Now that I’ve said it, you’re thinking it. Go ahead, no judgement here. When you’re ready let’s talk about butt stuff in a gym setting. Namely, growing a bigger, stronger, firmer, wanna-grab-it-in-the-bedroom thicc booty.
For centuries the glute Gods and Goddesses hath proclaimed squats to be the king of all booty exercises.
Hyperbole aside, it’s been widely accepted that squats were responsible for building a bigger and better butt, and there is some truth to that. Personally, I love squats. They’re a staple exercise in any program I write.
Indeed, Squats are a great exercise: they build some of the strongest and most aesthetically pleasing muscles in the body. Squats will sculpt shapely and powerful thighs and glutes while simultaneously improving functional performance on and off the court or field.
However, the truth is that as a stand-alone exercise, squats don’t do all that much for your derriere. Like that lazy classmate when you had team projects, squats get all the credit when they didn’t even do half the work.
With squats, the badonkadonk picture is incomplete.
Quick anatomy lesson: Those big, juicy muscles we call glutes are responsible for extending the hips (think of your hips when getting out of a chair: that’s extension). While squats load this movement pattern, there are many more exercises that do a better job of loading the hips and glutes and deserve some of the “booty spotlight.”
Should squats take a backseat? Absolutely not. Keep ‘em. But if you’re falling short trying to fill out your booty shorts, try these on for size:
My Top 5 exercises for building a stronger and sexier booty:
Why: Unlike the squat, this movement falls into the “hip hinge” category, where the bulk of the movement takes place through the hips by loading and unloading your glutes and hamstrings. The movement is fast, so it helps build explosive power. Think of a sprinter off the blocks or a wide receiver off the line. They need to drive through their hips as fast and as powerfully as possible. The KB swing is a great way to train that power. At the top of the movement is a hard squeeze in your butt. While they scorch body fat in the process, swings are less abusive than squats, allowing you to do more of them without getting overly sore. More volume (more swings) = better butt.
How to do them: Grab a 35-53 lb KB and set it out in front of you, like you would if you were to hike a football. Engage the lats (those muscles under your armpits) and forcefully pull the KB towards you and behind your body. When you feel the load on your hips, thrust forward again, sending the KB out in front to about chest level. Forcefully throw the KB between the knees, playing “chicken” with your crotch, loading the hips again, and repeat.
When to do them: Because they’re fast and burn a lot of calories, but don’t make you too sore, you can choose to do them at both the beginning or end of your workout – or anywhere in between. In the beginning you’ll prime your muscles for more power during your workout. In the middle or at the end, you’ll scorch bodyfat, rev your heart rate and metabolism, and sweat you arse off! Start with 3-5 sets of 10 as you’re learning and mastering the swing. When you’re ready for a massive calorie burner, work your way up to 100-200 or even 500 swings, either over the course of your workout or all at the end. Grab a heavier KB as you make progress.
Bridging/Hip Thrusts (and variations)
Why: These land in their own category called the Bridge or Hip Thrust. They help train hip extension, which again is the movement that the glutes are responsible for.
How: Double-leg and single-leg bridges take place on the floor, and should come first in your progression. Lie on your back and keep heels close to your butt. “Pinch your pencil” to engage your glutes, and drive your hips towards the ceiling. Be careful: it’s easy to extend through your low back, so if you feel pain or cramping back there then have your form checked by a fitness professional. Feeling the movement in your hamstrings? Your feet may be placed too far away from you. Slide your heels back towards your butt where your shins are vertical to the floor, and try again. You can also play with keep lifting your toes up towards your shins so you’re pushing through just your heels.
Once you’ve made progress on bridges, progress to hip thrust variations, which are only different in that they increase the range of motion from bridging by elevating the shoulders. Use bands or barbells to add resistance and increase the #bootygains
When: Once you’ve completed your squats and lunges or step-ups for the day, tack these on as part of your lower body finisher. Do 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps.
