Try adding step-ups to your glute workouts if you want to build strength and sculpt your butt

Research has found the step-up and variations of this move to be the best glute activating exercise - here's why

Woman performs a step-up outdoors
(Image credit: Getty)

The squat is perhaps the most well-known glute exercise out there and most people's go-to exercise when building strength in their butt. However, this isn't the only exercise that will help you build muscle in your lower body: one study has found that step-ups could be the best glute-activating exercise.

If you like exercises like the reverse lunge, which is included in our best glute exercises roundup, then you'll probably enjoy the added challenge of performing this facing forward with the addition of a step.

You also might like to hear the results of one study, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (opens in new tab), concluded the step-up may elicit the greatest level of gluteus maximus activation. 

Consider adding this to your next leg day. You should know that the study also took into account variations of the step-up including, lateral, diagonal, and cross-over step-up. It might be time you spent less time on the floor performing donkey kicks and glute bridges and instead work on mastering the step-up to notice optimal gains in your glutes.

From this systematic review, the scientists conclude the step-up was most effective for activating the glutes due to the level of stability required to complete the movement. 

Man works his glutes out performing a step-up at the gym

(Image credit: Getty)

The authors stated, "The higher excitatory demand for step-up and its variations are associated with the need to stabilize the knees and hip during the upward and downward movement (the more significant synergistic activity of the gluteus medius)."

If you really want to maximize your glute strengthening workouts then the study also included various bilateral exercises such as hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts and lunges, all of which can provide high levels of glute activation as well. However, some of these exercises are more advanced, and the scientists did note that the volume of external load, or additional weight used during the exercise, will impact results.

For anyone that is new to fitness, there is no shame in starting slow and steady and the step-up is ideal for this. There is a low risk of injury with this movement and it can be used for both strength and cardio workouts. Once you've built up stronger glute muscles, then you might like to add in one of the best kettlebells to your workout.

If you aren't sure if you have performed a step-up before or need a refresher on exactly how it's done, all you will need in terms of equipment is a step of some form (this could be a bench or a sturdy chair). Now pushing primarily through your lead foot, lift up yourself onto the step. Then step back into your start position. Correct form will get the best results: aim to keep your back straight, your core nice and tight, and ensure your foot is planted fully on the step.

Don't forget that nutrition plays a key role in muscle growth and recovery. If you aren't eating enough protein then this could affect your progress, as protein is one of the building blocks of muscle. You can add more protein to your diet quite easily – with one of the best protein powders for weight loss from our guide.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

Jessica is Staff Writer at Fit&Well. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 


When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.