Which Exercises Activate the Gluteus Maximus the Most?

performance physical therapy Nov 30, 2020
Gluteus Maximus
There are many glute exercises out there. Some are traditional exercises that have been done for years, some are modernized or modified versions of exercises, and others are just gimmicky. So many glute exercises…but which ones should you do?
Let me start off with the obvious answer: It depends. Your exercise selection should be matched to your training history, goals, and individual characteristics (injuries, imbalances, etc.). Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about the exercises. A systematic review of the literature was published in March 2020 comparing gluteus medius activation levels across a variety of different exercises. In no particular order, they analyzed all variations of back squats, front squats, belt squats, overhead squats, split squats, single leg squats, lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and step-ups.
Before looking at the list below, keep in mind that the research was focused on gluteus maximus activation. Other factors, such as load, fatigue, velocity, etc. could affect activation patterns for different people. Okay, here is the list in order from highest to lowest gluteus maximus activation:
  1. Step-Up
  2. Lateral Step-Up
  3. Diagonal Step-Up
  4. Crossover Step-Up
  5. Hex Bar Deadlift
  6. Rotation Barbell Hip Thrust
  7. Traditional Barbell Hip Thrust
  8. American Barbell Hip Thrust
  9. Belt Squat
  10. Split Squat
  11. In-Line Lunge
  12. Traditional Lunge
  13. Pull Barbell Hip Thrust
  14. Modified Single Leg Squat
  15. Traditional Deadlift
  16. Band Hip Thrust
  17. Parallel Back Squat
  18. Feet-Away Barbell Hip Thrust
  19. Front Squat
  20. Stiff-Leg Deadlift
  21. Overhead Squat
  22. Sumo Deadlift
  23. Partial Back Squat
  24. Full Back Squat
The step-up exercise and its variations presented the highest levels of gluteus maximus activation followed by several loaded exercises and their variations, such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, and squats.
This list will come in hand when programming for glute hypertrophy, hip extension strength, or accessory work for Olympic or power lifts. Just because an exercise has higher activation patterns for the gluteus maximus does not necessarily mean it’s a better exercise. Exercise programming should be tailored to the individual and offer a variety of exercises.
Corey Hall, PT, DPT

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