12 Best Glute Isolation Exercises (Butt-Blaster Workouts)

There is no denying that big glutes are in. Everyone has goals to build a bigger and rounder butt, and there are good reasons why.

Bigger, perkier glutes not only look good, but they're also a very important muscle group that helps performance in the gym and everyday function.

Whether your goal is strength or aesthetics, your glute workout should incorporate glute isolation exercises in order to get the best results.

Big compound movements are great for building strength in our glutes, but it’s important to also incorporate glute isolation exercises to effectively target all areas of the glutes.

With three gluteal muscles making up your butt, you need to make sure you are choosing exercises that work them all.

Let’s look at the best 12 glute isolation exercises that will target the glutes from all angles.

1. Leg Extended Hip Thrust

The leg extended hip thrust is a single leg glute exercise that will target the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

This workout is also a great substitute for regular hip thrusts since working one leg at a time is imperative for creating more balance between the two sides of the body.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Set a bench at the correct hip extension height for you. Your torso should be parallel to the floor at the top of the movement with your legs at a 90-degree angle.
  2. 2
    Once you have the right height of the bench or box and the correct foot position, sit on the floor and lean back on the bench/box.
  3. 3
    Take one foot off the floor and extend your leg out in front.
  4. 4
    Use the leg on the floor to push the hips up and squeeze your glutes at the top. Control back to the starting position.
  5. 5
    Complete 10-12 reps on one leg, then switch legs and repeat on the other side.
  6. 6
    Do 3-4 sets in total.
Note: You can use a dumbbell on the hip of your working leg if you need more of a challenge.
Leg Extended Hip Thrust

2. Pause Hip Thrust

Get more out of one of the best glute isolation exercises, hip thrusts, by adding a pause at the top of the movement.

This will encourage the muscle to work harder at the fully contracted position of the exercise.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Set your bench at the correct hip extension height for you. Your body should be parallel to the floor at the top of the movement with your legs at a 90-degree angle.
  2. 2
    Sit on the floor under a loaded barbell and position the bar in your hip crease. Bring your feet close to you with your knees bent.
  3. 3
    Keeping your chin tucked and core muscles braced, raise your hips upwards and lean back on the bench/box.
  4. 4
    Once you are at the top of the movement, your ribs should not be flared, and your torso should be out straight, squeeze your glutes and pause for 3-5 seconds.
  5. 5
    Lower back to the starting position keeping your torso straight and once the weight hits the floor, go into your next rep.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 6-8 reps, 3-5 sets.
Note: If the barbell is uncomfortable sitting on your hip bones, then you can use a barbell pad, towel, or yoga mat to relieve any discomfort.
Pause Hip Thrust

3. Glute Step Ups

It's time to rethink the step-up and modify it to isolate the glutes and not the quads. Unilateral exercise is key for the glutes in order to keep both sides strong.

If you have imbalances, then one side will compensate for the other, which makes this unliteral movement the perfect alternative to regular step ups.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Set up a sturdy box near something you can hold onto for support, like the squat rack.
  2. 2
    Place one foot onto the box and hold the weight on the same side as the leg you’re working on and hold onto the rack with your free hand.
  3. 3
    Drive your knee forwards and lean your torso forwards.
  4. 4
    Press your foot into the box and push up to a standing position on the box. Try to avoid pushing off your standing leg.
  5. 5
    Lower slowly to the starting position, ensuring your torso is still in a forward-leaning position.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 8 reps on one leg, then switch sides—complete 3 sets.
Note: If you keep your torso too upright and you don't drive the knee forwards, then other muscles, such as quads, will do the work. 
Using the rack for support will increase stabilization and allow you to focus more on glute activation.
Women Duo Doing Glute Step Ups with Dumbbells

4. Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks are a very simple exercise to perform that doesn't require any equipment.

They can be done anywhere, and they are a great glute isolation exercise to do at home that will get your glutes fired up.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Position yourself on the floor on all fours. Your shoulders should be under your wrists and your knees under your hips. Your arms should be straight and your knees bent. Tuck your chin and lengthen your neck.
  2. 2
    Your spine should be in a neutral position and your core braced.
  3. 3
    Holding this position, extend your hip and with the knee bent, raise the bent leg upwards and push your heel to the ceiling. Your foot should be flexed at all times, don’t point your toe.
  4. 4
    Make sure you do not hyperextend your lower back in this position, and keep your hips pointing towards the floor.
  5. 5
    Lower your leg back to the starting position and either continue with the same leg or alternate.
  6. 6
    Complete 10-12 reps on each side for 3 sets.
Note: Donkey kicks can also be done using ankle weights to increase the difficulty. Make sure you keep this movement controlled at all times.
Donkey Kicks

5. Seated Hip Abduction

The seated hip abduction exercise is done using a weight machine. If you do not have access to this machine, it can also be done using a resistance band around the top of your knees.

