Dumbbells are a killer way to take your glute training to the next level. Here’s a look at the best dumbbell glute exercises, including benefits and pro tips for doing them properly.
Training the glutes has become all the rage in recent years.
Booty bands, hip thrusts, cable kickbacks—these exercises and pieces of equipment proliferate just about every gym on the planet nowadays.
And one of the best ways that you can train the glutes—whether you want to develop a poppin’ booty or want to power up athletic performance—is using dumbbells.
In this guide, I will guide you through the best dumbbell exercises you can do for your glutes that can be done at home or at the gym.
We will cover:
And much more.
Let’s jump right in.
Benefits of Dumbbell Glute Exercises
Okay, before we jump into the glute dumbbell exercises, why use them at all?
After all, we all know that we can generate more power and lift more weight with a machine or a barbell.
But there are some unique characteristics of dumbbells that make them an excellent choice for International Glute Day.
💪 Easier to ditch. Strictly from a safety perspective, dumbbells are easier to ditch compared to barbells. And because they have less distance to travel when dropping them, they won’t rip up the floor as much as dropping a fully loaded barbell. Dumbbells don’t require a spotter, are easier to drop if you fail a rep, and they won’t cause as much damage to the floor and your ego if you drop them on the gym floor.
💪 Can start at a lower weight. Dumbbells are a great choice for lifters who are ready to progress from bodyweight exercises, but aren’t quite ready for barbell exercises (which start at 45lbs in terms of resistance with just the bar weight). Dumbbells offer a huge range of flexibility for weight options, starting at 2.5lbs and quickly reaching 100-lbs per dumbbell and higher. In other words: lots of room to progress!
💪 Dumbbells are perfect for home-based workouts. Dumbbells are compact and portable. No bulky machine, squat rack, barbells, or bumper plates required. Grab your favorite pair of dumbbells, whether they are a set of rubber hex DBs or one of the top adjustable dumbbells on the market, and go to work.
💪 Easier grip and less strain on the wrists. One of the key things I love about dumbbells is that you can hold them with a grip that is more comfortable than a straight barbell. The handles are also typically contoured for superior grip, making the combo of a more ergonomic handle and grip variety a great choice for reducing unnecessary strain on the elbow and wrist.
💪 Better for unilateral exercises. Experienced lifters may be able to do a unilateral lift like Bulgarian split squats with a barbell, but for the majority of us, the main challenge of the exercise is properly balancing the barbell.
Dumbbells, generally speaking, are easier to balance and hold so that we can focus on kicking butt on the exercise versus trying not to teeter over.
This is especially obvious with exercises like step-ups that recruit a TON of stabilizer muscles.
Best Dumbbell Exercises for Strong and Poppin’ Glutes
1. Dumbbell Hip Thrust
When it comes to building stronger, more muscular glutes, I doubt there is an exercise that is as popular as the barbell hip thrust.
The benefits of the hip thrust are almost endless: the exercise is easy on the knees, develops raw power like few other exercises, and is pound-for-pound the best exercise on the planet for developing a thunderous booty .
But the downside of the barbell hip thrust that they require a butt-ton of equipment. Barbell, bumper plates, crash pads or mats for the plates, hip thrust pad, and a bench.
That’s where the dumbbell hip thrust steps in. It’s easier than barbell hip thrusts (both in set-up and execution) and is excellent for doing unilateral hip thrusts as it’s much easier to balance compared to a 7-foot barbell loaded with weight plates.
Tip: Rotate your feet slightly outwards when doing this exercise for even more glute activation. Research has shown externally rotated feet fire more glute muscle compared to a “straight ahead” foot position .
While you won’t be able to achieve the same amount of peak power with dumbbells vs barbells, you can hit comparable amounts of peak muscle activation, which is what a majority of lifters are looking for with this exercise (aka a bigger booty).
2. Dumbbell step-ups
In terms of looks, the dumbbell step-up isn’t splashy. Pick up a weight, take a step up on a platform, and step down. Repeat a bunch of times.
While this exercise isn’t particularly sexy, it’s a bonafide monster for developing the glutes.
Step ups are a unilateral exercise that are excellent for addressing muscle imbalances (by working both sides of the body equally), are easy on the back, and are great for athletes as they help build unilateral power and strength (so you can jump off one leg with more force, for example).
One meta-analysis of glute exercises found that the dumbbell step-up generated the highest level of glute activation when compared to deadlifts, hip thrusts, squats and lunges.
Dumbbell step ups recruit a TON of muscle, partly because there is a lot of stabilization work happening to keep yourself properly balanced as you take that step up into the sky.
The key to nailing the dumbbell step-up is in having the correct height of the platform.
The sweet spot is around 18” depending on your height. Too low, and you are leaving a lot of muscle recruitment on the table. Too high, it turns into a quad-dominant exercise.
Note: The crossover dumbbell step-up is the best variation you can do of this already-awesome exercise for maximum glute growth. Once you get comfortable with the regular dumbbell step-up, add the crossover DB step-up to take your glute game to the next level.
Don’t forget to drive through the bench or platform with your foot to fire as much of the posterior muscles as possible.
And of course, beginners should start with something to support on (place the bench of plyo box next to the wall, for instance) in the event they lose balance.
3. Dumbbell Glute Bridge
The dumbbell glute bridge is very similar to the hip thrust, but differs in two key respects.
First, you don’t need any equipment besides the dumbbell as your back is parked against the floor instead of a bench.
