How to Build Stronger Glutes & Hamstrings?

  • by

IAM is an acronym for ISSA Academy Malaysia. Incidentally, Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) states that I am, express eternity and unchangeableness of existence, which is the very first element necessary in a God who is to be depended upon. No dependence could be placed by any one of us upon a changeable God. He must be the same yesterday, today, and forever, if we are to have any peace or comfort.

Are you a runner, a footballer or a tennis player? Do you want to have a pair of strong legs to perform better in your favourite sports?

Let’s start with understanding the structure and actions of the two muscles groups before we dive into some of the the best ways to activate and build hamstrings and glute muscles.

Anatomy and Function of the Glutes and Hamstring 

Three muscles make up the glutes: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The attachment site for these muscles is the ilium and sacrum. They all insert on the femur.

Knowing that the muscles originate in the hip region and insert on the femur can explain their muscle actions. The main functions of the glutes are extension, hip abduction, external rotation of the hip, and internal rotation of the hip. The insertion onto the femur allows the glutes to play a role in knee extension.

The semitendinosus, semimembranosus, long head biceps femoris, and short head biceps femoris make up the hamstrings. The hamstring muscle group originates on the ischium and attaches to the tibia and fibula. Important muscle actions of the hamstrings are hip extension and knee flexion.

Why Strong Hamstrings and Glutes are Important

The legs are the largest muscle group in the body. They provide your clients with the best opportunity to build more muscle and burn more fat. All clients benefit from stronger legs, and the hamstrings and glutes are a critical part of this.

Research indicates that doing a strength-based hamstrings workout helps reduce the risk of injury to this muscle group (1). This is important for athletes who rely largely on their legs. Football and soccer players are especially at risk of hamstring injury according to an article published in Current Sports Medicine Reports (2). 

Other studies have connected poor glute function with low back pain (3). If glute function is poor, it increases the load on the spine. Spinal stability is reduced as well. Together, this leads to pain in the lower back.

Plus, greater strength in the glutes and hamstring can help boost performance. Athletes can maneuver their bodies with more power. They’re also better able to withstand collisions with their opponents.

An Effective Glute and Hamstring Workout Includes Both Isolation and Compound Exercises

The glutes and hamstrings work together throughout many lower body exercises. Some of these are isolation exercises, others are compound exercises—and both belong in a complete glute and hamstring workout.

The difference between an isolation exercise and compound strength exercise is the number of muscles working at one time. Compound exercises recruit more muscles and muscle fibers. Isolation exercises aim to target just one muscle group.

Isolation exercises are important because they enable you to build muscle mass in specific areas. If a client has an injury, such as a hamstring strain, isolation exercises allow them to do their workout while avoiding this area.

The benefit of compound exercises is that they incorporate both muscle groups at the same time. This leads to a faster workout. Instead of doing glute training and hamstring training separately, clients can do a combined workout.

Top Isolation Exercises to Activate the Glutes

Implementing the following exercises can help clients who have muscular imbalances or trouble feeling the glutes contract. These exercises help stimulate the glutes without too much help from other muscles.

Banded Clamshell 

Your client starts the banded clamshell by lying on the ground in a side elbow plank position. Knees remain bent at 45 degrees with a mini band around both legs. The band should sit above the knees. With one leg on top of the other, your client will raise the top leg against the band. The knee and ankle should rise off the bottom leg together. 

External rotation of the hip creates isolation of the glutes. It helps with muscle activation and stability. In turn, this transfers to compound leg exercises. To avoid muscle imbalance issues, have the client perform the same movement on both sides (raising both the left and right leg).

Monster Walks 

In a standing position, place a mini band around both legs, at the ankles. Bend slightly at the knees and hips. Proceed by walking in a diagonal pattern. Move forward, stepping laterally. Hip abduction or external rotation against the resisted band triggers glute activation.

Banded Hip Thrusts 

To start the banded hip thrust, lie flat on the back with a band around the thighs. Initiate the movement by raising the pelvis off the ground. Keeping the hips raised toward the ceiling, drive through the heels to perform hip extension. Squeeze the glutes at the top or end of the range of motion. 

The resistance band forces hip external rotation, creating more glute activation. This is achieved through “pushing the knees out” against the band.

Top Isolation Exercises to Activate the Hamstring 

The hip hinge movement pattern is the most important aspect of hamstring muscle recruitment. Bending at the hips should be accompanied by a neutral spine. This results in a hinge. The hip hinge movement stimulates the muscles in the posterior chain. 

Optimal hinge movements occur only through the hips and not by flexing the lower back. When a client’s lumbar spine begins to round or flex, they are not moving through the hips. Use the following isolation exercises in your client’s training program.

Good Morning 

The good morning exercise uses the hip hinge movement pattern. In fact, the good morning exercise is one of the best examples of what a hip hinge should look like. 

Have your client start with the barbell in a back-rack position, the same as they would for a back squat. Their foot stance should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and, like the squat, toes pointed slightly outward. 

Your client will engage their upper back and keep a good arch in their lower back. They should have a slight bend at the knees and push their butt back as they start to bend forward at the hips. Have them bend until their torso is slightly above parallel. Then, slowly raise back to the starting position, engaging the glutes and hamstrings to get there.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift 

Like the good morning, the single-leg Romanian deadlift requires a hip hinge. It also works on hamstring activation and stability. 

To do the single-leg Romanian deadlift, clients stand tall with both feet on the ground. To start the exercise, they raise the right leg, balancing on the left leg. Have them bend at the hips, cueing them to shoot the hips back as far as they can. 

