Whether you want to strengthen your glutes to help improve your squat or deadlift or you’re trying to improve your physique, there are plenty of isolation exercises that can help you improve strength and muscle size in the glutes.
The 12 best glute isolation exercises are:
- Hip thrusts
- Glute bridges
- Kas glute bridges
- Smith machine hip thrusts
- Single-leg glute bridges
- Donkey kicks
- Banded fire hydrants
- Cable glute kickbacks
- Banded glute kickbacks
- Lateral band walks
- Side-lying hip abduction
- Rainbow kickbacks
This list includes exercises that can be done with a barbell, cables, bands, or machines, so you can find movements that work best for you even if you have limited equipment.
In this article, I’ll talk about the glute muscles, their functions, and how to isolate them. I’ll also show you how to perform each exercise and provide programming considerations so you know how to include them in your routine.
How Do You Isolate Your Glutes?
Before we get into how to isolate the glutes, it’s important to understand what the glute muscles are and what each of their functions is.
The glutes are a large muscle group that’s made up of three smaller muscles:
- The gluteus maximus
- The gluteus medius
- The gluteus minimus
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the gluteal area and the largest muscle in the entire body.
Its primary job is to extend the hips, but it also helps stabilize the pelvis and aids in external rotation of the thigh.
The gluteus medius is the muscle located on the outside of the pelvis.
Like the gluteus maximus, it stabilizes the pelvis during actions such as running or walking. It also aids in internal rotation of the thigh.
The gluteus minimus is the smallest glute muscle that sits beneath the gluteus medius.
It works together with the gluteus medius to internally rotate the thigh.
How To Isolate The Glutes
The glutes can be deceivingly difficult to isolate because many movements that work the glutes also involve other lower body muscle groups such as the quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. These types of exercises are called “compound glute exercises” because they work more than one muscle group.
Compound lifts are an essential component of any well-rounded strength program, but they aren’t ideal for glute isolation since the glutes only play a small role or only become involved at a certain point of the lift. For example, the glutes come into play during the lockout phase of the deadlift as you’re straightening your torso and bringing your hips back into full extension.
In order to truly isolate the glutes, you need to do exercises in which the glutes play a primary role and don’t require activation of other lower body muscles. In many cases, this also means avoiding exercises such as back squats that require spinal loading, which also work your lower back.
Some glute isolation exercises may require stabilization from the core, hips, or hamstrings, but the glutes should still be the main muscle group targeted with minimal activation from the other lower body muscles.
Wondering if you can train the glutes two days in a row? Check out my article Can You Train Glutes 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons).
Glute Isolation Exercises: 12 Exercises
1. Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts can be awkward to perform in a crowded gym, but they’re an excellent exercise for isolating the glutes. Many commercial gyms have specific hip thrust machines, but if yours doesn’t or you work out at home, you can use a low box, bench, or heavy medicine ball to lean against.
Hip thrusts are a versatile movement because they can be done with a barbell (using a hip thrust pad to make them more comfortable), by holding a dumbbell on your lap, or by securing a resistance band to two heavy dumbbells on either side of you and using that for resistance.
The hip thrust works all three of the gluteal muscles, although the gluteus maximus plays the largest role. The hamstrings and quads are somewhat involved, but they only play a minor role in stabilizing your body, so the glutes still do most of the work.
- Put a barbell on the floor, load it with your desired weight, or grab a heavy dumbbell.
- Sit on the floor with your back against a sturdy bench or a heavy medicine ball. For extra stability, you may want to also lean the bench or medicine ball up against a wall or another sturdy surface so it doesn’t move while you’re hip thrusting.
- The bench or medicine ball should be at about mid-back level. If it comes up too high on your back, sit on an ab mat or a stack of plates. If you’re using a barbell, you may also need to elevate the bar so you can get under it more easily when you sit on a higher surface.
- Place the dumbbell across your hips or roll the barbell so it’s lying in your hip crease.
- Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and about hip-width apart.
- Hold onto the weight lightly, tuck your chin, use your glutes to drive the weight upward.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top and hold the position for a second.
- When you’re at the top of the hip thrust, your shins should be vertical to the floor. If they’re not, you’ll need to bring your feet in closer or move them out further for your subsequent sets and reps.
- Slowly lower the weight back down and avoid bouncing it off the floor before you move into your next rep.
