Let’s be honest—everyone likes the way nice, sculpted glutes and legs look. It has even become quite trendy to grow your glutes and show off defined legs. Although I’m not big of following fitness fads, this is one I can get behind (no pun intended). Why you ask? Well, there are a ton of benefits to strong stems. If you’re looking to increase athletic performance, strengthen your glutes and legs. Want to alleviate back pain? Strong glutes and legs often do the trick. The key is to make sure to hit every angle and thus every little muscle. The muscles that help you move laterally are the ones that get neglected the most, so it is important to incorporate moves in every plane of motion for all your leg and glute workouts.
10 Best Barbell Leg and Glute Exercises
If you have a barbell at home, these are the 10 best exercises to mix into your leg and glute workout:
- Deadlifts – more quad and mid-back engagement.
- Romanian Deadlifts (AKA RDLs) – focuses more on glutes and hamstrings.
- Sumo Deadlifts – even more quad activation than the traditional deadlift. Also puts less pressure on your spine if you have any back injuries or concerns. You can pull heavier loads in this position.
- Front Squats – targets your anterior chain to hit quads and upper back heavier. Also engages glutes and hamstrings.
- Back Squats – zones in on your posterior chain, including glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. The quads and core are also engaged in this move.
- Hip Thrusts -- the single best glute exercise hands down. This glute exercise targets your gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. Do not skimp on these, and do not be afraid to go heavy.
- Reverse Lunges – activate your glutes, hamstrings, and core. I always prefer these to front lunges, because they put less stress on your joints and give you more stability in your front leg. If you have difficulty with balance, limited hip mobility or knee concerns, these are the best variation for you.
- Curtsy Lunges – this is the most targeted gluteus medius exercise. This muscle group is not directly focused on in standard squats and lunges, so it is important to do exercises to strengthen it, so it’s not overlooked. It also focuses on your inner thighs and gluteus minimus. These 3 together will help stabilize your hips and improve your posture.
- Split Squats – mainly target quads, glutes, hamstrings and even hip flexors and calves. Since it is a single-leg exercise, it also engages your core and improves your balance. This exercise will increase strength and help to improve flexibility.
- Bulgarian Split Squat – note that this exercise does requite hip flexor flexibility, as it does allow for you to reach greater depth than the traditional split squat. There is far more emphasis on balance and single-leg strength, so if you’re recovering from injury or just looking to challenge your single-leg endurance and strength, this is a great variation to try.
10 Best Dumbbell Leg and Glute Exercises
All the above barbell exercises can be performed with dumbbells as well if you do not have access to a barbell. Let’s now shift our focus to those dumbbells. Here are the 10 best leg and glute exercises to perform with dumbbells:
- Suitcase Squats – this position alone will help improve balance and core stability, but the focus of this exercise is lower body strength, mainly the hamstrings and quads.
- Elevated Sumo Squats – perform this exercise with 2 even, elevated surfaces (such as boxes, steps or even barbell plates). Place one foot on each surface and hold a single, heavy dumbbell low in the center of your body. This allows for a deeper squat, engaging the glutes more. The sumo squat itself activates more of the adductors (AKA inner thighs) than other lower body exercises.
- High Low Squats – hold one dumbbell on your shoulder (like a front squat) and hold the opposite dumbbell by your side (like a suitcase squat). Make sure to do the same rep counts on both sides. The weight displacement will force extra core engagement as well as target any imbalances.
- Goblet Squats – try a heel elevated variation for increased quad engagement. I recommend performing these with a single, heavy dumbbell if possible.
- Lying Leg Curls – be careful not to arch your back during this exercise. Great for targeted hamstring work.
- Walking Lunges – this is a complete leg and glute builder. Define and shape those stems while improving balance, stability, and coordination.
- Lateral Lunges – target inner and outer things and outer glutes.
- Single-Leg Bench Sit to Stand Squats – for a challenge, perform a pistol squat instead.
- Step-Ups/Step-Downs – step-ups are a great, general lower body conditioning exercise. Step-Downs are more therapeutic than muscle building, helping to stabilize the knee and keep the muscles that help the kneecap bend properly both flexible and strong. Both are effective and important.
- DB Swings – choose a heavy dumbbell and keep your swing low to target the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. If you go light and high, you will incorporate more of your upper body instead.
10 Best Bodyweight Leg and Glute Exercises
Dumbbell exercises can be performed with just your own bodyweight as well if that’s all you have access to, if you’re coming off an injury, or if you are just starting your fitness journey and need to scale back. Finally, let’s look at the ultimate unsung hero of leg and ESPECIALLY glute training – the mini band. Here are the top 10 leg and glute workouts with a mini band:
- Side Steps – perform in place (single-sided or alternating) or traveling. The lower the band is placed (try around your toe box for the biggest challenge!), the tougher it will be.
- Fire Hydrants – fire up those glutes and improve the way your hips move. Win-win.
- Donkey Kicks – target your largest glute muscles, the gluteus maximus. If you have a desk job, you absolutely need this exercise in your life.
- Wall Sit with Abduction – the addition of the abduction will get the outer glutes firing. This exercise is tough in execution but easy to perform anywhere and almost anytime. It’s also the lowest impact move you could ever ask for, and the static hold is also a mental challenge.
- Hip Thrust with Abduction – add in a barbell or dumbbells for extra strength work.
- 3 Point Steps – hold a half squat and step to the side, 45 degrees and then to the reverse. Stay on the same side for a specific interval or rep count and then even out the other side.
- Duck Walks – back to your gluteus maximus. This exercise does require a good amount of flexibility to be performed properly, so start with just your bodyweight (no band) if you’ve never done it before.
- Side-Lying Clamshells – this will target both the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus as well as help to improve hip mobility.
- Standing Glute Kickbacks – great way to build glute strength and size. Also engages legs and hips. Use a wall for assistance if you struggle with balance.
- Seated Leg Extensions –strengthens the key attachments for the knee joint while also strengthening the quadriceps themselves.
If you can perform these 30 exercises in your leg and glute workouts, your body will thank you. Everything listed can be adjusted based on the equipment you have access to. As far as format, I recommend intervals (40/20 for endurance or 30/30 for strength) or AMRAPs (higher rep counts for endurance or lower rep counts for strength). Happy Building!