An anatomical introduction to the gluteal muscles and 4 effective exercises to train them

Among the parts of the body most subject to special care and attention there are certainly the gluteus.  Gluteus are a muscle group part of posterior kinetics chain. Their functions for the body take three different activities:

  • Posture
  • Performance
  • Movement

This translates into continuous requests for insiders on how to achieve a certain tonicity, or at least maintain pleasant forms in this area. Without taking into consideration the role that genetics has on the shape and volume of the buttocks, we will try to deepen the main dynamics on which it is possible to intervene with training.

Neuromuscular activation of the buttocks muscles

When doing an exercise, you need to be sure that the work you’ll do is fitting for the target muscle.

Often, however, many of the exercises that are specifically made for the gluteus are the responsibility of the hamstrings.

Hamstrings are a biarticular muscle group meaning they span over both the knee and hip joints. This means that the hamstrings support the glutes with hip extension (while they also are responsible for knee flexion).

Anatomy of the gluteal muscles
Often, however, many of the exercises that are specifically made for the gluteus are the responsibility of the hamstrings. Just as often, however, you can see that the back muscles of the thigh also work when performing exercises that should mainly affect the gluteus, we find the explanation for this phenomenon in an altered dynamic at the neuromuscular level.

While consciously you would like to contract the gluteus during an exercise, it will be activated partially or not at all and instead you will notice a contraction of the hamstrings.

How to know if you have a proper dynamic of neuromuscular activation?

How to know if you have a proper dynamic of neuromuscular activation?

Some selected test exercises could help in defining the level of glute activation:

Exercise with anatomy of the gluteus

Glute bands

Wrap band around the legs (just above the know). These can be used within warmup and prehab activation.

Monster walks

Movement should originate from pushing the knee out rather than the ankle.

Supine glute bridges

Lying on your back. Bend your knees to 90° and raise your gluteus off the floor. Hold position at the top, squeezing your gluteus and return.
Squat exercise
On the other hand, there will be an unbalanced neuromuscular activation at hamstrings level if, during the test, these are activated first, with a "violent" contraction or if you notice the absence of activation of the gluteus.
If the test shows a non-optimal neuromuscular activation, it is necessary choose corrective exercises before being able to perform specific workouts for the hamstrings. These exercises are necessary to avoid that the work done during the various series does not excessively stimulate the hamstrings.
The first and simplest corrective exercise is explained below:

  • Lateral decubitus with thighs bent at 90° on the torso, legs bent at 90° on the thighs.
  • Keeping the heels of the feet in contact with each other, perform an abduction of the thigh.
  • Avoid rotating with the torso and pelvis, but only move the lower limb.

If the exercise is performed correctly (shoulders and pelvis always perpendicular to the ground) you will feel the feeling of working on the hamstring, unlike when you rotate the bust and / or pelvis where the movement of apparent abduction will be due to the rotation of hips and shoulders.

Do this exercise 3 times per leg, 15 repetitions per series, before each training session.

Squat is a panacea for buttocks training

How do the Gluteal muscles influence posture?

The correct postural alignment is crucial for the results on the gluteus, in addition to a fundamental factor for health.
Esercitare i glutei significa superare i 90° nel movimento delle gambe da terra
It can be noticed that people with a Lordotic posture (although this is a feature not functional to the proper biomechanics of the back) have the gluteal muscles particularly developed while not making special workouts. This happens because a condition of hyper lordosis puts the gluteal muscles in mechanical advantage, which even during the simple walk tend to shorten and lengthen more than those with a reduced lumbar curve.

This cycle of lengthening and shortening, higher than normal, creates a training stimulus that over time leads to a greater volume of the gluteus.

It is therefore necessary to start from the posture of the individual person, in order to bring back to the right level of tension and length the various muscle groups.

The first consideration that must be made is whether you have a flattening of the lumbar curve with simple tests performed by a trainer or a physiotherapist. In the case of hypo lordosis it is essential to look for the causes of this posture and associate the corrective exercises for this problem with those of reinforcement for the gluteal muscles.
Girl practicing from the ground

4 causes of flat back posture

The causes can be varied. At the muscular/tendon level we find mainly:

  • retracted hamstrings;
  • a sacro tuberous ligament retraction (which is in anatomical continuity with the tendon of the long end of the femoral biceps) that brings the pelvis into construmation;
  • excessive tension of the rectum and the obliques of the abdomen;
  • a hypotonic of the iliacpsoas, of the square of the lobes, of the femoral rectum, of the tensor of the fascia lata and of the sartorius.

It is therefore necessary to start from the posture of the individual person, to bring back to the right degree of tension and length the various muscle groups and have in physiological alignment the lumbar lordosis.

Working in plyometry with squat exercises on the steps

Criteria for choosing exercises for the gluteal muscles

Solved any problems described in the two points above, you should choose the best exercises for the gluteus. It is necessary to remember, without excessively deepening the anatomy and biomechanics, that the gluteal muscles are composed of 3 muscles, all monoarticular:

  • Gluteus Small
  • Gluteus Medium
  • Gluteus Maximus
To train safely it is good to provide an initial and final stretching session
The muscle that most decrees the shape of the gluteus is the gluteus maximus, from here we understand how fundamental the exercises of hip extension are rather than abduction. Therefore, the main characteristics of the exercises for the stimulation of the gluteal muscles are:

  • Need to use strong overloads: being a very strong musculature you need to choose exercises that allow you to move a certain load to be able to stimulate them at best.
  • Working in a closed kinetic chain: being able to apply and push the overloads in the best possible way.
  • Hip flexing at least 90°: being a monoarticular muscle it is mainly activated if the hip is flexed and extended. Exercises such as squat with a partial bending of the legs activate only the knee, not allowing the big buttock to perform its main function.
  • Exercises in controlled destabilization: they will activate the buttocks as stabilizers of the hip.
Girls practise on the floor

Slender, back lounge, Squat: choose the right exercise for you

From this examination we can conclude that the best exercises to train the gluteus are essentially:

  • Squat and its variants: deep and with a stance of the feet of about slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Lunges: with the torso slightly inclined forward to have a greater before stretching of the gluteal muscles. Excellent in all versions, especially in the back one: safer for the knee and with greater activation for the gluteus.
  • Split squat: for its component of both flexion and destabilizing the hip.
  • Hip trust: in all its variants, deadlifts included.
Lunge with foot on Balance Dome Technogym
Regarding the exercises operating in fours, we note that they do not meet any of the above characteristics but, on objective analysis, they create a strong sense of burning in the gluteus. They are excellent to use as a pre-muscle activation, to be performed before a fundamental exercise (those above mentioned) to have a greater focus on the gluteal muscles during the next exercise.
An example could be:

  • Lean back to the cable with right leg: 15 repetitions
  • Back lounge with right leg on the floor: 10 repetitions


  • Squat with elastic knee height, actively pushing them out: 15 reps
  • Squat (deep): 10 repetitions

Gluteal muscles exercises should be performed 2-3 times a week.

Exercise: Skip on site
In short, if it is true that to solve a problem just keep trying, it is equally true that with the right tools will be solved sooner and with better effects.

/related post

The best resistance band moves for your whole body

Try these exercises with resistance bands, the easiest way to add extra intensity to your workouts.