- Hip thrusts have been shown to increase jump performance, which is beneficial for athletes in sports like basketball, volleyball, and track and field.
- Because hip thrusts strengthen the glutes and help with the cue of hinging at the hips, they are a great movement for lifters who have a weak deadlift lockout.
- Hip thrusts are also beneficial for lifters with a weak squat lockout since the glutes come into play as you extend your hips when you’re standing up from a squat.
- Barbell hip thrusts require a lot of equipment that you may either not have available at home or have to wait to become available at the gym.
- Even when you use a hip thrust pad on the barbell (or use something else like a rolled-up yoga mat on your hips), they can be uncomfortable on your hip bones and lead to bruising, especially if you use a significant amount of weight.
How To Program
I like doing hip thrusts as an accessory movement on my squat or deadlift days. If I’m doing them immediately following my squat or deadlift sets, I’ll keep them heavier and do 3 sets of 6-8 reps at an RPE of 8. If I’m using them later in my workout, I’ll do 3-4 sets of 10 reps at an RPE of 7.
If you’re in a powerlifting offseason or squatting and deadlifting isn’t a current priority for you, you can do them as your main strength movement of the day for 3 sets of 5-8 reps at an RPE of 8-8.5.
If you feel hip thrusts more in your quads or hamstrings, check out Don’t Feel Your Glutes Hip Thrusting? Try These 9 Tips.
2. Glute Bridges
Glute bridges are similar to hip thrusts except you lie on the floor instead of sitting up with your back against a bench. They’re a great option if you don’t have a bench or can’t find a free one at your gym.
You may feel your hamstrings a bit on this exercise, but the majority of the work should be done by the glutes. Glute bridges target all three gluteal muscles, but the gluteus maximus does most of the work.
How To Do
- Place a barbell on the floor and load it with your desired weight. If possible, I recommend using bumper plates or at least a 45lb metal plate so you can comfortably get under the bar. Otherwise, you’ll have to elevate it on another stack of plates or a very low box.
- Lie on the floor underneath the barbell so it’s directly above your hip crease.
- Bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Your heels should be as close to your glutes as possible.
- Hold on to the bar lightly with your hands a few inches outside your legs.
- With your shoulders, head, and neck on the floor, lift your torso until your hips make contact with the bar and use your glutes to drive the bar up.
- Squeeze your glutes and pause for a second at the top.
- Slowly lower the bar back down and come to a complete stop before moving into your next rep.
- Glute bridges don’t require as much equipment as hip thrusts since you don’t need a bench to lean your back against.
- Doing glute bridges unweighted or with very light weight is a good way to relieve lower back pain, especially if you work an office job and are sedentary for most of the day.
- The glute bridge is useful for lifters who have trouble activating their glutes in the squat or deadlift.
- Glute bridges have a shorter range of motion, so you may need to use significantly more weight than you would use in a hip thrust in order to achieve a similar stimulus.
How To Program
Like hip thrusts, glute bridges can be programmed as an accessory movement on lower body days or as your main lift if you’re not currently prioritizing squats and deadlifts. You can do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps at an RPE of 7 if you’re doing them as an accessory movement or 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps at an RPE of 8 if you’re doing them for strength.
I also like to do 2-3 sets of 10 unweighted reps with a 1-second pause at the top in my warm-ups for squats, deadlifts, and CrossFit WODs.
Check out the article 9 Best Hip Thrust Alternatives for other exercises you can do in place of hip thrusts and glute bridges.
3. Kas Glute Bridges
The Kas glute bridge is a lesser-known variation of the hip thrust. Instead of bringing the bar all the back down to the ground after each rep, you only descend a couple of inches and keep tension in the glutes throughout your entire set.
It sounds like a pulsing movement, but you should still move through each rep in a slow and controlled manner. The Kas glute bridge is also not an explosive movement, so you shouldn’t be using any momentum to jerk the bar up.
The Kas glute bridge primarily works the gluteus maximus.
- Load a barbell on the floor with plates or find a heavy dumbbell.
- Sit on the floor and lean back against a bench or heavy medicine ball. It should be at the same level as the bottom of your rib cage. If it’s too high, sit on an ab mat or stack of plates, and elevate the barbell as well if necessary so you can easily get underneath it.
