7 Glute Activation Exercises to Maximize Your Leg Day

by Evelyn Valdez

Are your heavy leg days not giving you the strong glutes you want?

Chances are you're not properly activating your glutes! Glute activation involves doing a few warm-up exercises that zone in and target the three major muscles in the glutes - gluteus maximus (largest muscle), gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Doing this helps wake those muscles up so they are doing the work instead of letting the surrounding muscles take over. This in turn helps to effectively grow the muscles in the glutes giving you the strong glutes you've been dreaming of! 

Activating and strengthening the glute muscles is not only a more efficient way to sculpt your lower body, but it's also essential in preventing pain and injuries which can happen with weak glutes that aren't activated properly. Don't worry, we're here to help you strengthen your weak glutes so you can start building effective glute strength! After all, we design resistance bands that are perfect for glute activation exercises... But before we give you a list of exercises to do before your heavy lower body workout, we're giving you some information on why glute activation is so important.

Why is it important to activate the glutes?

Activating the glutes before leg day will help get the most out of your workout and lead to building those nice round glutes you've always wanted. But aside from that, glute strength is needed for everyday activities. Think about it, we all use our glutes primarily for one reason... Sitting down. 

Excessive sitting and inactivity lengthen and loosens the muscles along our posterior chain (muscles along the backside of the body), in simpler terms, it relaxes the glute muscles. This leads to tightening of the hip flexors, which then pull your upper body and shoulders forward. This means that if your glutes are relaxed, so will your posture. Bad posture can lead to a number of problems including neck and back pain, which is something you want to avoid especially if you lift weights. 

Furthermore, weak glutes and not properly activating them before working out can lead to injuries. The glutes are a huge muscle group found in the posterior chain and they help to move us forward, jump higher, and even pick things up. So, if they're weak and not activated then they're less prepared to handle your heavy compound lifts, like deadlifts, resulting in other muscle groups being recruited to help. This can mess up your form, cause an unwanted injury, and grow muscle in unintended areas.

Let's recap, poor glute activation can lead to: 

  • Bad posture
  • Neck and lower back pain
  • Lack of strength
  • Increased risk of injury

Best glute activation exercises

Before doing any workout, the first thing you do is warm up! Before activating your glutes, take the time to loosen up your tight muscles from sitting all day or from sleeping all night. 

Here are three things you should do before working out:

  1. Foam roll
  2. Stretch (combination of static and dynamic)
  3. Activation exercises

Foam rolling is highly suggested because it helps break lactic build-up and really loosen up your tight muscles. If you don't have a foam roller then feel free to go straight to warming up. Following these three (or two) steps will help warm up your entire body, plus the activation exercises create a mind-body connection that helps fire up your butt muscles for the big leg lifts you're going to do.

All you'll need for glute activation exercises is a resistance band (mini-band, not long), or if you don't have one use your own bodyweight! But we do recommend investing in a set of resistance bands, they are inexpensive, and will help take your lower body exercises to the next level! Like UPPPER Resistance Bands, designed to be comfortable and durable, and the best part is, you can get a bundle of three and receive 50% off on the third band.

Now let's get to the fun part, here 7 of our favorite and the best glute activation exercises...

Clamshells

This exercise requires you to lay on your side to help target the glute medius, the muscle on the outer edge of the butt that is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis. It also helps to target your hip abductors and helps balance the effort between your inner and outer things, and your pelvic floor. We recommend doing 2-3 sets of 10 reps.

How to do it:

  1. Loop a resistance band around your legs so it's slightly above your knees. Lie on your side with either your arm extended along with the mat above your head, or you can stay propped up on your elbow. Pick whichever position feels most comfortable.
  2. Bend both knees close to 90-degree angles making sure that your feet are in line with your glutes, hips are stacked, and maintaining a small gap between your waist and the floor.
  3. Inhale, and keeping your feet glute together, begin to lift your top knee as high as you can without rotating your hip. Focus on your glutes throughout the movement, and squeeze them at the top. Pause for a moment and return to the starting position.

