than the conventional deadlift, which can be beneficial for lifters who have particularly strong quads.

Cons

  • It can take longer to break the weight off the floor in a sumo deadlift than a conventional deadlift. You’ll need to make sure that your feet, hips, shoulders, and hands are in the most optimal positions possible to make it easier to initiate your first rep.

Check out my other tips for preventing bruising on the shins in the deadlift in How To Fix Bruising Shins During Deadlifts (Technique Tips).

How To Program

Sumo deadlifts are another movement that I recommend doing as your main lift for the day. But you can also do them after your squats if you only have one day a week to train the lower body.

Like squats, powerlifters will likely train the sumo deadlift in rep ranges of 1-5 with an RPE of 8-8.5 when training for strength. If you’re doing sumo deadlifts for hypertrophy, I recommend sticking to rep ranges of 8-10 with an RPE of 7-8.

Choosing between sumo and conventional deadlifts depends on your limb proportions, muscular strengths and weaknesses, and hip structure. Find out which one is better for you in Conventional vs Sumo Deadlift: Which One Should You Do?

3. Good Mornings

Good mornings are one of my favorite compound exercises to target the glutes. They also target the hamstrings and are a good exercise for practicing the hip hinge and strengthening the lower back muscles.

How To

  • Place a barbell on a squat rack so it’s even with your armpit and load the bar with your desired weight.
  • Step under the bar so it sits on your mid traps, similar to where it would be in a low bar squat. Grab it with your hands outside your shoulders.
  • Unrack the bar and take 2-3 steps back.
  • Take a deep breath in and slowly hinge at the hips, keeping just a slight bend in your knees. Think about pushing your butt back towards the wall behind you.
  • Stop once your torso is parallel to the floor and/or you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Use your glutes to drive your hips forward as you lift your torso back up and return to the start position.

Benefits

  • Good mornings only require a barbell and some plates, making them a great exercise for home gym owners. You can also do them with a resistance band by standing on one end of the band and looping the other end around the top of your shoulders.
  • Good mornings help build strength in the entire posterior chain, or all the muscles that run along the backside of the body. This has excellent carryover to squats and deadlifts as well as movements that require strong lower body muscles such as jumping and sprinting.

Cons

  • Good mornings place your lower back in a compromised position, so it’s important to ensure you have proper form to avoid injuries.
  • Good mornings can cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the lower back and hamstrings, which can take a couple of days to recover from.

How To Program

I recommend doing good mornings as an accessory movement on squat days. You can do them on deadlift days if you’d like, but I personally don’t like to do so because I pull conventional and don’t like to do too many movements that fatigue my core and lower back on the same day.

I also recommend sticking to 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps and doing them as a secondary or tertiary movement. Since they can be fatiguing on the lower back, you’ll want to keep them towards the beginning of your workout so other movements don’t affect your ability to do them properly.

Wondering exactly how good mornings help deadlifts? Check out my article Do Good Mornings Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How).

4. Barbell Romanian Deadlifts

Barbell Romanian deadlifts are another exercise that I do frequently in my training. Like good mornings, they are a good movement for practicing the hip hinge. They not only strengthen the glutes but also strengthen the hamstrings, lower back, and core.

How To Do

  • Load a barbell on the floor with your desired weight.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the bar over midfoot.
  • Grip the bar with a double overhand grip, mixed grip, or hook grip.
  • Deadlift the bar up to your hips.
  • Keeping the bar close to your body, your knees relatively straight, and your back flat, push your hips backward and lower the weight.
  • Stop before the weight touches the floor.
  • Use your glutes to extend your hips as you pull the weight back up and return to a standing position. Avoid overextending your back at the top.

Benefits

  • Doing Romanian deadlifts regularly can help prevent injuries to the lower back, hips, and hamstrings.
  • In addition to having carryover to squats and deadlifts for powerlifters, Romanian deadlifts can also help Olympic weightlifters build pulling strength for cleans and snatches. Weightlifters can make them even more specific to the snatch by doing snatch grip Romanian deadlifts.
  • If you don’t have access to a barbell and plates, you can do Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells or kettlebells. This makes them a great option for people with small home gyms with limited equipment or if you’re traveling and working out in a hotel gym.

