Glute Exercises: Squat & Thrust

Glute Exercises: Squat & Thrust

There is a plethora of glute-focused exercises you can choose from to add to your tool belt. Here we are going to talk about a few and the benefits of each. From a hypertrophy standpoint, all these must be done with a controlled eccentric (down phase) and with intensity (approaching failure) in order to maximize muscle growth.

The Bulgarian split squat, or rear foot elevated split squat, is particularly good at working the glutes. Studies show that it works the glutes just as much as the barbell hip thrust (McCurdy et al. 2021). However, the Bulgarian split squat differs from the hip thrust in that it works the glutes in the lengthened position or, in other words, the glutes are loaded in the bottom position of the lift. Another benefit is that the Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral movement that comes with increased core demands due to its general instability. Furtherly, the Bulgarian split squat works the vastus lateralis significantly as well which is a muscle of the quadriceps. Specifically the anterior (outside) portion of the quads (McCurdy et al. 2021). I particularly utilize the Bulgarian split squat in my training because of its versatility and difficulty.

The Barbell Hip thrust, in recent years, has gained increasing popularity in the “booty building” world, and for good reason. It has a significant amount of glute activation specifically at the shortened position (top position for the hip thrust) due to the degree of hip extension (McCurdy et al. 2021). This means that you must be doing these, as with any exercise, through the full range of motion to maximize GAINZ. Also, because the glutes are working in the shortened position they could be done in conjunction with the Bulgarian split squat as it loads the glutes in the lengthened position. These two exercises incorporated on the same day would be particularly taxing but would pretty much cover all the bases on your glute exercises for the day. Another huge benefit of the hip thrust is that it can be loaded with a significant amount of weight and therefore promote working in those lower rep ranges (5-8) which are close to failure and therefore maximize your time spent during the exercise.

The Barbell Back squat is probably one of the most famous and well-known lifting exercises. The squat does share significant glute activation with the previous two exercises. Some studies (Williams et al., 2021), show the same amount of glute activation as the Bulgarian split squat. However, it can easily be done in a way that mitigates the activation of the glutes. It is a hip hinge exercise and the function of the glutes is hip extension, so in order to be utilized to its full effectiveness the back squat must be done with proper hip hinge mechanics. That being said, the barbell back squat is an incredibly important exercise to develop foundational full-body strength and muscle development. It is a compound exercise and has significant lower body and core demands that raise it above most exercises in its versatility. I recommend ALL new lifters to start and learn the back squat in order to develop key strength which translates to much more beyond lifting. The back squat is particularly good at developing the entire leg as it requires hip and knee flexion and extension. Some limitations though lie in individual mobility which can make it difficult to work through a full (safe) range of motion. But that is no excuse, and mobility is something that can be worked on like any muscle group.

Romanian Deadlift. These can be done with a barbell or a dumbbell and are a great glute exercise that also helps work the erectors (mid/lower back muscle) which run parallel to the spine on either side. You’ll see significant core stability demands as well (as with any heavy “compound” movement). RDLs, when done with a glute biased, must be done with the knees slightly bent. With the knees straight it turns into a straight leg deadlift SLDL which biases the hamstrings more than the glutes. These can also be significantly loaded. I think they’re an incredible glute exercise when trained at/close to failure.


McCurdy, K., Walker, J., Kelly, C., & Polinski, M. (2021). Hip and knee extensor activation during the hip thrust and rear-foot–elevated split squat in trained females. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 35(5), 1201–1207.

Williams, M. J., Gibson, N. V., Sorbie, G. G., Ugbolue, U. C., Brouner, J., & Easton, C. (2021). Activation of the gluteus maximus during performance of the ... : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. LWW. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

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