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3 best exercises for building your glutes in the gym

Woman doing Smith Machine workout glutes
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

January is often the time of year where we set new fitness goals — whether that be to lose weight, run a marathon, or just sculpt the perfect abs. (If you’re looking for some of the best ab workouts to make that dream a reality, we’ve found them). But what about getting the glutes of your dreams this year?

When it comes to building your glutes, it’s a bit more complicated than just doing squats, or walking on the Stairmaster, (and no, you shouldn’t be doing a squat challenge this January either). Your glutes are the largest muscle group in the body and can be divided into three primary muscles — the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. There are also six supporting muscles that lie underneath the glutes. 

Far from just being an aesthetic goal, building strong glutes is important whatever sport you’re into. The glutes work to stabilize the body when you stand, walk, and run, as well as helping the body rotate and twist.

When people talk about “booty building workouts” they generally mean workouts that target all the different muscles in the glutes, mixing weight lifting, and high repetition moves to target the glute’s fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers. The fast-twitch muscle fibers prep the glutes for explosive movements, like sprinting, whereas the slow-twitch muscle fibers are used for long-distance running and endurance exercises. 

But instead of climbing on the Stairmaster, what should you do in the gym to help build your glutes? Here, we turn to personal trainer and Sweat app coach, Kelsey Wells, who shared three of her favorite exercises in an Instagram post. Kelsey has worked on a strong glutes program on the Sweat app — tempted to sign up? Read our Sweat app review first. 

Three glute exercises to do in the gym: 

In her post, Kelsey Wells said she doesn’t consider barbell work a “machine,” but it’s still a great way to build your glute muscles with exercises like barbell squats, Romanian deadlifts, and glute bridges. We’ve rounded up the best glute exercises here if you’re looking for some home-workout or mat-based inspiration. 

1. Leg press 

Why: A leg press might look terrifying, but it’s a great way to target your glutes, hamstrings, hips, and calves. A leg press is also beneficial for anyone who suffers from lower back issues and struggles to lift a barbell onto their back. 

To get yourself in the right position, make sure you’re sitting comfortably, with your lower back pressed into the machine. Place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart, ensuring your feet are flat. Your legs should be at a 90-degree angle, with a bend in your knees at your starting position. 

How: Holding the support handles, brace your abdominal muscles and push your legs away from your body, extending them outwards — keep this slow and controlled, rather than pushing the footplate out explosively. Once you’re at the top, pause, but do not lock out your knees. Slowly return to your starting position, keeping the movement slow and controlled by gradually bending the knees. Make sure your head and back remain pressed against the backrest for the entire exercise. 

Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions. Start with a weight that feels heavy by the final rep, but not too heavy that you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on your knees. If at any time you feel like you cannot control the movement, the chances are the weight is too heavy and you need to take some off. 

2. Smith machine squats 

Why: A Smith machine is sort of like a squat rack, but the barbell is fixed to the sides of the machine, meaning the bar stays put as you squat or lunge. It also means you can focus on your form, as the barbell has a limited range of motion and can only go up and down. It’s a great machine to pick if you’re new to weight training and want to build some confidence. Squats target all of the glute muscles, as well as the quads, hamstrings, adductor muscles, hip flexors, and calves.

How: To do squats on a Smith machine, put your desired weight on the barbell and raise the barbell onto your shoulders. Position your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar in an overhand grip. Standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, unlock the bar by lifting it up and forward. Brace your abs and keep your weight in your heels as you squat down slowly until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Pause, then raise up and back to your starting position, again, keeping your movement slow and controlled. 

Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions. Beginners should do this exercise without any weight on the bar at first to ensure they’re getting the form right before they proceed.

3. Prone hamstring curl  

Why: This is a great exercise for working your hamstrings, but the second part of the movement also targets the calf muscles, glutes, and thighs. The prone hamstring curl machine is generally considered to be more effective than seated hamstring curls. 

How: To do this exercise, lie face down on the leg curl machine, stretch your legs out fully, and put the roller pad a few inches above your ankles. As your bend your knees and pull your feet up towards your glutes, kip your hips pressed into the bench. Pause at the top, engaging your glutes, before slowly lowering your legs back to the starting position. 

Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions. For this exercise, be sure to start with a lighter weight, especially if you are new to using the machine. If the weight is too heavy, you’re likely to arch your back during the move, which can cause injury and make the entire exercise less effective. Select a weight that feels challenging by the final rep, but still allows you to do the entire set with good form. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve found the best exercises to do if you sit down all day, the best exercises to target your hip dips, and the best exercises to tone your inner thighs

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.