Cons

  • Good mornings can be challenging on your grip. You can use lifting straps so you can do more reps without your grip failing, but I’d recommend using them only if you absolutely need to.

Check out my recommendations for the best lifting straps on the market.

How To Program

Romanian deadlifts are commonly used as an accessory movement, but you can also use them to replace traditional deadlifts if you’re a powerlifter who’s not preparing for a competition or you just want a break from regular deadlifts.

I recommend doing 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps depending on whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy. It’s best to start with a weight that’s 30-40% of your deadlift 1RM and work your way up from there.

5. Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts are a one-legged variation of the Romanian deadlift. In addition to the glutes, they also work the hamstrings, lower back, core, and calves.

How To Do

  • Stand tall while holding a dumbbell in one or both hands. If you’re only using one dumbbell, you can hold the other arm out to the side for balance.
  • Hinge at the hips while you kick one leg straight out behind you, keeping your back knee straight and a slight bend in your working leg.
  • As you’re hinging your hips, lower your torso until it’s parallel to the floor.
  • Return to the starting position, tapping the foot of your non-working leg to the floor gently before moving into your next rep.
  • Complete all reps on one side, then do the same amount of reps on the other side.

Benefits

  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts help improve your balance and coordination as well as proprioception, or your body’s ability to figure out where it is in space.
  • In addition to working your glutes and hamstrings, they also help build strength and stability in your feet and ankles.
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts are great for addressing muscle and strength imbalances between your right and left sides.

Cons

  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts can be difficult to perform since you have to balance on one leg. If you have trouble doing them without falling over, you can hold onto the top of an incline bench or a squat rack.
  • They can cause back pain if you move through too large of a range of motion. You may be trying to touch the weight to the floor, but this isn’t always necessary if you can get your torso parallel to the floor without going that far down.

How To Program

I recommend doing single-leg Romanian deadlifts as an accessory movement for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per side. Choose a weight with which you can perform all reps without losing your balance or having to put the weight down in the middle of your set, even if it means using 15lb dumbbells at first.

Related Article: 7 Compound Leg Exercises That Should Be In Every Program

6. Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are an exercise that many lifters (including myself) love to hate. They’re a highly effective single-leg quad exercise that also involves the hamstrings, but you can target your glutes by bringing your working leg further out in front of you.

How To Do

  • Find a bench or low box that’s about knee height and stand in front of it.
  • Place one foot on the surface behind you, resting your ankle along the edge.
  • Take a large step forward with the front foot.
  • Bend both of your knees at the same time, keeping your torso as vertical as possible, until your back knee is touching or close to touching the floor.
  • Drive through your entire front foot to stand back up.
  • Complete all reps on one side, then switch legs and repeat.

Benefits

  • They can be used to train the glutes, quads, and other lower body muscles without loading the spine. If an injury or other limitation is preventing you from doing barbell squats, you can still make strength and hypertrophy gains with Bulgarian split squats.
  • Because you’re only working one leg at a time, they can be used to address strength or physique imbalances between your right and left legs.

Cons

  • You have to balance on one leg for a long time, which can be tough for people who don’t have the coordination to do so.
  • They can cause a lot of lower body fatigue and affect your movements later in your workout or on the following day.

How To Program

If you’re using Bulgarian split squats as a lower body accessory movement, you can do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps per leg using a weight that allows you to leave 2-3 reps in the tank at the end.

If you’re using them for strength to replace traditional squats, you can do 5 sets of 5 or 3-4 sets of 6 reps per leg using a weight that allows you to leave 1-2 reps in the tank after each set.

If you want to make Bulgarian split squats easier or more difficult, check out my article 9 Bulgarian Split Squat Progressions (From Basic To Advanced).

7. Reverse Lunges

While forward lunges work the glutes and quads with the hamstrings acting as a stabilizer, reverse lunges work the glutes and hamstrings with the quads acting as a stabilizer. They’re the better option if you’re looking for more glute engagement because you have to hinge backward in order to lunge into the back foot.

