5 Exercises That Grow Your Glutes NOT Your Legs

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A common question I get from women especially is “How do I grow my glutes without building up my legs”.

Adding size to the glutes WITHOUT adding size to the upper thighs creates contrast.

The butt stands out more as a result.

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If the legs wind up growing as quickly as the glutes, the glutes don’t stand out.

Overly developed thighs can also make fitting into clothes difficult.

For both men and women.

My specialty is helping men and women achieve a slim and fit physique without excessive muscle mass.

Many former athletes come to me because they have more quad and hamstring development than they would like.

bulky thighs from deadlifts

This is due to a heavy focus on deadlifts and squats.

The squat and/or deadlift is often called the “King of Exercises”.

The trend now is to build entire routines around these two lifts.

I do believe that these two lifts pack on muscle, unlike any other exercise. If building overall lower body mass is your goal, then it is true… the squat and deadlift are incredible exercises.

If growing your glutes not your legs is the goal, then both the squat and deadlift are terrible exercises to focus on.

I believe that these two exercises are over-recommended.

Can’t you just use higher reps on squats and deadlifts to avoid bulky thighs?

how to get a bigger butt without squats

There is a myth going around that low reps build bulk and high reps “tone” a muscle.

So in the gym you often times see women who want to stay slim doing high rep sets.

Here’s the irony.

Studies have shown that higher reps actually have the potential to build MORE muscle than lower reps.

You won’t turn into the hulk, but you do need to be cautious if you gain muscle easier than you would like in certain muscle groups.

how to grow your butt

The title of this study says it all:

Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men.

There are other studies that show the weight doesn’t matter.

Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men.

Light weights and high reps can build up muscle size as much as low rep training.

The key is whether a set is taken to failure or not.

Training to failure, whether it is 5 reps, 10 reps, or 30 reps is what builds muscle mass over time… not whether you are lifting heavy or light weights.

Couldn’t you do squats and deadlifts well short of failure?

Yes…

But then you don’t have any glute-building muscle potential.

I do like the idea of adding in a couple of light sets of squats well short of failure just to make sure you stay limber in that range of motion.

I occasionally do this after cardio, but consider it more of a strengthing and flexibility movement.

I’m not using this exercise to build muscle.

Aren’t lunges a good exercise to grow the glutes not legs?

Are lunges good for glutes

Lunges work the quads and hamstrings hard.

I actually consider these an extremely effective exercise for building mass in the legs.

They DO help grow the glutes as well, which is why they are recommended so often.

Lunges just aren’t an ideal exercise if you want to grow your butt while keeping your thighs slim. As I discussed, these will build up your quads and hamstrings even if you keep the weight light and reps high.

If you tend to have bulky thighs and want to build the size of your butt, you will want to limit exercises which hit the quads and hamstrings hard.

Here is a list of common exercises to AVOID if you want to grow your glutes and not your legs.

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Lunges
  • Leg Press
  • Split Squats
  • Step Ups
  • Glute Ham Raise
  • Good Mornings

I am NOT saying these are bad exercises.

They are good butt building exercises, but they also activate the quads and hamstrings too much for those who have bulky leg issues.

There will be a point where you can re-introduce these into your routine.

If your legs bulk easily… it makes sense to spend a period of time focusing on exercises that grow the glutes without building up your legs in ANY way.

Build a strong booty to leg ratio first.

I’ve told you which exercises not to do.

What exercises are left when it comes to growing nice glutes not legs?

There are still a lot of exercises to choose from.

In this article, I want to focus on 5 great butt building exercises.

1. Barbell Glute Bridges

Here is an important point.

You want to make sure you are doing barbell glute bridges NOT barbell hip thrusts if you want to keep your legs as slim as possible.

Brett Contreras, the guy who made this type of exercise popular, claims that barbell hip thrusts build up the thighs while increasing glute size.

What is the difference between these two lifts?

  • Hip thrusts are done with the upper back elevated on a bench.
  • Barbell glute bridges are done with your back on the floor.

They look similar if you aren’t paying attention, but according to Brett, hip thrusts require a lot of recruitment of your quad muscles.

2. Kettlebell Swings

These do work the hamstrings a bit, but they target the glutes as the main driver of the weight.

You can use pretty heavy kettlebells with these.

I’ve also seen people use a heavy dumbbell in place of kettlebells because a lot of commercial gyms don’t have kettlebells.

One tip before doing this exercise, and any other glute exercise, is to make sure the glutes are firing properly first.

I wrote a post about this, called How to Fix Dead Butt Syndrome.

This will help if you can’t feel your glutes when doing glute exercises.

​​​3. Single Leg Foot-Elevated Hip Thrusts​​​

This is one you can do at home with just a chair or bench, etc.

For building up the glutes you will want to push these as close as failure as possible.

If you are easily able to do these for tons of reps, make sure and pre-exhaust the glutes with some of these other glute exercises first.

Like all of these other exercises, this will hit the hamstrings to a certain extent.

This isn’t bad because it hits the lower glutes and the ham-glute tie in (the underbutt).

4. Glute Pull-Throughs

This exercise hits the glutes in a controlled fashion.

As discussed in the video this is an awesome exercise to teach proper hip hinge movement.

This works a lot of the same muscles as the kettlebell swing, but since it is slow and controlled it is better for beginners. I really like this exercise since it is safe with very little chance of injury when performed properly.

Make sure and watch the video in order to see the proper form.

There are subtle differences between good and bad form in this exercise.

If you do these properly you will feel these in the glutes.

5. Band External Rotation

You can do this exercise with a cable at the gym as well.

What is funny is that I was doing these to target my obliques last year.

The first few times I did these my glutes would wind up getting sore.

This does work your core and obliques, but as explained in the video, it is an awesome exercise for building and sculpting the glutes.

One thing to keep in mind.

When you twist to the left it works the right glute and when you twist to the right it works the left glute.

Cardio that Builds Glutes Without Increasing Leg Mass

If you want to make sure your cardio workout doesn’t overdevelop the legs, the elliptical is a great choice.

Watch the video, especially the second half.

I use the same form while leaning forward a bit.

The StepMill is probably my favorite cardio machine, but it can add a bit of leg mass. The exercise bike can do this as well.

I have helped a few extreme cases of women and a few guys who really wanted to slim their legs down.

I had them avoid the StepMill and exercise bike until their legs got quite a bit slimmer.

If you find the StepMill builds up your thighs more than you would like, I would recommend the Elliptical or walk at an incline on a treadmill.

Growing Your Glutes Not Your Legs Summary:

kettlebell exercises to grow your booty

Here are the key points to keep in mind when building glutes not legs is the goal.

  • Limit exercises like squats that require heavy recruitment of your quads and hamstrings.
  • Focus on exercises that isolate the glutes.
  • Perform sets that are close to failure if increasing glute size is the goal and stop WELL SHORT of failure if you want to firm the glutes without adding additional size.
  • Pay attention to proper form to ensure the exercise is working your glutes as much as possible.
  • Use cardio machines that hit the glutes without pumping up the legs too much.

Obviously, there are countless other butt building exercises, but these are a great starting point.

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Add a few into your routine.

You should see a noticeable improvement in just a couple of months.

Cheers,

-Rusty

As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.

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Here are 5 killer exercises that grow your glutes not your legs. I also list common exercises that you will want to avoid.