This exercise will target the gluteus medius and minimus and build strength to help stabilization of the hips.

Also Check Out - Best Gym Machines For Glutes

How To Perform (machine):

  1. 1
    Sitting at the machine, the pads should be resting on your outer thighs.
  2. 2
    Push your knees into the pads and spread your legs as wide as is comfortable, do not strain to get out wider.
  3. 3
    Then, control the legs back to the starting position.
  4. 4
    Repeat for 10-12 reps, 3 sets.
Seated Hip Abduction (Machine)

How To Perform (band):

  1. 1
    Sitting on a bench or box, put a resistance band on just above your knees. Place feet hip-width apart.
  2. 2
    Push your knees outwards and keep your back straight.
  3. 3
    Squeeze the glutes when you reach your end range and control the legs back together.
  4. 4
    Repeat for 10-12 reps, 3 sets.
Note: Your body position will determine the main muscle worked in this exercise. 
Lean slightly forward if you want to target the gluteus maximus, and a more upright torso will work the gluteus medius more.
Seated Hip Abduction with a Resistance Band

6. Fire Hydrants

Fire hydrants are one of the best glute isolation exercises that will target the gluteus medius without too much activation of the gluteus maximus.

I recommend getting a gym mat for this exercise as one knee will be making contact with the floor at all times.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Assume a tabletop position on the floor with wrists underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
  2. 2
    Keeping your leg bent and your upper body stable, lift the leg out to the side and as high as you can without tilting your pelvis.
  3. 3
    Return the leg to the start position.
  4. 4
    Do 10-12 reps on one side, then switch sides. 3-4 sets.
Note: This exercise can also be done with a resistance band just above your knees.
Woman Doing Fire Hydrant Exercise

7. Glute Kickbacks

Glute kickbacks can either be performed using the cable machine (with ankle cuff) or ankle weights if you don’t have access to the cable machine.

This exercise will activate all three glute muscles.

If you don't have a cable machine or ankle weights, head over to our guide on the best cable glute kickback alternatives!

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Set up the cable pulley to the lowest setting, attach the velcro strap, and attach it to your ankle.
  2. 2
    Set the pin to the desired weight, and make sure you do not go too heavy on this exercise.
  3. 3
    Facing the cable machine, hold onto it with both hands and step back slightly.
  4. 4
    Lean your upper body forwards and hinge at the hips, keeping them level.
  5. 5
    Raise your right leg upwards, keeping it straight and aiming for parallel with the floor so you are in a straight line at the top of the movement.
  6. 6
    Lower your right leg back to the starting position and repeat for 10-12 reps on each side before switching to the other side.
Note: When doing a glute kickback, make sure your back stays straight and you don't hyperextend your lower back. If you are, make sure you don't kick back as high.
Cable Glute Kickbacks

8. Glute Bridges

The glute bridge often gets confused with hip thrusts, so let's clear up the differences between these exercises.

Hip thrusts are done with your upper body resting on a raised surface, whereas glute bridges are done lying on the floor.

As a result, hip thrusts enable you to get more range of motion than a glute bridge, but this is still a highly effective exercise.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent.
  2. 2
    Place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  3. 3
    Keeping your shoulders on the floor, roll your pelvis forwards and feel your lower back press into the floor.
  4. 4
    Raise your hips upwards, keep your core braced, and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
  5. 5
    Lower back to the starting position.
  6. 6
    Move your pelvis forwards and brace your core before going into the next rep.
  7. 7
    Repeat for 12-15 reps, 3-4 sets.
Note: You don't have to aim to get your hips high as possible; focus on the pelvis position and contracting at the top. You can add a dumbbell to your hip if you want to add some resistance.
Man Doing Glute Bridges

9. Side Lying Hip Abductions

The side-lying hip abduction exercise is a very effective bodyweight exercise that will target the more minor, deeper gluteal muscles.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Lie down on the floor on one side with your legs straight, propping yourself up using your elbow.
  2. 2
    Keeping your leg straight, raise your top leg upwards as high as you can, and squeeze your glutes.
  3. 3
    Lower your leg back to the starting position.
  4. 4
    Repeat on this leg for 10-12 reps, then switch to the other side and raise the other leg. Repeat for 3 sets.
Side Lying Hip Abductions

10. Lateral Walks

Some glute isolation exercises are ideal for warming up before heavy lifting. For example, lateral walks are done using only a resistance band.

