Glute Activation: 5 Equipment Free Exercises

Photography by Ana Ochoa Photography

Photography by Ana Ochoa Photography

I absolutely love working out my lower body - glutes and hamstrings in particular. There are a couple reasons for this: I'm stronger in my lower body, therefore I feel more capable, and I, like some others, love a thick, toned tush. However, I know having a strong posterior chain (glutes in particular) means more than just achieving luscious curves. Strengthening this area helps with posture, relieves knee and lower back pain and improves athletic ability (stronger butt and hamstrings means you can sprint a hell of a lot faster). 

I rarely meet a client who has never suffered from low back pain. Because we are constantly sitting at a desk, on the couch, at the dinner table, driving etc. our glutes are often "asleep" and low back pain can easily set it. Proper glute strength (starting with activation) and an efficient stretching routine can help combat or prevent this common issue. 

Your glutes (maximus, medius and minimus) make up the largest and strongest group of muscles in your body. What people tend to forget is that before you work to strengthen the muscles, you have to activate them. Think of it as foreplay. It's not that you CAN'T do the deed before a little heavy petting, it's just preferable (and more effective) if you get a little dirty before going all the way. 

After doing a 10-15 minute dynamic warmup, try including these five glute activation exercises before your workout. You'll notice a few things: 1. You will feel more prepared for the your workout. 2. You will actually feel your glute medius (the part of the muscle on the outer portion of the pelvis) firing. This is a part of the muscle that frequently gets ignored. 3. You might get fatigued quicker during your lower body workouts for a few sessions because instead of your quads taking over, your glutes are actually doing more of the work due to the activation.  

I'm demonstrating all of these exercises with no equipment because I think it's important that you know you can do this at home in your living room even if you have no access to equipment. However, if you want to add a little more resistance after trying it this way once or twice (I advise adding resistance), there are tips under each exercise on where to place a mini band to make the exercise a little more challenging. 

Lateral Sqaut Walks: Squat down and take three steps to the right, leading with the knee - this will help you activate the glute medius. Reverse it and take three steps to the left. Once you've done this a few times, add a mini band right below the knees for more of a challenge! Repeat 10 sets of 3 reps in each direction. 

Lateral Sqaut Walks: Squat down and take three steps to the right, leading with the knee - this will help you activate the glute medius. Reverse it and take three steps to the left. Once you've done this a few times, add a mini band right below the knees for more of a challenge! Repeat 10 sets of 3 reps in each direction. 

Side Lying Leg Raises: Lay on your side, core tight and toes dorsiflexed (flexed towards your face). Using your glute and keeping your hips in place, raise and lower the top leg. For more of a challenge, add a mini band right below the knee. Repeat 25 reps on each side.

Side Lying Leg Raises: Lay on your side, core tight and toes dorsiflexed (flexed towards your face). Using your glute and keeping your hips in place, raise and lower the top leg. For more of a challenge, add a mini band right below the knee. Repeat 25 reps on each side.

Donkey Kickback: On all fours, make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips. Keep your core tight, and kick your foot towards the ceiling until your thigh is in line with your torso. Squeeze your glutes at the top and return your knee back to starting position. For more of a challenge, place a mini band right above your knees. Repeat 20 reps on each side. 

Donkey Kickback: On all fours, make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips. Keep your core tight, and kick your foot towards the ceiling until your thigh is in line with your torso. Squeeze your glutes at the top and return your knee back to starting position. For more of a challenge, place a mini band right above your knees. Repeat 20 reps on each side. 

Fire Hydrant: Start on all fours, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Abduct your right femur and move your knee away from your body. Pause at the top, squeeze your glute and return to the starting position. For more of a challenge, add a mini band right above the knee. Repeat 25 reps on each side. 

Fire Hydrant: Start on all fours, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Abduct your right femur and move your knee away from your body. Pause at the top, squeeze your glute and return to the starting position. For more of a challenge, add a mini band right above the knee. Repeat 25 reps on each side. 

Clamshells: Lay on your side, legs stacked and both knees bent at 90 degrees. Maintain a tight core while squeezing your glutes and lifting your top knee off the bottom knee. Make sure your hips don't rock back. Add a mini band right above the knee to make this more difficult. Repeat 20 reps on each side. 

Clamshells: Lay on your side, legs stacked and both knees bent at 90 degrees. Maintain a tight core while squeezing your glutes and lifting your top knee off the bottom knee. Make sure your hips don't rock back. Add a mini band right above the knee to make this more difficult. Repeat 20 reps on each side.