It’s a common misconception that you have to do lunges and squats to strengthen your glutes, but in reality, there are many low-impact exercises that can help you to shape, tone, and lift your derriere. It simply comes down to a bit of science.
Certain exercises, like full lunges and squats, can cause irritation to the knee cap depending on how the knee bends during these movements. In individuals with healthy knees, these moves are fine as long as the proper form is used, but in those with knee pain, they are often immediately aggravating. Those who experience knee pain typically lack strength in the hip and gluteal muscles, so it is important to find ways to strengthen these muscles while avoiding those exercises that increase knee pain and discomfort. (1)
There are three gluteal muscles that make up your booty. The gluteus maximus, the largest and most visible muscle, is used through many daily movements like standing and sitting, while the gluteus medius and minimus are smaller, deeper muscles that keep the hips stable and strong. Targeting all three of these muscles can help you to develop balanced, functional, and stronger glutes.
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Use these seven exercises 1-3 times per week for best results. You’ll need an exercise mat and a towel to provide extra support for your knees.
7 Butt Exercises You Can Do with Bad Knees
Kneeling Kickbacks | 15 reps per side
This exercise tones and sculpts the gluteus medius.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. You can fold a blanket into thirds and place it under your knees for extra cushioning. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees.
- Press into your palms and right knee to hover your left knee off the ground.
- Keep the knee bent and flex the foot as you exhale and lift the leg up and back, pressing the sole of your foot up towards the sky. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Inhale to lower the left leg back down, then repeat for 15 reps. Switch sides.
Booty Combo | 15 reps per side
This exercise targets the smaller stabilizing muscles: the gluteus medius and minimus.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Slide your towel under your knees for added cushioning. Engage your abs.
- Shift your weight onto your right knee and straighten your left leg back behind you. On an exhale, kick your left leg back and slightly out, turning your toes outward and squeezing with your outer hip and glute.
- Inhale to lower back towards a tabletop position, hovering the knee above the ground.
- Then, exhale to keep the knee bent as you lift your leg out to the side, squeezing your glutes at the top. Inhale the leg back down to tabletop.
- Repeat 15 times on this side, then switch legs.
Clamshell Bridge | 15 reps
This exercise targets the gluteus maximus without compromising the knees.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the mat.
- Bring the soles of your feet to touch and let your knees open out wide. Firmly press your feet into each other and engage your lower abs. Lengthen your arms down by your sides.
- Exhale to lift your hips up towards the sky. At the top, draw your lower belly in and squeeze your glutes.
- Inhale to slowly lower your hips back down.
- Repeat for 15 reps.
Single Leg Bridge | 15 reps per side
Burn, baby, burn. This low-impact exercise will make your glutes feel like they are on fire!
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the mat. Reach your arms down alongside your body.
- Bring your legs together, then straighten your right leg up towards the sky and flex the foot.
- Take an exhale as you lift your hips and press your foot up toward the ceiling. Pause for a moment at the top and squeeze your glutes.
- Inhale to tap your hips back to the ground and then exhale to lift again.
- Stay on this side for 15 reps, then switch legs.
Booty Burner Toe Taps | 10 reps per side
Feel the burn with this exercise that targets all three glute muscles.
- Stand with your feet together and your hands clasped in front of your chest. Engage your abs.
- Sit back into a quarter squat and squeeze your glutes.
- Shift the weight into your right foot. Pick up your left foot and tap the toes back behind you.
- Tap your toes back in line with your right foot. Then, tap your toes out to the left and then tap them back in line with your right foot again.
- Stay on this side and repeat for 10 reps. Then come back to your quarter squat and switch legs.
Single Leg Deadlift | 12 reps per side
This exercise strengthens the small stabilizer muscles and sculpts the gluteus maximus,
- Start standing with your feet hip-width distance apart. Place your left hand on your hip and straighten your right arm down your side.
- Straighten your right leg back and point the toes on the ground. Engage your abs and squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other. Bring a small bend into your left leg.
- Inhale to lift your right leg straight up and back, while also lowering your torso and reaching your right hand towards your left knee. Try and keep your back straight the entire time.
- Exhale to stand back up. Repeat for 12 reps, then switch legs.
Arabesque Kickbacks | 12 reps per side
This dancer-inspired exercise tones the booty while also strengthening your entire core. If you need more stability, rest the palm of your reaching arm on a wall.
- Begin standing. Reach your right arm up over your head. Take your left arm straight out to the side.
- Shift your weight into your right leg and bring a small bend into the knee. Point your left toes back behind you, straightening the leg.
- Engage your abs and keep your chest lifted as you exhale and lift your left leg up and back. Hold for a moment at the top, squeezing your glutes. Then, tap the toes back down.
- Repeat for 12 reps, then switch legs.
(Your Next Workout: The 6 Best Butt Exercises for Knee Pain – No Squats or Lunges!)