Probably the single best exercise for developing the glutes is the full squat. All the proof you need is evidenced in the gluteal development of Olympic-style weightlifters. The problem is, most trainees who perform the exercise don’t go down low enough to fully develop these muscles. Olympic weightlifters not only go all the way down, they actually bounce out of the bottom position in the snatch and clean.
Some will say that lunges and split squats are just as effective as the squat for developing the glutes, and it’s undeniable that these exercises are extremely effective. With the squat however, more weight can be used due to the stability of the exercise. More weight means greater workout intensity, and greater workout intensity means a greater muscle mass gains.
Research on muscle activity when squatting to full depth compared with squatting to a partial or parallel depth shows that the full squat requires two times the force production of the gluteus maximus. Another type of squat that really focuses on the gluteus maximus is the one and one-quarter squat, in which you squat all the way down, come one-quarter of the way up, squat all the way down again, and then come to the fully erect position. This type of squat is also great for strengthening the VMO, which is often underdeveloped in athletes, and non-athletes alike. Another effective variation is to use a wide foot stance, rather than a hip-width stance, and making sure the load is at least 70 percent of your one rep maximum if using a program of 3 sets of 10.
Another classic glute builder is the basic deadlift. It helps if the glutes are exaggeratedly squeezed at the top of the movement. The Romanian deadlift is also effective as glute builder. I find that to really focus on my glutes, driving my hips back as far as I can, and then thrusting them forward as quickly as I can when I’m raising the weight back up really helps. I actually try to do this movement quickly. I don’t know why, but I get a great glute contraction when I do, not to mention a good burn in my hamstrings.
Hip thrusts are of course the only possible exercise that could be considered better than the squat. It really is almost a glute only exercise, so in that way it allows for more focus on the glutes contracting. I use a few steps to the height of my knee. This way when I have my back elevated on the bench, and I’m in the bridge position my body in parallel to the floor. I then can thrust a little bit past that parallel point to get a great glute squeeze.
Of course there are many other exercises that work the glutes, but a good place to start is the full squat. Also, if you have the time, include some lunges, split squats and to supplement your workout.