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Tish Cangelosi

The muscles in your rear end are collectively known as the gluteal complex, and it’s one of the powerhouses of the human body. In fact, it’s the biggest muscle group you have — and it has an important job. Not only does it help keep your trunk upright, but it also works against gravity to help you perform everyday movements, such as walking up stairs.

“Many people want to grow and build their glutes for aesthetic reasons, including me as a bikini competitor. But it’s also important to remember that our glutes do so much for us every day,” says Tish Cangelosi, an in-club and virtual personal trainer based at Life Time in Pickerington, Ohio. “Working to strengthen them can help improve posture, balance, and athletic performance as well as prevent injury.” 

“One of the keys to strength training is mind-to-body connection,” Cangelosi continues. “When you think about the muscles as you are working them, it can help drive your results.”

Give this this glute warmup and workout — developed by Cangelosi — a try on your next lower-body day.

Glute Activation Warm-Up

Start with a 10-minute incline walk on a treadmill or 10 minutes on the stairmaster. Then, repeat these warm-up moves for two or three rounds until you feel ready for the full workout.

Equipment needed: Resistance band


10 reps on each side

  • Lie on one side with your hips and shoulders stacked and a resistance band wrapped around the middle of your thighs. Bend your legs so that your feet are in line with the rest of your body. Rest your head on your lower arm and, if needed, place your other hand on your hip for stability.
  • Keeping your hips in line, slowly lift and lower your top leg, feeling resistance from the band. Keep your feet together throughout the movement.
  • Repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.

(Explore these other variations of the clamshell to make it more or less challenging.)

Banded Glute Bridges with Abductions

15 reps

  • Place the resistance band around your thighs, a few inches above your knees.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet about hip-width apart; reach your arms alongside your body, toward your heels, and press your lower back into the floor to engage your core.
  • Slowly lift your lower half off the ground, engaging your glutes and core as you go. Be careful not to overarch your back.
  • Pause at the top and move your knees apart, feeling resistance from the band.
  • Lower down and repeat for a total of 15 reps.

The Workout

For each of the five exercises, complete four sets before moving on to the next move.

Equipment needed:

  • Barbell with weighted plates
  • Leg press machine
  • Cable machine
  • Hip abductor machine
  • Weighted ball or dumbbell

Barbell Hip Thrust

Four sets of 10 reps

  • Load a barbell with a weight that feels challenging.
  • Holding the barbell, sit on the ground and lean your upper back/shoulders against a bench or box behind you; bend your knees and keep your feet planted on the ground.
  • Hold the barbell with a wide, overhand grip, letting it rest just below your hips (using a padded bar can help make this more comfortable); just before starting to move, adjust the barbell up so it sits above your hips.
  • Drive your hips up to lift the bar, bracing your core for better glute activation. At the top, your knees should be bent at 90 degrees and your shoulders should be on top of the bench/box. Pause to squeeze your glutes — you should feel the exercise mainly in your glutes, instead of your thighs or lower back.
  • Rest for 90 to 120 seconds between each set.
  • Tip: Cangelosi suggests picturing a metal rod through your spine to help keep your core tight and prevent overarching your lower back as you lift.

Leg Press

Four sets of 10 reps

  • Set the leg-press machine to a weight that’s challenging, then find your position on the seat. Place your feet wide, slightly above the middle of the footplate, aim to keep your knees in line with your ankles; if needed, adjust the machine so your legs form a 90-degree angle. Keep this alignment during each press.
  • Brace your core and push the platform away from your body, driving through your heels for more glute engagement.
  • Extend your legs with slow control, pause at the top (without locking your knees), then slowly return to the starting position by bending your knees. Keep your head and back flat against the seat pad throughout the movement.
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Donkey Kickbacks

Four sets of 10 reps on each leg

  • Set yourself up at a cable machine with an ankle strap attached; place the strap around one of your ankles.
  • Take a step back with that foot (keeping your other foot forward and in line with your hips) so you feel some resistance. Bend your knees slightly, and place your hands on the sides of the machine for support.
  • Keep your core tight to prevent overarching your back as you slowly kick your leg back until your hip is extended. Picture your heel driving into the wall behind you.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top and hold for one to two seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

( See “BREAK IT DOWN: The Donkey Kick” for additional form tips and variations.)

Hip Abductor Machine

Four sets of 15 reps

  • Take a seat at the hip abductor machine and adjust the footrests to a comfortable position. Set the machine to a weight that feels challenging.
  • Keep your knees stacked over your toes as you slowly push them out; then carefully return to the starting position.
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Weighted Pop Squats

Four sets of 15 reps

  • Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, and hold a heavy ball or dumbbell with both hands at chest height.
  • Lower down into a wide squat, then jump up and bring your feet together into a narrow-stance position.
  • Immediately jump your feet back out to repeat; as you jump, try to land softly to protect your knees.
  • Rest for for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

“After any workout, always make sure to stretch, drink plenty of water, and eat a healthy meal,” advises Cangelosi.

Emily Ewen

Emily Ewen is a senior writer and content editor at Life Time.

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