Achieve Greater Glute Activation

Simple Exercise Tweaks

Small tweaks in exercise form can lead to large increases in gluteal muscle activation, and this increased glute activation will lead to greater growth and development. Most gym goers have to learn these tweaks the hard way over the course of many years. In this article, I hope to expedite your learning curve by teaching you the best ways to perform popular glute exercises.

Simple Exercise Tweaks


When you perform the squat, there are several things you want to keep in mind in order to better target the glutes. First, you want to keep the weight on your heels throughout the duration of the movement. Second, you want to descend deep. Sink as deep as you can possibly go, but avoid severe posterior tilting of the pelvis. This is commonly referred to as “buttwink,” and you want to limit this when deep squatting. Third, you want to keep your knees tracking over the toes throughout the duration of the movement. Don’t allow the knees to cave inward at the bottom of the movement. Finally, you want to make sure that your hips don’t shoot up during the initiation of the concentric phase. Make sure your hips and knees extend at the same rate and that your torso doesn’t become more horizontal as you rise out of the hole in the squat.


Deadlifts can be an incredible glute exercise, but you must perform the movement properly. First, set your hips at the optimal level prior to liftoff. You don’t want to squat the weight up with low hips, but you also don’t want to stiff-leg deadlift the weight up with high hips. An ideal deadlift set up has the hips lower than the shoulders but higher than the knees. Keep a neutral spinal position; don’t allow for rounding or overarching. Just as in the case of a squat, you don’t want the hips to shoot upward as you begin the lift. Make sure your hips and knees extend at a similar rate. Keep the bar close to the body so that it skims your legs throughout the duration of the movement. When the bar passes the knees, you want to pull the bar into the body while pushing the hips forward and squeezing the glutes to lockout.

Hip Thrusts

Make sure you hip thrust from the proper bench height. Around 14 to 16 inches is ideal for most lifters. When at the top of the movement, your shins should be perpendicular to the ground, so make sure the feet are set at the appropriate distance away from the buttocks prior to liftoff. Push through the heels and raise the hips as high as possible without overarching the lower back. Make sure that the torso stays flat and the chest doesn’t arch upward. At the top of the movement, squeeze the glutes and pause for a brief moment before descending back to starting position.


When lunging, it is important to take ideal step lengths. This is achieved by stepping long enough so that the knees don’t move past the toes during the descent. A slight forward lean of the torso will increase glute activation. Descend as deep as possible without allowing the knee of the rear leg to crash into the ground. When rising upward, don’t let the hips shoot upward; keep the torso angle constant as you perform the initial rising portion of the movement. Push through the heels and make sure the knee stays in line with the foot during each repetition.

Back Extensions

The back extension is actually one of the most effective glute exercises as long as you perform the movement in a particular manner. First, flare the feet outward— you want them at around a 45-degree angle. Second, round the upper back and keep it rounded throughout the duration of the movement. This decreases back muscle activation and shifts more of the burden onto the glutes. When rising upward, push the hips forcefully into the pad. Squeeze the glutes hard at the top of the movement and make sure the spine does not move into extension.


On the surface, these alterations in technique may not seem like they amount to much. However, I have tested the gluteal electromyography activity with numerous clients, and I have learned that these tweaks often double the amount of glute activation elicited during the movement. Experiment with these techniques and watch your glutes grow stronger and shapelier.


Bret Contreras, PhD, CSCS

Bret Contreras has a PhD in sports science from AUT University and a CSCS certification from the NSCA. He is the coauthor of Strong Curves, the author of Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, the inventor of the Hip Thruster, the founder of Strong by Bret, and the cofounder of Strength & Conditioning Research.

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