8 Best Glute Strengthening Exercises - Knee Pain Explained (2024)

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Written By:Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by:KPE Medical Review Board

8 Best Glute Strengthening Exercises - Knee Pain Explained (1)

Glute strengthening exercises should be a core part of any rehab programme.

Whether you have back pain, arthritis, knee pain when you run or flat feet, chances are glute weakness is a contributing factor.

Strengthening programmes for the legs often focus on the quads and hamstrings but glute activation and strengthening is just as important, if not more.

Having weak glutes can affect your lower back, pelvis, hips, knees and feet increasing your risk of:

  • Pain: in the lower back and/or leg
  • Injury: e.g. tendonitis, IT band syndrome
  • Instability: particularly at the pelvis and knee
  • Poor Alignment: e.g. knock knees or flat feet

Why Is Glute Strengthening So Important?

There are three glute muscles that form the buttocks:

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  1. Gluteus Maximus: the big superficial power muscle
  2. Gluteus Medius: the key stabilizer muscle
  3. Gluteus Minimus: the smallest, deepest muscle

The three glute muscles work together to extend, abduct and internally rotate the hip i.e. move it backwards, out to the side and twist it in, and the glutes play an extremely important role in many daily functions.

Having strong glute muscles helps:

  • Support the lower back e.g. when lifting
  • Support you e.g. when standing on one leg
  • Provide propulsive force e.g. during running and jumping
  • Ensure correct alignment e.g. of pelvis and lower limb
  • Prevent injuries e.g. runners knee and bursitis
  • With daily activities: e.g. getting up from a chair

8 Best Glute Exercises

So let’s look at the best glute strengthening exercises to help reduce pain, improve function and prevent injuries. With each of these glute strengthening exercises you want to aiming to do:

I have included a number of progressions for each of these glute strengthening exercises but don’t rush through too fast – make sure you can do at least 20 repetitions of each glute exercise before you start working on the progressions.

1. Glute Squeezes

Glute squeezes are a great exercise to start with to get the feeling of glute activation and isolation

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  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position, knees bent or straight
  • Squeeze your buttocks together as tight as you can and hold
  • You should feel yourself lift slightly as you squeeze

2. Glute Kickbacks

Glute kickbacks aka glute lifts or glute extensions are a great glute strengthening exercise on all fours

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  • Start in box position, hands directly under shoulders, knees directly under hips, back flat
  • Raise one leg behind you, keeping the knee bent at 90o without letting your back dip
  • Clench your glutes throughout and hold at the top

Alternative: as you take the leg back, straighten the knee until your leg is parallel with the floor

Progression: Loop a resistance band around your foot and anchor it in your hands. Push back against the band as you take your leg back to work harder

3. Glute Bridges

Bridges are one of the best glute exercises and should form some part of any glutes workout.

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  • Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart
  • Clench your glutes and slowly raise your buttocks up of the floor into a bridge position and hold
  • Don’t let your back arch as you lift or your buttocks dip as you hold

How To Progress Bridging

There are loads of different variations and ways to challenge yourself more with bridging exercises as your glutes get stronger.

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  1. Heel Bridge:Push down through your heels as you bridge (can lift toes if that helps)
  2. Waist Band Bridge:Hold down a resistance band around your waist
  3. Knee Band Bridge:Loop resistance band around knees. Once in bridge position, push knees out against band and slowly bring them back in
  4. Ball Bridge:Hold and squeeze a ball between your knees as you bridge – also targets VMO so great for knee problems
  5. Frog Bridge:let your knees drop out with your feet touching. Press through feet and raise buttocks

4. Glute Clam Shell

The clam is one of the best glute strengthening exercises for glute med isolation and is a must for pretty much anyone. Glute med is super important for stability and control. Most people with back, hip, knee or foot problems have weakness in their glute med.

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  • Lie on your side, knees bent, feet together, with shoulders, hips & feet in a straight line
  • Keeping feet together, activate glutes and lift top knee as high as you can without rolling back at your pelvis. Hold
  • Slowly lower back down
  • Keep your pelvis central, not rolling forwards or backwards and draw your top hip down, away from your shoulder to lengthen through the waist

How To Progress The Clam

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  1. Heel Pushes:Squeeze your heels together as you do the exercise
  2. Band Clams:Have an elasticated resistance band round your knees
  3. Raised Clam:Start with both feet raised to hip height and perform clam action from there
  4. Plank Clam:Start in the side plank position and perform clam

5. Glute Raises

Glute raises are similar to glute bridges but with your feet raised.These works the glutes harder and through a greater range making it a more challenging glute strengthening exercise.

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  • Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on a low stool, hip width apart
  • Clench glutes, lift buttocks up into bridge position and hold
  • Try not to push down through your arms

How To Progress

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  1. Use a higher step for feet
  2. Use a roller under feet
  3. Use a gym ball under your calves
  4. Use gym ball under your feet
  5. Even harder, roll gym ball/roller towards you and then back whilst in bridge position

6. Single Leg Glute Bridge

Single leg bridges are a much more challenging glute strengthening workout than a simple bridge both from a strength and control side. If you have weak glutes, the pelvis will tend to drop as you lift the leg so watch out for that.

