Building glutes without squats [5 methods]

There’s nothing wrong with squats, they have always been the go to exercise for many women looking to build their dream butt. But if you want to actually build glutes, you need to incorporate these five strategies into your workout routine to achieve maximum results.

Woman performing a barbell hip thrust


Look, squats are great, but they won’t get you the strong AF glute muscles of your dreams all by themselves. Sorry to tell you, but building glutes takes more strategy than that.

Because having well-built glute muscles is an incredibly common fitness goal these days — not to mention the fact that having strong glutes has a host of benefits — it makes sense that trainers and researchers have been working on pinpointing the most efficient ways to get bigger, stronger glutes.

And while squats can and should be part of your lower-body workout routine, they actually aren’t the best move for glute-building goals. Here are five smart strategies and strength-building workouts to get a bigger butt that go beyond the staple movement


1. Incorporate exercises that really activate your glutes.

In order to understand how to build glutes, you’ll need a quick anatomy lesson: “The glutes consist of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus,” explains Jaime McFaden, a NASM-certified trainer with Aaptiv. “The gluteus maximus is the biggest of the three and considered the prime mover.” Its main job is hip extension (pushing your hips forward) or the opposite of a hip hinge. Many common glute exercises — the hip thrust, for example — use this motion to target the glute max. But others, such as banded lateral walks and clamshells, will fire up your glute medius and minimus.

So, if squats aren’t a glute goldmine, then which exercises should you include in your workouts to get a bigger butt? “My top three exercises for growing the glutes are the barbell hip thrustB-stance hip thrust, and dumbbell frog pump because they are easy to learn, easy to progressively overload over time, and they elicit the highest levels of glute activity,” says Bret Contreras, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., aka “The Glute Guy,” who is considered the foremost expert on all things glutes.

2. Focus on progressive overload.

Hate to break it to you, but you won’t see much of a difference in your peach if you’re using the same kettlebell every time you power through your glute-building workouts. “The most common missing element in the programs of women who are striving to grow their glutes is steady, progressive overload,” explains Contreras.

Progressive overload is a strength-training concept that suggests that in order to get stronger (and see results), you need to expose your muscles to a continually increasing amount of resistance. In other words, you should keep upping the weight and/or reps in your workouts over time to consistently challenge your muscles.

This basically means that, in general, those with the most developed glutes are also the strongest, says Contreras. “Unless you were born with amazing glute genetics, the only way to get your glutes considerably shapelier and rounder is to get very strong at the best glute exercises.”

“At my Glute Lab in San Diego, we train hundreds of women, and the ones with the best glutes are typically the strongest at exercises like barbell hip thrusts, dumbbell back extensions, leg press, walking dumbbell lunges, goblet squats, and kettlebell deadlifts.”

3. Master the posterior pelvic tilt.

When performing workouts to build glutes, you should be able to feel them working. If you can’t, you’ll want to get familiar with the concept of the posterior pelvic tilt and apply it to your glute exercises. “Posterior pelvic tilt is the end range glute contraction, kind of like locking out your glutes,” explains physical therapist Lauren Lobert, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., owner of APEX Physical Therapy. (Think: the opposite of sticking your butt out.) “This huge squeeze will put you in maximal hip extension and will ensure your glutes are working.”

You want to finish any gluteus maximus exercise (barbell hip thrusts, step-ups, and glute bridges) with a posterior pelvic tilt. This ensures you have gone through the entire range of motion in your hip and properly contracted your glutes, says Lobert. “This will maximize your glute gains, but also keep your back safe,” she adds.

Here are a few ways to find your posterior pelvic tilt:

  • “Lying on your back, you want to think about flattening your back into the ground,” says Lobert. “You will have to contract your lower abdominals and glutes, tucking your butt under.”
  • “Think about a glass of water being on your pelvic bone as you lie flat on your back with your feet on the ground,” says Lobert. “To achieve a posterior pelvic tilt, you want to try to spill the water onto your belly.”
  • Lastly, at the top of a glute bridge or hip thrust, you can think about keeping your ribs down, which will force you to tilt your pelvis, says Lobert. In the correct position, your hips and ribs will be angled toward each other.

4. Follow the rule of thirds.

“I recommend training the glutes three times per week with a variety of loads and exercises,” says Contreras. “Approximately one-third of the glute exercises you perform should be horizontal in nature, one-third should be vertical in nature, and one-third should be lateral/rotary in nature.” So, for example, you’ll want to do exercises such as hip thrusts and cable pull-throughs for horizontal loading, deadlifts and step-ups for vertical loading, and lateral band walks and clamshells for lateral/rotary loading.

The rule also applies to weight, rep ranges, and effort. “Roughly one-third of loads you use should be heavy for lower reps, one-third should be medium for moderate reps, and one-third should be light for higher reps. In terms of effort, around one-third of your sets should be carried out to failure or one rep shy of failure, one-third of your sets should be performed to two to three reps shy of failure, and one-third of your sets should be taken nowhere close to failure.”

This strategy for how to build glutes helps ensure you’re working them from all angles while keeping you from burning yourself out or getting too fatigued. (Related: How Often Should You Do Heavy Weight Lifting Workouts?)

5. Focus on nutrition and recovery.

The glute-building workouts you do in the gym are crucial when it comes to getting stronger glutes, but so is your lifestyle. “To build any new lean mass is a very demanding process,” says Travis Burkybile, C.S.C.S. “If you are under-eating by a large amount, they definitely won’t grow.”

In other words, if you’re going for bigger glutes specifically, you need to give your body the fuel it needs to grow. “You can build muscle and burn fat at the same time, just not as well as prioritizing one over the other,” says Burkybile. Basically, you’ll see results faster if you’re eating more (healthy) food.

The final key when it comes to building glutes: Allow for recovery in between sessions. “Hitting your glutes six days a week and having them always feel tired/sore might trick you into thinking your glutes are growing. But this can be a recipe for knee and back pain, as well as frustration and disappointment,” notes Menachem Brodie, C.S.C.S., founder of Human Vortex Training. Stick to Contreras’ recommendation of three glute-building workouts per week, and enjoy your well-deserved rest days. (Here’s how to plan a perfectly balanced week of workouts.)

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