Best Upper Glute Exercises | How to Get a Shelf on Your Upper Glutes
For women looking to sculpt and strengthen their lower body, targeting the glutes and understanding the best upper glute workout and exercises are often a top priority. With over 15 years as a women’s fitness expert, one of the top questions I am asked is how to get a shelf on your upper glutes? The gluteal muscles, commonly referred to as the glutes, are not only responsible for the well-known aesthetic appeal of a rounded booty but also play a crucial role in overall lower body function. While many women focus on their lower glutes, working on the upper glutes is equally important for achieving a balanced and toned physique. In this article, I will explore the anatomy of the glutes, the importance of upper glute development, and provide step-by-step instructions for the best upper glute exercises.
Table of Contents:
- Upper Glute Anatomy
- Importance of Upper Glute Development
- Best Upper Glute Shelf Workout – Bigger Compound Movements
- Weighted Hip Thrust
- Romanian Deadlift
- Curtsy Lunge
- Sumo Deadlift
- Best Upper Glute Shelf Workout – Smaller Isolation Exercises
- Glute Kickbacks
- Fire Hydrants
- Froggy Glute Lifts
- How to Get a Shelf on Your Upper Glutes
Understanding the anatomy of the upper glutes
The glutes consist of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest and most prominent of these muscles and is responsible for hip extension, thigh abduction, and thigh rotation. It’s often divided into an upper and lower portion. To achieve a well-rounded glute appearance, it’s essential to target both the upper and lower sections of the gluteus maximus.
Importance of Upper Glute Development:
Developing the upper glutes not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of your back side but also contributes to functional strength and stability. Strong upper glutes can help improve posture, reduce lower back pain, and enhance athletic performance. Additionally, working on your upper glutes can help balance your overall glute development, preventing imbalances that can lead to injury.
- Enhanced Aesthetic Appeal: Doing the right upper glutes exercises is a key component in achieving a well-rounded and visually appealing posterior, often called a glute shelf. The upper portion of the gluteus maximus, when well-developed, contributes to a fuller, lifted appearance of the buttocks. This aesthetic improvement is often a primary motivation for individuals seeking to target their upper glutes, as it can boost confidence and body satisfaction. When women ask, how to get a shelf on your upper glute, this is the part they are referring to.
- Functional Strength and Stability: Strong upper glutes are not just about looks; they also play a crucial role in functional strength and stability. These muscles are actively engaged in various daily activities and functional movements, such as standing up from a seated position, climbing stairs, and maintaining balance. The upper glutes contribute to hip extension, which is essential for walking, running, and maintaining an upright posture and an important part of the posterior chain.
- Posture Improvement: Weak or underdeveloped upper glutes can lead to poor posture. When these muscles are strong and functioning correctly, they help support the pelvis and spine in an optimal alignment. This, in turn, reduces the risk of developing a slouched or hunched posture. Completing upper glute exercises will improved posture which not only enhances your overall appearance but also reduces the strain on your lower back and neck, promoting long-term spinal health.
- Lower Back Pain Reduction: Many individuals suffer from lower back pain, which can be attributed to weak glutes, particularly the upper glutes. When the upper glutes are underdeveloped, other muscles, such as the lower back and hamstrings, may compensate, leading to muscle imbalances and increased pressure on the lumbar spine. By strengthening the upper glutes, you can help distribute the load more evenly across your lower body, potentially alleviating or preventing lower back pain.
- Athletic Performance Enhancement: Athletes, whether amateur or professional, can benefit significantly from including the best upper glute workouts. These muscles play a pivotal role in explosive movements like sprinting, jumping, and cutting motions. Strengthening through upper glute exercises can enhance your ability to generate power and speed, contributing to improved athletic performance in various sports and activities.
- Preventing Muscle Imbalances and Injuries: Focusing exclusively on the lower glutes or neglecting the upper glutes can lead to muscle imbalances within the gluteal complex. These imbalances can result in biomechanical issues, which may increase the risk of injury during physical activities. By including upper glute exercises in your routine, you can address these imbalances and reduce the likelihood of strains, sprains, and other injuries related to muscle weaknesses.
