Why You Need To Do Glute Activation Exercises

Get great results from your workout by trying these glute activation exercises first.


By Cori


Glute Activation is a trendy topic right now and with good reason.

Because most of us sit at a desk all day hunched over a computer screen, our glutes are inactive and probably not firing properly when we move and workout. This could lead to lower back pain, hip pain, and even knee and ankle pain. You might not be able to lift as much or run as fast as you would like. Also, aesthetically speaking, if you are working your legs but your glutes aren’t looking perkier, it may be because they aren’t actually activated during the exercises. 

Therefore, you need to make sure that you are doing Glute Activation Exercises before your workout routine. Having strong glutes is key to being pain-free and getting great results from your workouts. 

Glute Activation is about more than doing a bazillions squats and lunges during your workouts. Activating your glutes means first loosening up tight muscles from sitting all day at a desk and then getting them activated BEFORE you move on to the big lifts like squats and lunges. 

If you want to alleviate your pain and get your glutes working, you need to follow a three-step process: 

  1. Foam Roll 
  2. Stretch 
  3. Activation 

Without these 3 steps, your glutes may not be activated or firing when you do the big leg lifts. And when your glutes don’t fire, you compensate and use other muscles like your lower back, hamstrings, and quads. Compensating and using the incorrect muscles when you lift leads to injury and decreased performance. Plus, you aren’t working the largest muscle group in your body (a.k.a. your glutes), which means fewer calories burned during and after your workout! 

Here are some great foam rolling and stretching moves to include in your warm-ups to loosen your hips, back, hamstrings, and quads so that you can get your glutes activated and working. Once you’ve foam rolled and stretched, include the moves below to get your glutes firing before you squat or deadlift. These moves will target all three gluteal muscles – your glute maximus, medius, and minimus. Getting your glutes working with these movements will help them engage during your workouts so you can strengthen and tone them. 

Before your workout, pick 2-3 of these moves and perform one round of each. Do 10-15 reps of each move with a 2-5 second hold at the top. Make sure that you include at least one lateral move (like the Fire Hydrant) and one Sagittal Plane move (like the Donkey Kick). Also, the Bird Dog is a great way to work not only your glutes, but your entire core too! 

Fire Hydrant 

Start on your hands and knees. Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Flex your feet. Then with your knee bent to 90 degrees, raise one leg out to the side. Lift with your hip and keep your lower leg in line as you lift. Don’t let your foot or knee get higher up toward the ceiling. Keep your arms straight as you lift as high as possible. 

Do not lean away and really squeeze your glutes as you lift. Lower your leg down and repeat on the same side. 

Donkey Kick 

Start on your hands and knees. Keeping your feet flexed, kick one leg back with the knee bent close to 90 degrees. Don't let your lower back arch as you drive your heel up and back just so that you can kick up higher. Make sure you are squeezing your glute at the top of the kick and keep your abs engaged. The foot should be driving straight up toward the ceiling. 

Do not let your elbows bend just to kick back higher. Bring the knee back down and repeat on the same side. 

Glute Bridge 

Lie on your back and bend your knees to place your feet down on the ground about hip width apart. You should be able to touch your heels with your fingertips when you reach your arms down by your side. Play around with the position of your feet so that you feel your glutes working. Bring your elbows to 90 degrees so your upper arms are on the ground. 

Push up your upper arms and back and heels to bridge up off the ground. Make sure your knees do not fall apart or cave in as you lift. Actively squeeze your glutes as you drive your hips up. Make sure to bridge straight up and not push yourself backward. You want to feel like you are driving your knees forward over your toes even though you are driving through your heels. Make sure to extend your hips and do not hyperextend your lower back just to bridge up higher. Lower yourself down and repeat. 

Hip Circles 

Start on your hands and knees like with the Fire Hydrant. Flex your feet. You will then kick one leg back like with the Donkey Kick. Hold here for a second. Make sure to keep your arms straight and squeeze your glutes. Then, without lowering the leg day, bring the leg up to the side into the Fire Hydrant position. Keep your foot flexed and knee bent to 90 degrees. 

Without touching the knee down, drive the knee forward towards your elbow. Feel your abs engage as you hold. Lower yourself back down and repeat on the same side starting with the Donkey Kick. 

Bird Dog 

Start on your hands and knees like with the Fire Hydrant. Then reach your right arm out in front of you as you kick your left leg back behind you. Reach your arm and leg as if trying to touch the wall in front and behind you. As you kick your leg straight back, keep your foot flexed and squeeze your glute. Do not worry about lifting your leg above parallel to the ground. 

Do not engage your lower back and keep your core tight. After holding for a second at the top of the move, tuck your knee and elbow under your body and touch the two together. Extend back out reaching towards each wall. Keep your core engaged and squeeze your glute at the top. Repeat on the same side. 

Once your glutes are firing, you are ready to begin your leg workout. 

By adding in these activation moves as well as foam rolling and stretching exercises before your strength training routine, you will see increased results and a reduction in pain! 

Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.