- To ensure the bench or medicine ball won’t slip or move, you may also want to place it against a wall or the bottom of a squat rack.
- If you’re using a dumbbell, place it across the top of your thighs. If you’re using a barbell, roll it towards you so it rests in your hip crease.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. They should be far enough out in front of you that your shins will be completely vertical at the top of the movement.
- Gripping the weight gently, drive through your heels and use your glutes to lift the weight upward.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Slowly lower 2-3 inches, maintaining tension in your glutes the entire time.
- Without jerking the weight back up, lift the weight back up again and repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
- The Kas glute bridge requires you to move through a very short range of motion. This can be seen as a negative, but it allows you to perform more reps, making it a good variation to include in a hypertrophy phase.
- Because you don’t lower all the way to the floor after each rep, your glutes are fully activated throughout the entire set. This reduces the likelihood of introducing your quads or hamstrings into the movement and keeps the emphasis fully on the glutes.
- Like regular hip thrusts, Kas glute bridges require a lot of equipment, especially if you use a barbell. You’ll need a bar, plates, and a bench to lean against, and you may either not have this equipment at home or you have to wait a while for it to become available if you train at a commercial gym.
- It requires a lot of body awareness to ensure you’re not lowering too far down and removing the emphasis on the glutes.
- It can be easy to cheat the movement by pulsing too quickly, which also takes the emphasis away from the glutes and encourages you to rely on momentum to move the weight.
How To Program
Since this is a movement with which you’ll typically do a high number of reps, I recommend programming it as an accessory movement. It’s also likely that you can’t use as much weight as you would for a standard hip thrust, so it’s a good movement to do towards the end of your workout.
I would suggest doing 4 sets of 10-12 reps at an RPE of 7.
4. Smith Machine Hip Thrusts
The Smith machine gets a bad rap, but it’s a good machine for doing hip thrusts because the setup is slightly quicker and you can get under the bar more easily. Smith machine hip thrusts target all three glute muscles.
- Place a sturdy box or bench that comes up to about knee height in front of a Smith machine.
- Adjust the bar so that when you sit down, it sits across your hip crease.
- Sit on the floor with your back against the box or bench, slide your legs under the bar, and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
- Drive through your heels to lift the weight until your back is parallel to the floor. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Slowly lower to the starting position, then repeat for your desired number of reps.
- Smith machine hip thrusts are ideal for training in higher rep ranges. Because you don’t have to work to stabilize yourself as much, you can train closer to failure, even with heavier weights.
- The Smith machine allows for greater isolation of the glutes since it removes most of the stabilization assistance from your quads, hamstrings, and core.
- You need access to a Smith machine, which you may not have if you train at home or at a CrossFit gym.
- Because the Smith machine keeps your body and the bar in a relatively fixed position, it can give you a false sense of confidence since you can usually lift more weight than you can with a regular hip thrust.
How To Program
As I mentioned earlier, you can typically train Smith machine hip thrusts to failure. I recommend doing them towards the end of your workout for 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps.
Check out our other hip thrust resources:
5. Single-leg Glute Bridges
Doing any kind of unilateral (one-sided) work is a good way to address muscle and strength imbalances in your right and left sides. Single-leg glute bridges target the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
How To Do
- Lie on the floor and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close to your glutes as possible.
- Lift your buttocks off the ground while keeping your shoulders, upper back, head, and neck on the floor.
- Straighten one leg and lift it as high as possible.
- Squeeze your glutes and lower them until they are hovering just above the ground.
- Drive your hips back up to the starting position and pause at the top for 1-2 seconds.
- Perform all reps on one side, then repeat for the same number of reps on the other leg.
- Single-leg glute bridges are versatile because you can do them with weights or just your body weight.
- Since you don’t have to lean against a box or bench, you can do single-leg glute bridges anywhere.
- They challenge your core more and help improve proprioception (your body’s ability to sense where it is in space) since your body has to work harder to avoid twisting or rotating.
- Since you’re only using one leg at a time, you may be limited in how much weight you can use for this exercise.
How To Program
Single-leg glute bridges can be done with light weights or bodyweight for 2-3 sets of 10 reps to warm up for other lower body movements.
You can also do them for 2-4 AMRAP sets (as many reps as possible) per side as a finisher or burnout exercise at the end of your workout. Just be sure to do an even number of reps on both sides.