It is important to remember that for women in particular, the importance of upper glute exercises and development extends beyond cosmetic considerations. It encompasses functional benefits like enhanced posture, reduced lower back pain, and improved athletic performance. Moreover, strengthening with the best upper glute workouts is crucial for maintaining a well-rounded and balanced gluteal complex, promoting overall lower body health and reducing the risk of injuries stemming from muscle imbalances. Incorporating targeted upper glute exercises into your fitness routine can lead to both aesthetic and functional improvements that contribute to a healthier and more active lifestyle.
Best Upper Glute Workout – Bigger Compound Movements
I like to break upper glute exercises down into 2 camps, bigger compound exercises that benefit from heavier weights and low to moderate reps and smaller, isolation exercises that focus on the mind-muscle connection and are done either with body weight, bands, or light to moderate weights in a higher rep range. The most important upper glute movements will be those ‘bigger’ compound exercises where you aim to do lower repetitions with the most weight you can safely lift.
#1: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Weighted Hip Thrust
The “best” upper glute exercise can vary from person to person depending on individual preferences, body mechanics, and goals. However, my personal favorite and one of the most highly effective compound exercise that is often regarded as excellent for targeting and growing the upper glute area is the Weighted Hip Thrust or Barbell Hip Thrust.
When weighted hip thrusts are done with a significant amount of weight in a lower repetition range they do an excellent job of targeting the upper glutes. By using a barbell, dumbbells, or hip thrust specific machine, you can safely challenge your upper glutes with heavy resistance, promoting muscle growth and strength development in the upper glute shelf area. This exercise is excellent for building size and power in the upper glutes and is often performed with fewer reps and heavier weights to maximize results.
#2: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Romanian Deadlift
Romanian Deadlifts are a compound exercise that primarily targets the hamstrings and lower back but also heavily engages the upper glutes. When performed with heavier weights and lower repetitions, RDLs can effectively stimulate muscle growth and strength development in the upper glutes, making them a valuable addition to an upper glute-focused workout routine.
#3: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Curtsy Lunge
Curtsy lunges or squats are a variation of the traditional lunge that effectively targets the upper gluteal muscles, particularly the gluteus medius and minimus. In this exercise, you step back diagonally behind your body, mimicking a curtsy motion, which engages the outer thigh and glute area more intensely than standard lunges. This diagonal movement pattern challenges your hip stability and activates the smaller glute muscles that are often neglected in straight-forward movements like regular lunges and squats. By incorporating curtsy lunges into your upper glute shelf workout, you not only work on strengthening and toning your upper glutes but also improve your overall lower body strength and balance, making it an excellent exercise for enhancing functional movement and reducing the risk of injuries.
#4: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Sumo Deadlift
Sumo deadlifts are a powerful variation of the conventional deadlift, tailored to more effectively engage the muscles of the upper glutes, inner thighs, and hamstrings. In this exercise, you adopt a wide stance with your toes pointed outwards, resembling a sumo wrestler’s stance, which shifts the focus to the gluteus maximus, particularly its upper part. The wider stance and turned-out feet position require greater activation of the glutes and adductors (inner thigh muscles) during the lift. This not only leads to strengthened and more toned upper glutes but also improves overall hip mobility and stability. By targeting these specific muscle groups, sumo deadlifts provide a comprehensive lower body and upper glute workout, enhancing functional strength and contributing to better posture and lower body power. They are particularly beneficial for those looking to focus on their glute development while still engaging in a compound, multi-joint movement.
Best Upper Glute Workout – Smaller Isolation Exercises
The following are my favorite smaller, isolation exercises that help you focus that mind-muscle connection and really feel your glutes activating.
#5: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Glute Kickbacks
Glute kickbacks are a targeted exercise specifically designed to strengthen and tone the upper glutes. This exercise involves extending one leg backward, either using bodyweight or with added resistance like a cable machine or resistance band. When performing a glute kickback, the movement primarily activates the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the gluteal group, with a particular emphasis on the upper region. This isolated motion helps in sculpting and defining the upper part of the buttocks, improving its overall shape and firmness.