It is a dynamic glute activation exercise that primarily targets the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Put a resistance band around just above your knees. Make sure that this band has a good level of resistance but is not so tight you struggle to move your feet wide enough and open your knees.
  2. 2
    Start with a shoulder-width stance to bring a little tension into the band.
  3. 3
    Without leaning to the side, step one foot out laterally and then bring the other one in, back to the starting position. Make sure you are driving the knees outwards as you walk.
  4. 4
    Repeat this for 10 steps in one direction and then switch.
  5. 5
    Do 2-3 sets.
Note: This is one of the best exercises to activate the lower body before doing heavier lifting, such as squatting or Romanian Deadlift. 
You only need to do a couple of sets for optimal glute activation. This one burns!
Lateral Walks (Resistance Band)

11. Cable Hip Abduction

This exercise is very similar to the side-lying hip abduction exercise. However, using cables allows a higher degree of resistance on the gluteal muscles.

See Related - Best Cable Exercises For Glutes

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Set up the cable pulley to the lowest setting, and attach the velcro strap and attach to your ankle.
  2. 2
    Set the pin to the desired weight, and make sure you do not go too heavy on this exercise.
  3. 3
    Stand perpendicular to the cable with the weight attached to your outside ankle.
  4. 4
    Hold onto the machine for support, and with both legs straight, pull your strapped ankle out to the side and far as you can go with maintaining pelvis positioning.
  5. 5
    Return back to the starting position with control.
  6. 6
    Repeat on one side for 10-12 reps, then switch—complete 3 sets.
Woman Doing Cable Hip Abductions

12. Clamshells

This exercise works wonders on hip strength and mobility, and this glute isolation exercise will keep the hips moving and build strength at the same time.

This is a great exercise to do at home regularly.

How To Perform:

  1. 1
    Lying on an exercise mat on one side, bend your knees and place your feet together. Your shoulders, hips, and heels should form a straight line.
  2. 2
    Lift your top leg, keeping your ankles together, and maintain a stable pelvis, don’t let it rotate. Hold at the top for 2 seconds.
  3. 3
    Do 10 controlled reps on one side, then switch.
  4. 4
    Repeat for 3 sets.
Note: You can use a resistance band to get the glutes working harder. Raise your hip off the floor as the top leg moves up to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
Woman Doing Clamshell Exercises with Resistance Band

An Overview Of Your Glute Muscles

Anatomy Of The Glutes

When people say glutes, they usually mean the gluteus maximus muscle, but the gluteal muscles or ‘glutes’ are actually made up of three different muscles - the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

  • Gluteus Maximus
    This is the largest muscle in the human body, and it's also the most powerful muscle. It is located on the back and side of your hip. This muscle extends the hip and assists with abduction (movement away from the midline of the body) and external rotation (toes out) of the leg.
  • Gluteus Medius
    The gluteus medius is located above and beneath the gluteus maximus, near the iliac crest of the pelvis. The gluteus medius works with gluteus maximus with abduction and hip external rotation. The gluteus medius helps stabilize the pelvis.
  • Gluteus Minimus
    Gluteus minimus, as the name suggests, is the smallest of the gluteal muscles and is a triangular shape located within the posterior aspect of the hip. It is also known as the upper glute muscle. This muscle serves as the primary internal rotator (toes in) of the hip joint. The gluteus minimus helps with abduction and medial (inward) rotation of the thigh at the hip, along with stabilization of the pelvis.

What Is Glute Isolation?

Compound movements such as squats are what usually comes to mind when you think of an effective glute exercise.

Compound movements are multi-joint exercise that targets more than one muscle group at a time.

They are best for building the most strength and power in one single exercise, giving you the most bang for your buck.[1]

Glute isolation exercises, on the other hand, are single-joint exercises that target fewer muscles. Glute isolation exercises only target the glutes and involve movement of the hip joint.

It may seem like a good idea to do a ton of glute isolation exercises if building a bigger butt is your goal, but this is inefficient.

You will spend a lot more time in the gym if you were to use only isolation exercises.

However, if you combine isolation exercises and compound exercises, you are getting the best of both worlds.

You can build strength using compound movements, and specifically isolating and activating the glutes will stimulate them even more and create more growth.

