The Number One Exercise To Build A Better Booty

A nice booty is quite possibly one of the most sought after effects of weight training or really any fitness plan. But what most people don’t understand is that a nice bum doesn’t come from endless cardio or simply stripping away body fat. No, a nice back side must be built.

A butt that is just simply void of fat but lacking muscle is what we call a pancake butt. And unless this is the look you’re going for, building a nice, shapely butt will take a little more work, time, and the right moves with a little bit (or a lot) of weight.

First of all, your glutes (the muscles that make up your bum), are extremely powerful movers of your lower body when trained to fire properly. Without developing these and training them well, not only are you denying yourself a curvalicious (yep I said it) back side, but you’re also denying yourself a properly functioning, highly powerful lower body. Without glutes, the rest of the chain tends to fall apart, whether it be through muscle strains, back pain, knee pain, or poor posture and faulty movement patterns.

So by strengthening your glutes you can not only build an aesthetically pleasing bum, but you can also prevent and/or correct injuries as well. Win-win!

There are many exercises and lifts that you can (and should!) include in your workouts in order to build a better butt, such as squats, split squats, lunges, dead lifts, glute ham raises, etc. etc. But there is one that stands out in my mind as the best for building that booty: the barbell hip thrust.

This is an exercise that can be done by people at any level of fitness, and can be done with body weight only, or a barbell loaded up with plates.

To start, you’ll want to be in a seated position on the floor, with a bench directly behind you. For true beginners, this is the only equipment you’ll need, as you’re going to start without any added weight. Bending your knees and driving down through your feet, push your hips up, giving your glutes a good squeeze at the top, literally “hip thrusting” the air. Yes, people may look at you funny.

If you are ready to add weight, you can start with an empty barbell. I usually pad the barbell with a folded up yoga mat, but you can also use the squat collar or a foam balance pad that your gym may have. Place the pad over your hip bones, and the barbell directly over the pad. Hold the bar in place so that it does not roll around as you move through your range of motion. The pad may not feel very important at this point, but trust me, once you start moving up in weight, that barbell will leave some nasty bruises on your hip bones without it!

How to load the bar:

Once you are able to do hip thrusters with your bodyweight, and then with an empty barbell with good form, you’re ready to load it up a little bit. If your gym has the bigger bumper plates at smaller weights (less than the traditional 45s), you can use these, and simply roll the bar over your thighs into place. If your gym only has smaller weights, or you need to start with a smaller bar, try propping the sides of the bar up on something such as the pins in the squat rack or aerobics steps. Ben Bruno shows a great example of this (and some awesome videos of single leg hip thrusts) here.

Things to remember:

  • This exercise is all about the glutes. If you’re feeling it mostly in your hamstrings or in your lower back, your glutes are not firing correctly, and are allowing other muscles to take over the lift. If this is the case, you’ll need to go back down in weight (maybe even to body weight) to practice engaging those glutes and really squeezing them at the top of the lift. Pretend you’re holding a penny in there. Seriously.
  • Once you have good form down, don’t be afraid to push the weights with this exercise. Like I said before, your glutes are extremely powerful movers, and their potential is pretty impressive. Once you learn how to engage them properly, the glutes can handle some pretty heavy loads, and progression with this lift is generally much quicker than with some of the more compound lifts, such as squats or deadlifts.
  • Try some variations. You can do single leg hip thrusts or glute bridges (with your back on the floor instead of on the bench) to switch it up a little bit. If you are having trouble contracting your glutes at all, start out with body weight glute bridges in order to really feel how to activate your glutes to extend your hips.

This is one of my absolute favorite lifts, and the benefits of this can directly influence your other bigger lower-body lifts, such as the squat and dead lift. And besides your strength, who doesn’t want a nice, shapely bum to fill out their jeans?

Readers: Do you utilize hip thrusters? Do you have another exercise you use to really target the glutes?

34 thoughts on “The Number One Exercise To Build A Better Booty

  1. Thank you for mentioning what to do if you don’t feel it in your glutes – I’ve had this problem for the past year! I was given all these physio exercises to do to fix my knee problems, but absolutely nothing I’ve done in the past year has any effect because I wasn’t feeling the exercises in my glutes! I’ve been feeling them in my calves and hamstrings all along. Thank goodness my current physiotherapist helped me figure this out. It really made me realize that just doing the exercise isn’t enough (whether you’re doing physio or just working out) – you really need to make sure you FEEL it.