Additionally, glute kickbacks also engage the hamstrings and lower back muscles, enhancing posterior chain strength. This upper glute shelf exercise is beneficial for improving the aesthetic appearance of the glutes, boosting functional lower body strength, and can aid in posture correction and injury prevention by balancing the muscular strength around the hip joint. It’s a versatile exercise that can be easily incorporated into various fitness routines, from bodyweight circuits to strength training sessions.
#6: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Clamshells
Clamshells are an effective exercise that specifically targets the muscles of the upper glutes, particularly the gluteus medius and minimus. Performed while lying on one’s side, the exercise involves keeping the legs stacked and knees bent, then repeatedly opening and closing the legs like a clamshell. This motion activates and strengthens the smaller muscles in the upper gluteal region, which are crucial for hip stabilization and often underworked in traditional lower body exercises.
Clamshells are particularly beneficial for improving lateral movement, enhancing hip mobility, and preventing knee and lower back pain by ensuring that these smaller glute muscles are strong and functional. They are a popular choice in both rehabilitation settings and as a glute activation exercise, especially for those looking to specifically target and tone the upper portion of the buttocks, improve muscular balance around the hip joint, and enhance overall lower body strength.
#7: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Fire Hydrants
Fire Hydrants are a focused exercise aimed at strengthening and toning the upper glutes, particularly emphasizing the gluteus medius and minimus muscles. This exercise is performed on all fours and involves lifting one leg away from the body to the side while keeping the knee bent, resembling the action of a dog at a fire hydrant. This lateral movement intensely activates the upper glute muscles, which are crucial for hip stability and often neglected in conventional lower body exercises. Fire Hydrants not only help in sculpting and defining the upper glute area but also play a significant role in improving hip mobility and overall lower body strength. They are particularly beneficial for enhancing functional movements that involve lateral or rotational hip action. Regularly incorporating Fire Hydrants into a workout routine can lead to better posture, reduced risk of lower body injuries, and a more balanced muscle development around the hip area.
#8: Best Upper Glute Exercise – Froggy Glute Lifts
My final upper glute workout movement is the Froggy Glute Lift which is a unique and effective exercise targeting the upper glutes, specifically designed to strengthen and tone this area. This exercise involves lying on your stomach with your legs open and heels pressed together, creating a ‘frog leg’ position. From here, you lift your thighs off the ground by squeezing your glutes. This movement intensely engages the upper portion of the gluteus maximus, fostering muscle activation and development in that region. Froggy Glute Lifts are particularly beneficial for isolating the upper glutes, a region that can be challenging to target with more traditional exercises. This exercise not only enhances the shape and firmness of the upper buttocks but also contributes to overall hip and lower back health by strengthening the muscles in these areas. Regular practice can improve posture, reduce the risk of lower body injuries, and aid in achieving a more balanced and rounded gluteal appearance.
How to get a shelf on your upper glutes?
Achieving a “shelf” on your upper glutes, a term often used to describe well-defined and lifted upper buttocks, involves a combination of targeted exercises and overall lifestyle adjustments. Firstly, incorporating the above strength training exercises that focus on the gluteus maximus, particularly its upper portion, is crucial. Exercises like hip thrusts, deadlifts, squats (especially sumo and Bulgarian split squats), and lunges (including curtsy and reverse lunges) are highly effective. Additionally, isolation exercises such as glute bridges, clamshells, and froggy glute lifts can directly target the upper glutes for more defined shaping. It’s important to progressively increase the intensity of these exercises, either by adding more weight, increasing the number of repetitions, or adjusting the tempo to challenge the muscles continually.
Alongside exercise, nutrition and overall body composition play a significant role in developing and highlighting the glute shelf. A balanced diet that supports muscle growth and maintenance is essential. This typically includes a sufficient intake of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, along with adequate hydration and micronutrients. Losing excess body fat through a combination of diet and cardiovascular exercise can also help in making the upper glutes more prominent. Furthermore, proper rest and recovery, including adequate sleep and active recovery days, are vital for muscle growth and definition. Lastly, consistency is key; significant changes in muscle definition and shape require time, dedication, and a holistic approach to both fitness and lifestyle. Remember, everyone’s body is different, and genetic factors also play a role in how muscles develop and where fat is distributed, so it’s important to set realistic glute shelf goals and be patient with the process.