How To Do

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands or a barbell on your back.
  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Step back with one foot and bend both of your knees at the same time.
  • Touch your back knee to the ground gently.
  • To stand up, drive through your front foot and try to avoid pushing off too much from your back foot.
  • Bring your feet back together before moving into your next rep.
  • You can either do all reps on one side before switching or alternate legs with each rep.

Benefits

  • Reverse lunges are often easier to perform because your center of mass remains relatively stable throughout the movement, whereas your torso moves more when you do forward lunges.
  • They are a versatile movement because you can do them with a barbell, dumbbells, or your body weight. You can also hold weights at your sides, at your chest in a goblet style, or in the front or back rack positions.
  • Many lifters find that they can use more weight with reverse lunges than they can with other lunge variations.

Cons

  • Reverse lunges place a lot of stress on the hips, which can be challenging for people with previous hip or groin injuries.

For more about the differences between reverse and forward lunges, check out Is It Better To Do Lunges Forward Or Backward?

How To Program

I recommend doing reverse lunges for 3-4 sets of 6 reps per leg for strength and 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per leg for hypertrophy. I’d also advise doing them as a secondary or tertiary movement on your lower body days, but you can do them as your main movement if you’re looking for a squat substitution.

8. Leg Press With Feet High On The Platform

While the leg press is commonly seen as a quad exercise, you can target your glutes as well by placing your feet higher on the platform. This prevents your knees from moving too far forward, which removes most of the emphasis from your quads.

How To Do

  • Step into the leg press machine and lay down on the backrest.
  • Keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, place them at the top of the platform so your toes are close to the edge.
  • Disengage the safety mechanisms.
  • Push the platform away from you until your legs are straight but not completely locked out.
  • Slowly bend your knees until the platform has returned to the starting position.
  • After you’ve completed all of your reps, re-engage the safety locks and step out of the machine.

Pros

  • You can train your lower body without overloading your spine, which makes the leg press a suitable exercise for people who can’t squat due to lower back issues.
  • The action of pressing against the platform can help enforce the deadlift cue of pushing the floor away with your feet.
  • Many lifters are able to use more weight on the leg press than they can use for the squat.

Cons

  • They require a leg press machine, which you may not have access to if you train at home, at a CrossFit gym, or go to a very small gym with limited equipment.
  • Aside from the quads and glutes, they don’t target as many other lower body muscle groups as exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges.

How To Program

Like most exercises on this list, there are various ways you can program leg presses. You can use them in place of squats to maintain your leg strength if you’re working around an injury or you’re far away from a powerlifting meet. You can also do them as an accessory movement if you’re trying to improve your quad strength.

You can program them for 5 sets of 5, 3 sets of 6-8, or 4 sets of 8-12 depending on whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy.

For more tips on how to work your glutes more in the leg press, check out How to Leg Press Using Your Glutes (6 Tips).

9. Frog Squats

The frog squat uses a pulsing movement to lift and lower your glutes from the bottom of a squat position. In addition to the glutes, it targets the quads, hamstrings, and core, which all work together to stabilize the lower back, knees, and other areas of the lower body.

How To Do

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and point your toes out about 30 degrees.
  • Squat until you’re all the way at the bottom of a squat.
  • Drive your glutes upward, ending when you are about halfway up from the bottom position. Your torso should be parallel to the floor, and your knees should be slightly bent.
  • Lower back down to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps.

Benefits

  • They can be done by lifters of all experience levels and require no equipment.
  • They can be used by lifters who often fail the squat lockout due to weak glutes.
  • Since your glutes and quads are in a constant state of tension, the frog squat helps make them more mobile and better able to withstand larger ranges of motion in barbell squats.

Cons

  • You can load the frog squat by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest, but it’s not a movement that you can use to lift a significant amount of weight. However, you can also use a band around your knees to add more resistance to the movement.

Learn more about the frog squat in Frog Squat: What Is It, How-To, Benefits, Common Mistakes.

10. Lumberjack Squats

Lumberjack squats are a unique squat variation that’s done by placing one end of a barbell into a landmine attachment and holding the other end at the chest.