The right leg is off the ground and should remain straight. The client will lower the dumbbells to below the knee. Ensure they do so without rotating the pelvis. Once the client’s upper body is parallel to the ground, have them return to the starting position. They should drive through the heel of the foot on the ground and simultaneously extend the hips forward to complete the movement.

Stability Ball Curl 

Knee flexion is a hamstring muscle action. Stability ball hamstring curls isolate the hamstrings without having to use much of any other muscles. 

To start, have the client lie flat on their back with their calves rested on the stability ball. Instruct them to lift their hips off the ground and pull the ball in with their feet, flexing the knee and contracting the hamstring. Next, slowly let the ball go back to the starting position by extending the legs and keeping the hips raised toward the ceiling.

Best Compound Exercises for Building Strength and Muscle in the Glutes

The following compound exercises target mainly the glutes. They are complex exercises so they receive help from other muscle groups in the lower body. This promotes heavy weight training to achieve stronger glutes.

Barbell Hip Thrusts 

This is one of the best glute building exercises. Barbells hip thrusts encourage clients to perform hip extension and overload the glute muscles. The heavier the load, the more type II muscle fibers recruited. This leads to more muscle growth and strength gains.

Sumo Deadlift 

Sumo deadlifts are a preferred exercise for the glutes. The excessive bending at the hips and knees during a sumo deadlift promotes more hip extension. 

The conventional or straight leg deadlift uses mainly the lower back and hamstrings due to only a hip hinge movement. Sumo deadlifts require more hip and leg drive.

Bulgarian Split Squat 

If done correctly the Bulgarian split squat overloads the glutes tremendously. The main obstacle is that the quadriceps can easily take over the exercise. 

Start in a stationary lunge position with the back foot elevated on a bench. Hold two dumbbells to the side and ensure the front knee remains over the ankle. Drop the back knee toward the ground, keeping an upright position. Drive through the heel of the front foot to return to the starting position. Make sure your client has a loose grip on the dumbbells. 

The key is keeping the top of the back foot on the bench. Avoid pushing the toes into the bench. Instead, rest the back foot and laces flat on the bench. When the toes come up and push on the bench, the quadriceps are stimulated. Perform this exercise with both the right foot and left foot lifted to avoid muscle imbalance.

Compound Exercises to Build Strength and Muscle in the Hamstring

The following exercises utilize both the glutes and hamstrings, but they emphasize the hip hinge movement pattern more. This makes them optimal exercises for hamstring strength.

Straight Leg Barbell Deadlift 

The positioning of the body during a conventional or straight leg deadlift promotes more hamstring contraction. Little to no bend at the knee and driving the hips as far back as possible create this contraction. On top of that, the barbell allows higher loads to be used. The lower back and hamstrings work together to move the heavy weight.

Kettlebell Swing 

The kettlebell swing also uses the glutes and hamstrings. At the top end of the exercise, when you extend the hips forward, you create a glute contraction. Although, the hip hinge is the dominant part of the exercise. This is where the demand is highest for hamstring recruitment. 

Learn how to perform the kettlebell swing and cue clients properly.

Glute-Ham Raise

The name says it all. The hamstrings are highly activated during eccentric muscle contraction in a glute-ham raise. This is what makes the hamstrings work even harder.

Squats: The Most Important Lower Body Exercise?

The exercises discussed in this article use all lower body muscles. This includes the glutes and hamstrings. The main difference between them is that one muscle usually ends up working more than others during specific exercises—at the same time, the hamstrings and glutes work together throughout all posterior chain exercises.

The big question still remains: What do squats actually work? Do they target the glutes? Hamstrings? Quadriceps? The short answer is: all of the above.

More specifically, a barbell back squat incorporates all lower body muscles. This exercise even uses other muscles throughout the entire body. Trainers today still try to figure out which muscle group benefits the most.

Contrary to popular belief, the hamstrings are not as active during squats as you might think. Squats are a quad-dominant exercise. The reason for this boils down to the muscle actions of each muscle group involved in the squat exercise.

To properly stimulate any muscle, the muscle needs to contract. During a squat, there is excessive bending at the knees and hips. This results in almost no change in hamstring muscle length. Therefore, very little contraction occurs.

As a muscle concentrically contracts, the muscle length shortens. This does not happen enough during a squat for the hamstrings to be fully engaged. This is why a sumo deadlift targets the glutes more than it does the hamstrings.

The conventional deadlift’s main focus is a hip hinge. In other words, only bending at the hips and not at both the hips and knees.

The Key to An Effective Glute and Hamstring Workout

The more muscle groups used during a single lift, the better the metabolic response. Use isolation exercises to help stimulate muscles that are weak or inactive. When a client lacks strength in certain areas and you neglect to train that muscle, you can expect injuries.

For optimal strength and muscle gain, train the hamstrings and glutes together using compound lifts. Utilize isolation exercises to ensure that your client moves biomechanically efficiently through these lifts.

If you are looking to take your personal training career to the next level and help more people, check out ISSA Glute Specialist Certification. Become the go-to expert for building glutes, hamstrings, and the whole posterior chain.

CONTACT US at or WhatsApp 017-306 5569


  • Bourne, M. N., Timmins, R. G., Opar, D. A., Pizzari, T., Ruddy, J. D., Sims, C., Williams, M. D., & Shield, A. J. (2017). An evidence-based framework for strengthening exercises to prevent hamstring injury. Sports Medicine48(2), 251–267. 
  • Chu, S. K., & Rho, M. E. (2016). Hamstring injuries in the athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports15(3), 184–190. 
  • Sadler, S., Cassidy, S., Peterson, B., Spink, M., & Chuter, V. (2019). Gluteus medius muscle function in people with and without low back pain: A systematic review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders20(1).