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  • Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart
  • Clench glutes, lift buttocks and hold in bridge position
  • Lift one foot and straighten the knee, keeping your thighs inline and hold
  • Make sure your pelvis doesn’t dip down at all
  • Lower your foot and repeat with the other leg

How To Progress

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  1. Single Raise: Start with one leg out straight (thighs parallel) and push up into bridge through the other leg
  2. Marching Bridge: From normal bridge position, alternately march the feet up and down – great for building endurance
  3. Unstable Bridge: Have your foot on a roller or gym ball as you perform the exercise

7. Glute Thrust

The glute thrust, AKA the hip thrust, is a more advanced glute strengthening exercise - it might not look it but it's much harder than a simple bridge.
NB this exercise is not recommended if you have back problems.

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  • Sit, leaning back against a gym ball or bench, feet hip width apart, knees bent, spine in neutral
  • Clench glutes, push down through feet and raise buttocks up letting your upper body move back slightly
  • If you need to, use your arms for some support, but don’t arch your back
  • Hold the position and then lower down

How To Progress

  1. Weights: Hold a weight e.g. medicine ball while doing this exercise
  2. Marching: During the hold phase, alternately lift one foot then the other
  3. Single Leg: start with one foot lifted and keep it in the 90/90 position (hip/knee angle) throughout, pushing through the other leg

8. Glute Stretches

Before and after doing any glute strengthening exercises it is a good idea to do some glute stretches. These help get the muscles ready for action and ease out any tension that builds up in the muscles during your glute workout.

As well as stretching the glutes muscles, it also helps to stretch the piriformis muscle which is the deepest buttock muscle found underneath the glutes.

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So as well as doing glute strengthening exercises, make sure you have a go at:

  • Glute Stretches
  • Piriformis Stretches

What Else Can Help?

The glute muscles don’t work in isolation, they work alongside all the other leg muscles. Our bodies function best when we have good strength, flexibility, stability and endurance in all of our muscles. So alongside glute strengthening exercises, make sure you also work on:

  1. Quads Strengthening & Quadricep Stretches
  2. Hamstring Strengthening Exercises & Ham Stretches
  3. IT Band Stretches
  4. Kneecap Exercises & VMO Targetting
  5. Calf Stretches & Calf Workout

You may also be interested in the following articles:

  • Inner Knee Pain
  • Front Knee Swelling
  • Pain Behind The Knee
  • Sharp Knee Pain
  • How To Improve Knee Flexibility

Page Last Updated: 12/12/23
Next Review Due: 12/12/25

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Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in this article.

Glute Strengthening Exercises

Glute strengthening exercises are an essential part of any rehabilitation program. Weak glute muscles can contribute to various issues such as back pain, arthritis, knee pain, and flat feet. Strengthening the glutes can help support the lower back, provide stability, ensure proper alignment, prevent injuries, and improve daily functions [[1]].

Glute Muscles

There are three main glute muscles that form the buttocks:

  1. Gluteus Maximus: This is the largest and most superficial glute muscle. It is responsible for extending the hip, moving it backward.
  2. Gluteus Medius: This muscle plays a key role in stabilizing the hip and preventing instability.
  3. Gluteus Minimus: The smallest and deepest glute muscle, it also contributes to hip stability [[1]].

Importance of Glute Strengthening

Strengthening the glute muscles is important for several reasons:

  • Supporting the lower back during lifting.
  • Providing stability when standing on one leg.
  • Generating propulsive force during activities like running and jumping.
  • Ensuring correct alignment of the pelvis and lower limb.
  • Preventing injuries such as runner's knee and bursitis.
  • Assisting with daily activities like getting up from a chair [[1]].

Best Glute Strengthening Exercises

The article mentions eight glute strengthening exercises. Here's a brief overview:

  1. Glute Squeezes: This exercise involves squeezing the buttocks together while sitting or lying down.
  2. Glute Kickbacks: Starting on all fours, one leg is raised backward while keeping the knee bent.
  3. Glute Bridges: Lying on your back with knees bent, raise your buttocks off the floor into a bridge position.
  4. Glute Clam Shell: Lying on your side with knees bent, lift the top knee while keeping the feet together.
  5. Glute Raises: Similar to glute bridges, but with the feet raised on a low stool.
  6. Single Leg Glute Bridge: Perform a bridge while lifting one foot off the ground.
  7. Glute Thrust: Sitting against a gym ball or bench, raise the buttocks up.
  8. Glute Stretches: Stretching exercises to prepare the glute muscles before and after strengthening exercises [[1]].

These exercises should be performed with proper form, aiming for 15-20 repetitions, 3-5 second holds, at least once a day, and at least five times a week. It is important to maintain neutral spine and pelvis alignment during the exercises [[1]].

Other Related Concepts

The article also mentions other concepts related to overall leg muscle strength and flexibility, including:

  • Quadriceps (quads) strengthening and stretches.
  • Hamstring strengthening exercises and stretches.
  • IT band stretches.
  • Kneecap exercises and targeting the VMO (vastus medialis obliquus) muscle.
  • Calf stretches and workouts [[1]].

These additional exercises and stretches can complement glute strengthening exercises and contribute to overall leg muscle strength, flexibility, stability, and endurance.

I hope this information helps! If you have any further questions or need more details on any specific topic, feel free to ask.

8 Best Glute Strengthening Exercises - Knee Pain Explained (2024)
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