    I used to do this exercise all the time, but I gave up on it because I thought it wasn’t working. I’m going to give it another try now, starting with no weight and really making sure I feel it!

    1. You would be surprised at how many people really don’t fire their glutes at all – their hamstrings take over for everything. I’m glad that you were able to go to a good physio who was able to figure this out and help you to correct it! Let me know how it goes once you try them again.

  2. I have a feeling I like this exercise better than squats. Every time I squat, I feel I am doing it wrong and potentially hurting my back, so I am not sure. For me, bridges are easier.
    Thanks for the informative article!

    1. No prob, thanks for the comment! I actually like them better than squats on some days myself, especially since I hurt both my ankles this past year. It’s a great way to train heavy if squats aren’t your thing!

  3. I love doing bridges on a stability ball with a curl, you get a good HS and glut burn. My other favorite is a simple hip extension with a bent knee (to “inactivate” the HS and concentrate oh the glut) you get a good glut burn going and can easily add weights!

    I will have to try this one!

    1. Great ideas! I use the flexed-knee hip extension with my athletes a lot, because you are right, it helps to engage the HS in one thing (knee flexion) so that they don’t take over for the glutes with hip extension!

  4. I’d love to do this. Unfortunately the gym I go to is set up in a way that I can’t easily set up a place to barbell hip thrusts.

    1. Ah, I used to have this problem as well. You can really do it anywhere that there is open floor area and benches, or you can always set up inside the squat rack. Do you use a weight room or free weight area?

      1. I use the weight room. The only open floor area is the stretching area, so no benches allowed. How do I set up inside a squat rack? The one at my gym looks like this:

      2. Hmmm yeah that is tough. I was thinking more along the lines of a power rack. I wonder if you spoke to one of the staff members they could suggest a space for you to do these? If you’re interested, that is πŸ™‚

  5. Legit. I am glad to see that you know what you are talking about. You absolutely hit the nail on the head. I perform this exercise with all of my clients varying from all ability levels. Great stuff. Keep me coming.

    1. Thanks πŸ™‚ I love that this is a lift that can be used with truly anyone from beginners to the elite advanced. Cheers!

  6. I just started last week with the bridge – firing up my glutes with the book from Bret Contreras


    1. Bret — the glute man himself!! Let me know how you like it, I’ve been thinking about getting it!

      1. I love it, I’m finally grasping some of the tips on engaging my glutes in hip thrusts. I think he’s pretty great, I just need to commit more to it. I’ve noticed baby steps in the tips I’ve gotten from it.

  7. Your posts are always well put together and non condescending. Which is a rarity for fitness inspired posts. Thank you and keep writing.

      1. youre welcome. I appreciate good writing and honesty. so, thank you

  8. I love this exercise one of my fav’s. What are your thoughts on how running works the glutes? I’m a big runner and curious as to how much of a workout my glutes are getting from it.

    1. It totally depends on what type of running you’re doing. Hill sprints: Great work for the glutes. Distance running though, really doesn’t do much in terms of strengthening. In fact, I strongly believe that most runners would benefit greatly from lower body strengthening programs, specifically targeting the glutes in order to create a healthier environment for the knees.

  9. Or ride a recumbent bike, or have great genes. Good post, I noticed the lifter from “40s” not new.
    keep on

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t think the recumbent bike really does much to strengthen the glutes, although I wish it did! Thanks for your comment! πŸ™‚

      1. Of course I don’t know all, but did notice once recumbent riders different booty shape. Kind of intense–

  10. LOVE hip thrusters! They are my favourite booty building exercise, always feel it for a few days after doing them!

    1. I really do love them too — despite the funny looks I get when I do them πŸ™‚

  11. That looks crazy- Never done that before, although I love deadlifts, romanian deadlifts and squats! Sometimes even a hard foam roll can give my glutes a good workout πŸ˜‰

    1. Haha, Arman, I WISH I could get a workout just from foam rolling! I’m with you on the deadlifts, RDLs and squats too, all excellent lifts.

  12. Couldn’t agree more! This exercise gets some strange looks but nothing works better!

    1. It’s funny — I get one of two things when I do these: 1)Weird looks, like “what the heck is she doing?” or 2)People actually coming up to ask what they are because they look so intense. Love it!

  13. I’ve been looking for some good butt building workouts – just like pretty much everyone else these days! Excited to try a few of your tips! Thanks πŸ™‚

  14. Thank you for sharing this info with us, we hope to see more info from you.

  15. Thank you for sharing this info with us, we look forward to see more info from you.

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