A recent study funded by the American Council on Exercise found that the four basic moves shown on the following pages are the most effective at targeting the gluteal muscles. Whether you're a regular exerciser or a fitness newcomer, do them three times a week to round out your routine―and your lower half.
BeforeWarm-up: "A few minutes of cardio before these moves will get your blood circulating and limber up your joints and ligaments, making them less prone to injury," says trainer Keli Roberts. Try marching or jogging in place or jumping rope for five minutes.
AfterCooldown: "A stretching routine will help alleviate post-exercise soreness," says Roberts. The best one for the glutes: Stand in front of a counter or a railing and hold on for balance. Place your right ankle on top of your left knee and bend your left leg, as if you’re lowering into a chair. Repeat with the other leg.
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How to do it:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on hips (shown).
Keeping your chest lifted and back straight, take a large step forward (about three feet) with the right foot so the knee is bent 90 degrees and the thigh is parallel to the floor.
Keep your knee centered over your foot. Push off the right foot to return to the starting position.
Repetitions: Do eight lunges with the right leg; repeat with the left. Start with one set of eight reps on each leg and move up to three sets of 15.
Bonus benefits: "Aside from working your rear end and thighs, the front lunge challenges your balance and coordination and firms your core a bit," says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist in Darien, Connecticut.
Make it harder: Add extra weight to further challenge yourself. Do the lunges while holding dumbbells or wearing a backpack containing one or two heavy books (make sure the straps fit snugly at your shoulders).
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How to do it:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and shoulders unhunched. Hold the back of a chair or the arm of a couch for balance.
Bend your left knee 90 degrees so that the sole of your foot faces away from you (shown).
Visualize sitting back into a chair as you bend your right knee into a squat. Keep your left foot raised behind you throughout the exercise. Make sure your right knee remains directly over the right foot―do not turn it in or out or extend it over your ankle.
Push up from the sole of your right foot as you straighten that leg and return to the starting position.
Repetitions: Do eight reps on each side, working your way up to three sets of 15 on each side.
Bonus benefit: Squatting on one leg, even if you use a chair for help, will improve your balance.
Make it harder: Hold your hands at your hips rather than on the chair―you’ll need to use your abs to keep from wobbling.
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How to do it:
Start on your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly over your hands and your hips over your knees (shown).
Tighten your abdominals and keep them engaged throughout the set.
Lift your left leg into the air until the sole of your shoe is facing the ceiling and your thigh is parallel to the floor.
Slowly lower the knee until it’s hovering just above the floor, then lift and lower eight times.
Repetitions: Work up to three sets of 15 reps on each side.
Bonus benefits: This move also tightens the abdominals and strengthens the muscles in the lower back.
Make it harder: Try it with your back leg extended straight out behind you. When you can do this move easily, add an abs challenge: Raise your right arm and hold it parallel to the floor as you lift and lower your left leg. After one set, switch arms and legs. You’ll need to engage your core to keep your body stable.
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How to do it:
Stand in front of a step or a staircase with hands on hips.
Place your left foot flat on the stair (shown).
Lean forward, push up through the left heel, and straighten that leg. Your right leg should be bent behind you when you come up.
Return to the starting position, keeping your weight on your left leg the entire time. (Your right toes should touch the floor for balance only.)
Repetitions: Do eight reps on the left leg, then switch sides. Work up to three sets of 15 reps on each side.
Bonus benefits: The step-up also harnesses the strength of your hamstrings, thighs, and calves.
Make it harder: When you come up onto your left leg, bring your right knee up high in front of you, until the right thigh is parallel with the floor. (The leg remains bent, with the sole of the foot facing the floor.) Do the same thing on the other side. This will challenge your balance, stretch your hip flexors, and work your core.