In addition, by using glute isolation exercises, you are also going to create a more stable pelvis.

Anatomy of the Glutes

Benefits Of Glute Isolation Exercises

The glute muscles are susceptible to getting weak and tight because of long periods of sitting down, which many of us do plenty of!

Sitting will put your glutes into a relaxed, stretched position and this can cause them to get lazy.

Injury Prevention

Glutes play a huge role in stabilizing your legs. If you do not have strength and control of your glutes, your legs will do what they please.

This can put you at increased risk of an ACL injury due to knees collapsing inwards.

In addition, your quad muscles will not stabilize your pelvis, so if you are quad dominant, you will have less stability through your legs and pelvis.

When your glutes are strong, they will steady your pelvis, making it stable and allowing your quads to go where they are supposed to rather than collapse inwards.

The bottom line is strong glutes will help protect your knees.

Strong glute muscles will also reduce your risk of back pain.

If you pick up something heavy and your legs and glutes are too weak, then your lower back is going to take all of the work, opening you up to injury.

Not only can strong glutes protect your knees and back, but they can also protect you from pelvic pain and pelvic floor symptoms by ensuring these muscles are not overactive and compensating.[2]

Better Athletic Performance

By developing stronger glutes, you will increase performance when doing lifts such as squats and deadlifts.

Not only will you see improvements in these big lifts, but you will also improve in jumping, running, and lunges. Everything will be easier when you have strong glutes.

Improved Aesthetics

Doing glute exercises regularly is beneficial for injury prevention and performance, but building these muscles will give you a larger, fuller look which is very appealing and the primary goal of many women and men (yes, men too) in the gym.

Working this muscle using heavy compound exercises with dumbbells and barbells and isolation movements will help build a perkier bum which will bring more confidence when you wear gym tights or jeans.

Woman Doing Walking Lunges Outside

Exercises To Avoid For Isolating Your Glutes

There are many lower body movements that assist with glute development; however, a lot of these exercises also incorporate muscles such as the hamstrings and quads.

Therefore they are not counted as an exercise that is really going to isolate the glutes.

Squats

Squats are one of the best full-body exercises there are. Squats are one of the best exercises to build muscle and develop a strong core and strong upper back.

They also help develop good hip and ankle mobility. However, with muscle groups working together, the glutes are not doing most of the work.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Although this exercise can be varied in order to target the glute more, it still incorporates other lower body muscles such as quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Also Check Out - Effective Split Squat Alternatives

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian Deadlifts are a great strength exercise incorporating other lower body muscles such as the hamstrings.

While your glutes and hips are working in this exercise to extend hips forward, a lot of work is also going into the hamstrings, lower back, and core.

Related Article - Best Romanian Deadlift Substitutes


Common Glute Isolation Questions

Are compound or isolation exercises better for glutes?

When comparing compound vs isolation glute exercises, you need to decide your goals. If you want to build muscle for more size and strength, you should always incorporate compound exercises. However, to build well-rounded glutes, it is important to also incorporate glute isolation exercises to target the smaller muscles.

How often should you work out your glutes?

If growing your glutes is your goal, aim to train them 3 times per week using a good range of compound and isolation exercises. Your glutes are the largest muscle in your body and therefore require a decent amount of work to see growth. However, too much heavy lifting or activation work can stagnate progress.

What compensates for weak glutes?

If your glutes are weak, then other areas of the body will take more load or be more susceptible to injury. Areas such as your back, your knees, and your pelvic floor muscles can all compensate for weak glutes. There is no denying the importance of strong glutes for the overall health of your other muscles and joints.

Why are my glutes not firing?

Likely your glutes are weak from being too inactive, and maybe you spend the majority of your day sitting. If you're not feeling your glutes when doing specific glute exercises, then try using activation band work before you start your workout. Really focus on the contraction and squeezing of the glutes to get them to work. 


Conclusion

If you have glutes that are weak, then it's going to cause a lot of issues that you really don't want to have to deal with.

Work your glutes using our list of best glute exercises, focus on compound movements for strength and keep your hips mobile and strong.

You'll stay injury free and build a butt you'll be proud of. 

References: 

1.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339302672_Gluteus_Maximus_Activation_during_Common_Strength_and_Hypertrophy_Exercises_A_Systematic_Review
2. https://paragonathletics.com/blog-1/2016/12/5/the-importance-of-glutes-for-injury-prevention

Jo Taylor

Last Updated on December 18, 2022