Training your glutes is obviously useful if you want a nicely shaped behind, but working your glutes can also help boost your strength on compound lifts and help prevent back injuries! Getting your glutes firing correctly is key for doing squats, deadlifts, and other compound lifts. Underactive glutes are a common issue which at best cause bad form, but in the worst case can eventually lead to injury!

So what can you do about underactive glutes?

Pre-Workout Tip: Before you hit your leg workout, do a couple of light sets of the glute activation exercises listed below. This will both accustom your body to using the glute muscles and can also reduce your risk of injury. These exercises will stop your lower back from doing the work in place of your glutes. This improves your efficiency and saves your lower back from a potentially serious injury!

Glute Activation Exercises

1. Glute-Ham Raise

Similar to Hyperextensions, this exercise activates both your glutes and your hamstrings.

  1. Adjust the machine until the pad is beneath your hips.
  2. Lower your upper body to hang down.
  3. Use your glutes and hamstrings to raise yourself upright, making sure your lower back is NOT contracting.
  4. Return to original position and repeat.

Tip: place your hands on your glutes and hamstrings to make sure you feel the muscles contracting with every rep. If you start feeling it in your lower back then it’s likely your glute/hamstring muscles have reached failure!

Super easy, but an excellent exercise to get those glutes warmed up and ready for some squats!

Glute Activation - Glute Ham Raise Exercise

2. Glute Kickback

You’ll need a Yoga mat for this one, but it’s great for anyone who prefers simple floor exercises and does not have any fancy equipment.

  1. Get on all-fours with your back flat, not arched up or down (parallel with the floor).
  2. Without straightening your legs, lift your foot toward the ceiling as high as you can.
  3. Return to original position and repeat.

Tip: make sure your leg is not rotating when you are performing the movement. If you were looking down on yourself and draw a line down the centre of your body along your spine, your knee and foot should stay parallel to this throughout the exercise.

This is a great exercise to help you work your glutes without straining your lower back.

Glute Activation - Glute Kickback Exercise

3. Single Leg Cable Kickback

If you’ve got a cable machine and an ankle strap (not a handle as shown in the pictures – we need a better gym!), then this is a good exercise to try.

  1. Attach the ankle strap around your ankle and then to the cable machine.
  2. Stand facing the cable machine, supporting yourself with your hands.
  3. Without bending your leg, contract your glute to raise your leg backwards.
  4. Raise the leg as high as you can go (without rotating your foot too much).
  5. Return to original position and repeat.

Hard, but effective (only if your gym has the right equipment, though).

Glute Activation - Single Leg Cable Kickback

4. Barbell Glute Bridge

This exercise can be made more challenging by adding weight to the bar.

  1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Rest a barbell across your body, just below your hip bones.
  3. Thrust your hips toward the sky, lifting the barbell as you push your feet and shoulders into the floor, squeezing your glutes at the same time.
  4. Return to original position and repeat.

You can go a bit heavier on this one and even use it as part of your main workout as you can get a crazy contraction leading to great results!

Glute Activation - Barbell Glute Bridge

5. Sumo Deadlift

The wide stance deadlift places the focus on the glutes and hamstrings, reducing the stress on your lower back muscles.

  1. Spread your feet beyond shoulder width, toes pointing outward.
  2. Grasp a barbell, bending at your hips and gripping the barbell between your legs.
  3. Lower your butt, lift your head and chest, and spread your feet.
  4. Drive your heels down as you push up through the knees and hips until you are standing erect.
  5. Slowly return to original position and repeat.

Tip: Your entire back should stay neutral (flat) throughout this lift, with no arching either way. Perform this exercises side-on to a mirror to check your form and that your back is flat.

A tough exercise, but one that we love for hitting the hamstrings and glutes, whether its for glute activation before squatting or as part of the main workout itself.

Glute Activation - Sumo Deadlift Exercise Technique

What To Do Now

Start incorporating some glute activation into your leg workouts. Combine glute activation with correct technique to help make lower back injuries a thing of the past and see your strength soar on all your big compound lifts.

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