Glute bridge

 

This is one of the easiest ways to get your glutes firing and it even engages your core! Just make sure to go slow, focus on contracting the glutes hard, and keep your hamstrings relaxed. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

How to do it:

  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet pulled towards your buttocks. Wrap a resistance band around your legs just above your knees. Make sure that your feet are hip-width apart and stretch your arms out to the sides with your palms and toes facing the ceiling.
  2. Engage your core so that your lower back remains pressed against the floor. Then pull your belly towards your spine and lift your hips up to the ceiling until they align with your knees.
  3. Squeeze your glutes at the top, and hold for a few seconds.
  4. Lower your hips to return to the starting position.

Glute bridge with Hip Abduction

fit with iulia

Adding a hip abduction at the top of a glute bridge is a game changer! A hip abductor involves raising your legs to the side and away from your body thus targeting the gluteus medius. Not only that, but this simple movement also helps support your pelvis when you're standing on one leg. Having weak hip abductors can affect your balance, mobility, and even cause low back pain. So, definitely implement this exercise before your lower body workout routine! do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

How to do it:

  1. Start by lying on your back with your feet pulled towards your buttocks. Place the resistance band around your legs (above your knees). You're essentially getting into a glute bridge as your starting position.
  2. Once you're ready, brace your core by pulling your belly towards your spine and begin to lift your hips up as far as you can. Instead of pausing, move your knees to the sides by creating a V sign. Hold this position briefly. 
  3. Bring it back from the V position and lower your hips down.

Donkey kick

This is a hip extension exercise that isolates the glutes and reduces the involvement of the hamstrings. 

How to do it:

  1. Put the resistance band around your legs (higher than your knees). Keep your hands lined up underneath your shoulders, your spine neutral and naturally straight, with thighs at 90 degrees to the ground. 
  2. To begin, slowly lift one leg back, keeping your knee bent, until the sole of your foot faces the ceiling, and your thigh is parallel to the floor.
  3. Keep holding the position for a few seconds then release, and return the leg down to its starting position.

Banded lateral walks 

 

This exercise targets your glutes and hip abductors. It even helps improve hip, knees, and ankle stability, to really prepare you for your leg workout.

How to do it:

  1. Step inside of a resistance band and place your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Set a slight bend in your knees while keeping your chest up, so you're in a shallow squat position. 
  2. Slowly step your right foot to the side while maintaining a shallow squat position. Pause then step with the left foot in the same direction as the right so that your feet are hip-width apart again. 
  3. Do the same with another leg. Perform 10 reps on each side.

Standing glute kickback 

This exercise primarily targets your gluteus maximus (but also engages your other two glute muscles) and hamstrings. It also engages your core since it works to stabilize and maintain the balance of your body. Do 2 sets of 10-15 reps for each leg.

How to do it:

  1. Loop the band around your ankles. Stand facing a wall or chair, in case you need help balancing.
  2. Flex your right foot and extend it behind you, squeezing your glute begin to lift your right leg to the back (don't move forward to get your leg higher). Pause for 2 seconds. 
  3. You should feel the tension in your hip and glutes. Bring the leg to the starting position. Perform 10-15 reps with each leg.

Fire hydrant 

 

This is another hip abduction exercise that helps to wake up the gluteus medius which is key in improving hip stability. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg.

How to do it:

  1. Loop the band slightly above your knees. Position yourself on your hands and knees on the ground. This will be your starting position.
  2. Keeping the knee in a bent position, abduct the femur, moving your knee away from the midline of the body. Don't lean away just to get it up higher. Really focus on using that glute medius to move your leg for you.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top, lower down, and repeat.

Before your leg workout, pick 2-3 of these exercises and perform at least 2 sets, and 10-15 reps. Perform the exercises slow and controlled, and really focus on your glutes to do most of the work. Make sure to pick one lateral move, like the fire hydrant, and one sagittal plane move, like the donkey kick. And don't forget to cool down! Do some glute stretches and foam roll as a recovery method to make the most of your workout session!

Incorporating glute exercises before your workout, especially lower body, will help you build toned and strong glutes. After a few weeks of doing this, you will see better results and maybe even a reduction in hip and lower back pain! And don't forget to check out our Resistance Band Collection which includes our latest Summer designs, like our Palma Medium Resistance Band - the perfect resistance for glute activation and lower body home workouts!

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