5 Effective Glute Activation Exercises

The Big Five Glute Activation Exercises

As part of any workout, you already have clients perform type of dynamic warm-up or movement preparation that includes movements that mirror those in a strength session. One approach I take, depending on the client and their individual needs, pain points, and goals, is to incorporate a 10-minute total body mobility and dynamic warm-up routine. Always included are five of my favorite glute activation exercises. Though I recommend the use of a resistance loop, these can be done without any type of resistance if your cueing techniques and client’s form is on point. Let’s walk through each one.

  1. Donkey Kick. This retro move can activate the glutes and isometrically strengthen the hamstrings. It’s a two for one! This movement also teaches clients to maintain a neutral spine (not arching the back) and keeping their core engaged while focusing on the kickback motion. Be sure the foot drives straight up (foot flexed), the client looks 3–5 inches in front of them, and cue them to hold the contraction for a couple of seconds before returning to the start position. Perform for 30 seconds one each side (repeat twice).*Note: Be sure to watch the glutes for firing; those with hamstring dominance may perform this movement without recruiting the glutes much at all!
  2. Fire Hydrant. A perfect exercise to wake-up that gluteus medius, which helps with balance and injury prevention to the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Building strength in this area will also help with an individual’s ability to change directions quickly while running or during their specific sports practice and competition. Similar rules apply here, keeping a neutral spine, core engaged, and control the movement at the hip (not leaning to the side to lift the leg higher). In this case, it’s not about how high the leg can go in abduction, it’s about the contraction and hip movement.
  3. Banded Side Steps. I recommend using a light to medium weighted band here. Have clients assume an athletic (semi-low center of gravity position) stance, band placed around the thighs (above the knee) and maintain a hip-width foot placement (to keep tension on the band). Take 4 steps to the right and 4 to the left. Cue the client to move from the hip, not the core (no lateral flexion to the opposite side as they take a step to the left or right). Core should be engaged; head should be in a neutral position and eyes looking forward (clients tend to look down during this movement). Perform for one minute (about 30 seconds in each direction, repeat twice).
  4. Squat: A classic move that involves the entire posterior chain. I do like to encourage the use of a band here (place it above the knees, but not mid-thigh as it helps clients keep avoid valgas or varus movements, depending on the clients’ tendency. Perform for 30 seconds (repeat twice).



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Erin Dollison Nitschke

Erin Dollison Nitschke


Passionate college educator, writer, and health and fitness professional. I am an NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Health Coach, & Pn1.