Here’s a quick challenge: Stand on one foot.
Did you have to lean sideways to prevent yourself from falling, or did your standing hip collapse? If so, there’s a good chance you have a case of weak “side-butt.”
The muscles on the side of your butt — the gluteus medius and minimus — play a major role in stabilizing your pelvis when you stand on one leg, says Bret Contreras, PhD, CSCS, a strength-and-conditioning specialist and author who’s known in the fitness community as The Glute Guy.
“When these muscles are not doing their job, you lose stability and your risk increases for a number of lower-body injuries,” including back and knee pain, he says.
Training lateral (side-to-side) movement against resistance is an effective way to target these small but important muscles.
Add the following moves to your warm-up to activate your glutes and keep them engaged during your workouts. Over time, your side-butt will get stronger, helping prevent future injuries and alleviating chronic pain. (For a full glute-centric workout, check out “Build a Strong Butt.”)
Side-Lying Hip Abduction
This activates and strengthens the gluteus medius and minimus as primary movers.
- Lie on your right side with both legs straight and your back against a wall.
- Without moving your left (top) leg away from the wall, turn that leg inward so your toes point toward the ground. (Initiate this movement from the hip, not by twisting the knee or ankle.)
- Exhale and engage your core, then lift the top leg as high as you can, maintaining contact with the wall and keeping your foot angled downward.
- Inhale as you slowly lower the leg to the starting position.
- Perform 20 reps, then switch sides. Perform two sets per side.
This isometric exercise trains the muscles to function as stabilizers.
- Lie on your right side and place your elbow directly beneath your shoulder.
- Press your forearm into the ground and lift your body until you form a straight line from head to heels, supported by your forearm and bottom foot.
- From this position, squeeze your right (lower) glute to actively engage your gluteus medius. Keep your hips stacked and do not let your pelvis drop forward.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. Perform two sets per side.
Illustrations by Kveta
Bonus Exercise: Hip Thrust With Band-Resisted Abduction
Strengthens the glutes as stabilizers and primary movers. Using a band while hip thrusting recruits more muscle fibers of the gluteus medius and minimus, as well as the upper fibers of the gluteus maximus, which play a role in hip stability.
- Secure a closed-loop resistance band around both legs, just above your knees. It should be tight enough that you feel tension when standing with feet at hip width.
- Position yourself so that the bottoms of your shoulder blades rest on a bench, optimally about 14 to 16 inches high, and your feet rest flat on the floor in front of you. Keep your feet at about hip width, maintaining tension in the resistance band.
- Exhale and engage your core. Then drive your heels into the ground and lift your hips, contracting your glutes. At the top of the movement, your shins will be vertical, knees bent at 90-degree angles, and hips fully extended; you’ll know you’re in the right position when you can squeeze your butt. Maintain a neutral spine to avoid arching and to protect your lower back.
- Inhale as you slowly lower your hips toward the ground.
- Repeat 20 times, then rest 90 seconds. Perform 3 sets.
Bonus Tip: How to Activate Your Side-Butt
Locate your gluteus medius muscle, just behind your hip bone, and place your hand there to feel it activating during exercise. If the muscle feels firm to the touch, you know it’s engaged. If there is no change in muscle tautness when you’re doing the move, there’s a good chance another muscle is compensating and doing the work. The tactile feedback from your hand will go a long way to trigger the muscle activation and improve brain-to-butt signaling.