Let’s talk about butts. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an advanced athlete, everybody needs a strong set of glutes—maximus, medius, and minimus—to walk, stand, jump, and run. Your glutes serve an important role in stabilizing the low back and pelvis, and strengthening these muscles can improve balance, decrease low back pain, and help prevent injuries. And you thought your booty was just for shaking.
If you’re looking to strengthen your trio of tush muscles, having an arsenal of moves and equipment is key. Yes, the variety of large machines on a gym floor (and the people using them) can be intimidating, but if glute gains are your goal, there are a few in particular with which you should get familiar. Machines that add resistance to your workout are useful tools for glute strengthening because they allow you to take your strength to the next level and track your progress. Plus, these machines can also serve as built-in spotters—because who doesn’t love a little extra support?
Here are three standard machines you’ll find at just about any gym (and how they can help you strengthen those buns):
You already know squats are awesome for building glute strength, so if you’re feeling good about your squat form, it might be time to add some weight. Certified personal trainer and Sweat Shed studio manager Colleen Conlan loves this gym staple because it translates directly into real-life movement.
“If I need to squat down and pick something heavy like groceries, my baby cousin, or heavy weights up off the floor, I should be doing squats in the gym in an upright, functional position.” And that’s exactly how this rack is used: By standing in the center and facing away from the rack, you’re able to load the barbell onto your upper back and drop it low.
Increased stability with a back squat compared to a front squat means we can hold more weight on our backs—this allows a barbell from the squat rack to strengthen our glutes beyond what our body weight and dumbbells allow. The metal catches also function as a mechanical spotter—so you don’t have to ask a sweaty stranger to rescue you.
Certified personal trainer Andrea Levine of Equinox explains, “If you’re new to the squat rack or want to incorporate single-leg movements into your workout, the Smith Machine is a great place to start.” This machine consists of a barbell fixed between two rails that have points along the way on which to hook the bar, which helps keep you on track (literally). The Smith Machine allows for guided, self-supporting, near-vertical movement, which makes it a great introductory tool for working up to the squat rack.
This can be one of the most intimidating machines, Conlan says, because of its many moving parts. But once you get familiar with it, it can also be one of the most versatile, allowing you to address just about every muscle group—including the glutes.
The cable machine can be great for deadlifts—just adjust the pulley system so the resistance is at the lowest point, then clip in the rope attachments, and adjust the weight. With deadlifts, not only are you activating the glutes, but you’re also firing your lats, core, upper back, forearm, and scapular muscles to maintain a neutral spine against the resistance. Check this out to make sure your deadlift technique is on point.
Now Go Get ‘Em
Now that you know the machines for the job, the next step is setting your own personal booty goals. Start by finding the right weight—you should be able to perform 8-12 repetitions and feel fatigued (but not in pain) at the end. After performing 2-3 sets at that resistance for several workouts, you can start adjusting the number of reps, weight, and speed at which you perform these exercises to cater to your fitness goals.
Rachel Tavel is a doctor of physical therapy, certified strength and conditioning specialist, writer, and runner living and working in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Instagram at @followtheola.