And second, because there isn’t as much flexion in the hips (there is less overall range of motion compared to hip thrusts), there isn’t quite as much recruitment in the glutes.
You can compensate for this by holding the end of range of motion (when your knees, hips and torso are all flat) for an extra couple of seconds to get an extra squeeze out of the glutes.
Pairing dumbbells with a loop band is another way to maximize glute engagement–and is a reason this particular exercise also makes it on my list of the best banded glute exercises.
That said, this exercise is a great no-frills exercise that fires lots of the muscles in your posterior chain, including the butt, and doesn’t require any additional equipment save for a dumbbell and a can-do attitude.
4. Bulgarian Splits
Back to the bench with another dumbbell exercise that is an absolute monster for glute development.
This exercise, which has also surged in popularity in recent years, is a variation of the split squat (the difference being that Bulgarian splits have an elevated back foot) that I love for the facts that they are relatively easy on the knees and you can really hammer the glutes with proper foot and body positioning.
Additionally, the Bulgarian split version allows for more depth in the movement and really encourages more hip flexibility, which, let’s be honest, pretty much all of us could benefit from.
Here’s what you need to know about targeting the right muscles when doing this exercise:
⭐ Quad dominant foot positioning — Bring your working foot closer to the bench, allowing the knee to track over the toes, for more of an emphasis on the quads.
⭐ Glute dominant foot positioning – Place the working foot further away from the bench, so that your shin remains totally vertical through the movement to really target the glutes.
The key to remember which is which is simple: more knee bend = more quad work. Less knee bend = more glute work.
When starting out with this exercise, play around with foot placement without dumbbells to get a sense of what’s comfortable and how much range of motion you can get out of your hips so that you can target your glutes as effectively as possible.
5. Banded box squats
While they are called box squats, in reality, they can be done with a bench, a plyo box, or a stack of old phone books (not recommended, but hey, work with what ya got).
Banded box squats take the regular meat-and-potatoes squat and add a couple of tweaks that make it more glute-centric.
For starters, I like adding the band (place the band above the knees at mid-thigh so the band isn’t clipping the box when you squat) as they fire the adductors and encourage better squatting technique.
Second, using a box encourages a more vertical shin and more of a hip hinge in the movement, stealing some of the knee flexion (which fires the quads), and recruiting more glute muscle than a regular back or front squat.
Tip: The glutes are a hip extensor. This means that the more your hips extend in the course of an exercise, the more they are going to be activated.
And finally, box squats allow you to squat to a consistent depth, something that even experienced lifters need from time to time to keep them honest.
As for dumbbell placement, you can go with a Goblet hold (holding it in both hands in front of the sternum) or one of my favorite DB hand positions, holding them on the shoulders, which has the added benefit of promoting better posture when squatting.
6. Sumo squats.
Sumo squats are one of my favorite squat variations.
There are a heap of benefits to sumo squats, which feature a wider stance and externally rotated feet, including less strain on the knees, and powering up your glutes, and especially the adductors1.
Lifters often find they can push more weight with this glute-busting squat variation as the wider base gives them more stability and recruits more of the posterior chain.
If you’ve been paying attention, you likely know how to perform this dumbbell exercise to target the glutes:
- Wider stance (1.5x the width of your hips is a good point of reference)
- Slightly flared feet to recruit the glutes
- Torso very slightly angled forward to allow for more depth
- Hold the weight with both hands
Double the length of time it takes for you to descend to maximize time under tension and really set the glutes ablaze.
Dumbbell Glute Exercises – FAQs
Can I grow glutes with dumbbells?
Absolutely. While you won’t be able to generate the same amount of peak power compared to a barbell, there’s plenty of research that shows dumbbell training can solicit the same and even sometimes superior muscle activation compared to a barbell .
The primary reason for this is that dumbbells often allow you to lift with a fuller range of motion. Growing your glutes with dumbbells is an excellent option for both beginner and experienced lifters as you can ditch the weight easily, train unilaterally, and get more muscle activation compared to barbell training.
Do dumbbell squats work glutes?
Squats are primarily a quad-focused exercise, but there are some ways that you can tweak it to get more activation in the glutes and hamstrings.
Doing box squats is one way to do so as it encourages more hip flexion. You can also use a band to engage the adductors while doing squats. Also, squat stance plays a huge factor in how much dumbbell squats work the glutes. Having a foot stance that is just outside of your shoulders with toes slightly externally rotated will recruit more glute muscle. 
Can you grow glutes with light weights?
You can grow glute muscle and mass with light weights and even bodyweight. Hypertrophy (peak muscle building) happens in the 8-14 repetition range, so if you have a weight that you can just barely do 12 or so reps with, you are in great shape.
Additionally, if you want to do a pure bodyweight glute-building workout, or you have very light dumbbells that you can easily do more than 15 reps with, simply slow down the reps to increase the time under tension.
Three seconds down, pause for a second, two seconds up. Ten reps with this kind of tempo would be a full minute of tension, guaranteed to be enough to get those glutes working towards their limits.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the glutes are much more than something to fill out the back of your pants–they provide a tremendous amount of stability and power to the rest of your body.
Whether you are an athlete looking to improve performance on the court, a lifter who wants to activate those muscles that go to sleep from hours of sitting, or you simply want to add some cushion to your tush, these dumbbell glute exercises will help you get there.
Pick a couple of exercises, add them to your workout routine, and pop those glutes!
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