Because of the way in which the weight is loaded, the load is greater in the bottom position, which makes it an effective glute exercise. Lumberjack squats also work the quads, adductors (inner thighs), and core.

How To Do

  • Set one end of a barbell in a landmine attachment and load the other end.
  • If you’d like, set the loaded end on a bench. This is optional, but it can allow you to use more weight and make it easier to get into the starting position.
  • Stand behind the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Grasp the bar with your hands folded and fingers over the top of the barbell sleeve.
  • Keep your elbows tucked into your sides.
  • Brace your core and squat down until you’re at least below parallel.
  • Drive through the ground to push yourself back up, keeping the barbell at your chest throughout the movement.

Benefits

  • Lumberjack squats are an excellent squat variation to do if you’re overcoming a lower back injury or just want to avoid overloading your spine.
  • Loading the weight in front of you encourages you to maintain a more vertical torso, which carries over to the traditional squat. This also makes it a good squat variation for beginners since you can practice good movement patterns before attempting a barbell back squat.
  • The front loading of the lumberjack squat also means your core has to work harder to keep you upright and prevent your back from rounding, which is advantageous for lifters who are looking for new ways to improve their core strength.

Cons

  • You need to have a landmine attachment or be able to wedge the barbell into the corner of a sturdy wall, which may not always be possible if your gym doesn’t have a landmine or if the walls aren’t strong enough to support the weight.

Find out more benefits of the lumberjack squat in Lumberjack Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes.

11. Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings may seem like a shoulder or upper back movement, but the glutes play an important role in helping you explode the weight up and in front of you. They work the glutes, hamstrings, hips, lower back, and lats.

How To Do

  • Holding a kettlebell down in front of you with both hands, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward.
  • Hinge your hips back by pushing your glutes to the wall behind you and bending your knees slightly. 
  • At the same time, bring the kettlebell behind you and in between your legs. Make sure you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and avoid lowering into a deep squat. 
  • Using your hips and glutes, forcefully drive the kettlebell up and in front of you, stopping when it’s at about eye level.
  • With a flat back, bring the kettlebell back down in between your legs and repeat for your desired number of reps.

Benefits

  • They can help you build lower body power, which is not only beneficial for squats and deadlifts but is also advantageous for athletes in sports like football and basketball.
  • They help reinforce the hip hinge cue, which has carryover to other exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, and cleans.
  • Kettlebell swings are frequently seen in CrossFit and other functional fitness routines. If you participate in either of these, you’ll benefit from practicing heavy kettlebell swings often so you can easily do them at lighter weights in your workouts.

Cons

  • In order to be effective as a glute-building exercise, you need to lift a very heavy kettlebell. Your gym may not have a kettlebell large enough for you to achieve the desired stimulus.

How To Program

Since you can potentially do a lot of kettlebell swings depending on how much weight you use and they can be used to add a bit of cardio to your workout, I recommend doing them as a finisher. You can start with 3 sets of 15 reps and progress to reps in the 20-25 range and add more sets or increase the weight as you get stronger.

Looking to add a kettlebell to your home gym? Check out my top 5 kettlebells.

12. Reverse Hypers

Reverse hypers are a staple in many strength training programs because they help strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

How To Do

  • Lie face-down on a reverse hyper machine. Make sure your hips hang off the pads a bit so you can execute the movement without overextending your back.
  • Raise your legs behind you until they’re just slightly above your hips.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Slowly return your legs to the starting position and repeat until you’ve completed all of your reps.

Benefits

  • Reverse hypers are a joint-friendly exercise. You can work the backside of the body without loading the spine or having to grip a heavy barbell and worrying about your grip giving out.
  • They pose a lower risk of injury to the lower back than barbell movements that train the same muscle groups.

Cons

  • Reverse hypers can be difficult to replicate if you don’t have access to a reverse hyper machine. You can do them by lying face-down on a bench with your legs hanging off the bench, but the range of motion will be much shorter.

How To Program

Reverse hypers are an excellent accessory movement to do on your lower body days. I recommend doing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps towards the end of your workout after you’ve gotten your main lifts out of the way.

Other Glute Training Resources

hip thrusts

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.