Additionally, you can add weight to them by holding a dumbbell across your hips.
Single-leg glute bridges are also a good exercise to do with blood flow restriction (BFR) bands. Check out my article Blood Flow Restriction Training for Glutes (Complete Guide) to learn more about BFR training for the glutes.
6. Donkey Kicks
Donkey kicks are an effective way to work the glutes if you don’t have access to machines or heavy weights. They target the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
How To Do
- Kneel on the floor in a tabletop position with your back flat and your hands on the floor directly below your shoulders.
- Keeping your foot flexed (i.e. your toes should not be pointed), lift one leg up so the bottom of your foot faces the ceiling.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your leg up to the ceiling with your leg bent at 90 degrees. Stop before you start to feel your lower back arch.
- Bring your leg all the way down to the starting position and complete all reps on one leg before switching sides.
- Donkey kicks can be used as a warm-up exercise for squats and deadlifts since they prime the smaller gluteus medius for heavier lifts.
- They don’t require any equipment, so they can be done anywhere.
- Donkey kicks can’t be loaded very heavily, so they shouldn’t be used as your main glute training exercise.
How To Program
Because you can’t use heavy weights with donkey kicks, you’ll need to perform higher reps in order to feel them working. You can do 3 sets of 15 as a warm-up for squats and deadlifts or 2-4 sets of 20-25 as a finisher at the end of your workout.
7. Banded Fire Hydrants
Like donkey kicks, banded fire hydrants target the gluteus medius, which is usually difficult to isolate since most exercises that target it also target the gluteus maximus.
How To Do
- Loop a band around the top of your knees.
- Kneel on the floor with your hands on the ground below your shoulders and your knees stacked below your hips.
- Keeping your knee bent, lift one leg out to the side until the inside of your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Pause for a second before lowering your leg back down.
- Complete all of your reps on the same leg before switching sides.
- Since all that’s required is a resistance band, you can do banded fire hydrants at home or when you’re traveling.
- Banded fire hydrants aren’t particularly challenging, so they’re good for beginners or people who can’t lift heavy due to an injury.
- While banded fire hydrants can be used for warm-ups, finishers, or as a supplemental exercise in addition to other glute or lower body exercises, they alone won’t build much strength or muscle mass because it’s difficult to progressively overload them.
How To Program
Banded fire hydrants make an excellent warm-up exercise for your lower body days. I recommend doing 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps before a squat or deadlift workout or 2-3 sets of 20 per side as a finisher.
8. Cable Glute Kickbacks
Cable glute kickbacks require some stabilization from the hamstrings, but the glutes are the primary driver. They target all three gluteal muscles.
How To Do
- Adjust a pulley system on a cable machine so it’s at the lowest setting.
- Attach the ankle cuff to one of your ankles.
- Lean over and hold on to the machine for balance if you need to. Make sure your back stays flat.
- Keep your non-working leg straight with just a slight bend in the knee, kick your other leg behind you as far as possible, and squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Return to the starting position and perform all reps on one leg before switching legs.
- If you do glute kickbacks without holding on to the machine, you can work on improving your balance since you’ll be standing on one leg.
- They require access to a cable machine, which you may not have if you work out at home or a small gym with limited equipment. You may also have to wait for the machine to become available if you train at a commercial gym during its busiest times.
How To Program
Cable glute kickbacks are a great exercise to do at the end of a lower body day. You can do them for relatively high reps, so I’d recommend doing them for 4 sets of 15 per leg.
Looking for complete glute workouts you can do with cable machines? Check out 3 Cable Glute Workouts For Mass (Complete Guide).
9. Banded Glute Kickbacks
Banded glute kickbacks are an alternative to the cable glute kickback for people who don’t have access to a cable machine. Like the cable glute kickback, they work all three areas of the glutes.
How To Do
- Loop a band around your ankles and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Kick one leg up directly behind you as high as you can. Make sure that it goes straight back instead of out to the side.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Return your leg to the starting position and complete all reps on the same leg before you switch sides.
- Banded glute kickbacks are an excellent exercise to do at home or when you’re traveling since all you need is a band.
- Because you’re using a band, you can’t overload the movement enough to build a significant amount of strength or muscle mass in the glutes.
How To Program
Like other banded glute exercises, you can use banded glute kickbacks as a warm-up or finisher. I recommend doing 2-3 sets of 10-12 per leg for a warm-up and 3-4 sets of 15-20 for a finisher.
