Tip: Science Finds the Best Butt Exercise for Women

A study involving weight-trained women finds that one glute exercise works better than the others. Check it out.

There's a slightly troubling trend jiggling through the country right now. Women everywhere are working on their glutes for what seems like 50 of every 60 total minutes of workout time.

I say "slightly troubling" because it's a mixed bag. This bottom-heavy devotion to the glutes has obvious benefits to the superficial males who prize this particular attribute, but as far as the women who embrace this eye-catching trend, they all end up sacrificing something.

After training nothing but glutes for the better part of their workout, women often have little time or energy left to spend on the other attributes of fitness, be they cosmetic (i.e., symmetry) or health related (fitness and mobility).

A new study just came out, though, that might give glute-obsessed women the opportunity to curtail their workouts and gain some time back. In this new study, researchers describe the exercise that activates the glute muscles the most.

Women may use the surprising answer to streamline their workouts by doing the efficient movement and ditching the other, less-effective ones. Of course, they may just add it to their already-long list of butt movements and have even less time for other body parts or aspects of fitness.

The squat, deadlift, and front squat all target pretty much the same musculature, but no one has, at least according to the authors of the study, ever used surface electromyography (EMG) to measure and analyze the muscle activity triggered by these three exercises. And even if someone has, it's almost certain they didn't do it in women.

The researchers recruited 13 previously trained women for the study. Each completed two days of testing, participating in a one-repetition maximum (1RM) estimation and an actual 1RM on all three lifts.

They then were tested to see how their muscles responded to doing 3 reps at 75% of their 1RM load on all three exercises. The scientists looked at the data and conducted five separate repeated measure Analysis of Variances (a statistical tool) and found that the muscle activity of the gluteus maximus – the largest muscle in the butt – differed among the three exercises.

The researchers found that, perhaps surprisingly, the front squat elicited greater muscle activity in the glutes (M = 94%, SD = 15%) compared to the deadlift (M = 72%, SD = 16%).

However, they didn't find any significant difference between the lifts as far as activation of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, biceps femoris, or rectus femoris.

If you want to start incorporating front squats into your glute routine, realize that you can do them with either a barbell or dumbbells, but the barbell version is often a lot tougher simply because it's so damn uncomfortable to cradle the bar against the front deltoids and collarbone. The dumbbell version is a lot more forgiving, plus you don't need a rack to do them.

To pack on meat and add roundness to your glutes, do front squats for 4 sets of 10-15, resting 60 seconds between sets. Make sure your thighs end up at least parallel to the ground before powering back up.

  1. Korak JA et al. Muscle Activation Patterns of Lower Body Musculature Among Three Traditional Lower Body Exercises in Trained Women. JJ Strength Cond Res. 2018 Oct;32(10):2770-2775. PubMed.