Why: My original beef with squats and lunges was that, while they train hip extension, the range of motion leaves something to be desired in most exercisers. Hence why I included hip thrusts above. Deficit lunges are a progression from regular lunges that also increase the range of motion, giving your hips more room to extend and engage the butt muscles.
How: Set up a small deficit of 4-6 inches in height, and stand on it (could be stacked plates, a small box, or even a curb or stair). Step back and off the deficit, keeping your center of mass over the working leg. Drop the back knee as close to the ground as possible without smacking the floor, and then drive back up again.
When: Again, these should take place after your squats and maybe before hip thrusts. Try 3-5 sets of 6-12 per side, loading appropriately. Remember: add weight once you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement.
Why: Like the KB swings above, this movement is another hip hinge, which again gives you another chance to load the hamstrings and glutes. Unlike the swing, though, this movement is much slower and more controlled. That means a bit more stretch, a bit more muscle damage (a good thing for muscle growth), and more time to engage the glutes.
How: Using the cable machine and a rope attachment, set the machine to its lowest position on the column. Straddle the rope and walk out a bit to give yourself more room. Just like the swing, push the hips back into the hinge position. Drive through your heels and squeeze your butt, bringing you to a standing position. HOLD that position for a 2-5 count, really feeling your butt squeeze hard. Then slowly and deliberately hinge again, repeating the motion.
When: By the nature of the exercise, the pull-through is a great glute-builder while sparing your low back, giving you plenty opportunity to do a lot of reps without feeling to beat up. I like programming these after my regular squats and deadlifts, so again, later in the workout. Start with 3 sets of 10-12 reps, progressing both sets and reps as you get stronger and better. Don’t forget to squeeze your butt and hold for a few seconds on each rep!
Banded Good Mornings
Why: This is yet another hip hinge like the above exercises (noticing a pattern?). Normally, dumbbell or barbell Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) would be my go to. However, while the glutes get worked with RDLs, that effort is shared with the hamstrings. Secondly, RDLs tend to leave you really sore for days afterward. It seems the hamstrings never get used to them! The Banded Good Morning, on the other hand, is easier on the hamstrings (when the band is lax) and harder on the lockout, where your glutes have to squeeze really hard to stretch the band. In essence, the banded good morning is more of a glute exercise and less of a hamstring one (although both do get worked).
How: Grab a thick band, step on it, then wrap it around your neck. “Jam” your hands into the band so that the brunt of the tension is in your hands and not around your neck. Push the hips back towards the wall behind you, then drive your hips forward, squeezing your butt. Hold for a 3-5 count, then repeat.
When: I like these at both the beginning of a workout as a warm-up as well as the end of the workout, for a finisher. You can do both since they don’t beat you up too bad. Try 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps, then progress from there.
Bottom line (groan)
Before you misinterpret my intent: I’m not saying squats are useless.
On the contrary, they’re a foundational exercise. In fact, they should be trained multiple times a week to build strength, as well as lower body mass. Aesthetics aside, a bigger and stronger squat leads to improved performance on the field.
I’m just pointing out that while squats are important, they’re not the be-all-end-all booty exercise that most make them out to be.
Keep doing squats
But if you really want to fill out those jeans and make all the boys and girls go crazy, add some of the above exercises to your routine to “round out” your training and your booty (see what I did there?)
Sample Lower Body Workout 1
A) Barbell Squats 3×5
B1) Banded Good Morning 3×10-15
B2) Deficit Reverse Lunge 3×8-12/side
C) Barbell Hip Thrust 3×10
Sample Lower Body Workout 2
A) Goblet Squat 4×12
B1) Cable Pull-through 3×15
B2) Walking lunge 3×8/side
C1) KB Swings 3×10
C2) Single Leg Hip Thrust 3×10/side
Get to work! Give these exercises a go for at least the next 6 weeks. Before you get started, measure your hips with tape around your waist and hips. At the end of 6 or even 8 weeks, take another measurement to see how you’ve grown.
Best of luck. If you’ve got questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and let’s discuss it. Want a custom booty-building program? Ask me about online coaching and I’m happy to set you up for all the booty gains!