Looking for other ways to warm up for squats or deadlifts? Check out How To Warm Up For Deadlifts (4 Steps For Bigger & Safer Pulls) and How To Warm Up For Squats (Mobility, Dynamic Stretching, & Activation).
10. Lateral Band Walks
Lateral band walks are a more dynamic glute isolation exercise that targets the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
How To Do
- Step inside a band and place it either around your ankles or around your thighs just above your knees.
- Start with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees until you’re in a half-squat position.
- Take a large step to the side with one leg.
- Bring your feet back together by taking a step with your other leg.
- Repeat until you’ve done 10-12 steps, then walk back to where you started from by leading with the opposite leg.
- Regularly doing lateral band walks helps encourage the knee to stay in proper alignment, which is beneficial for proper knee tracking during squats.
- While lateral band walks are an effective rehab or prehab exercise, they don’t produce enough of a stimulus for you to make any significant strength or muscle gains in the glutes.
How To Program
You can do lateral band walks as a warm-up to prime your glutes for squats or deadlifts. Try 2-3 sets of 10-12 steps to each side.
Looking for exercises that don’t target the glutes? Check out 9 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Glutes.
11. Side-Lying Hip Abduction
The side-lying hip adduction also works your hip flexors so it’s not a true glute isolation exercise, but it’s a fantastic exercise for targeting the smaller gluteal muscles, particularly the gluteus minimus.
How To Do
- Stand inside your band with it just above your knees.
- Lie down on the floor on one side. You can keep your bottom leg straight or bend it at the knee with your foot behind you.
- Keep your top leg out straight so it’s in a vertical line with your head and torso.
- Lift the top leg straight up as high as you can and squeeze your glutes at the top. Make sure the leg stays in line with your body and doesn’t move forward or backward.
- Slowly lower it back down and repeat. Once you’ve completed all of your reps on one side, switch sides and do the same number of reps on the other leg.
- Abduction refers to the action of moving the leg away from your body, making the side-lying hip abduction a great exercise for athletes who want to improve their coordination in side-to-side movements.
- They can be done anywhere as long as you have a band.
- Side-lying hip abductions can be uncomfortable if you have a hip or groin injury.
How To Program
Because this exercise isn’t too stressful on the joints, you can do it for a high number of reps. I recommend 3-4 sets of 20 reps per side.
12. Banded Rainbow Kickbacks
Rainbow kickbacks require you to move your glutes forward to back as well as side to side, making them an effective exercise for training your glutes from all angles. They work the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
How To Do
- Bring a band around your thighs just above your knees.
- Kneel on the floor with your hands on the floor directly underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Straighten one leg and bring it back and out to the side slightly so it’s diagonal to the rest of your body.
- Lift that same leg and move your foot in an arch so it crosses over your other leg. Make sure your leg stays straight.
- Touch your foot gently to the floor.
- Using the same arching motion, bring the leg back to the starting position.
- Do all reps on the same side before switching sides.
- You don’t need any free weights or machines in order to do them.
- You can also do them with ankle weights if you don’t have a band.
- Even if you use an ankle weight instead of a band, you can’t progressively overload this movement because ankle weights only go up to a certain amount of weight.
How To Program
Since these are a low-impact exercise, you can do them for a high number of reps. I recommend 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps per leg.
Related Article: The Ultimate List Of 55+ Barbell Exercises (By Muscle Group)
Exercises To Avoid For Isolating Your Glutes
While many lower body movements involve the glutes, some exercises also involve other muscle groups such as the quads or hamstrings. As such, they’re not ideal movements if your goal is to truly isolate the glutes.
Squats work a lot more than just the glutes. They target the quads, core, lower back, hamstrings, and hip extensors. They’re one of the best lower body compound movements you can do, but they’re not a movement to choose if you’re looking to isolate the glutes and want to avoid working your other lower body muscles.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Although you can target the glutes by keeping the working leg out in front of you in a Bulgarian split squat, it still requires a lot of work from the quads, hamstrings, and calves.
While the glutes play a role in driving the hips forward as you lift your torso to standing during Romanian deadlifts, they aren’t the only muscle group targeted. The exercise also works the hamstrings, lower back, and core.
About The Author
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.