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Best Glute and Hamstring Exercises for Beginners

Patrick Scheel, RDN, LDN

Published in Fitness

10 min read

November 23, 2022
Person doing forward lunge
Person doing forward lunge

When you start on a fitness journey, you might have a few of your own unique goals. Whether it’s weight loss, muscle building, or just moving your body more, there are so many positives that can come from exercise.

If you’re new to the gym and want to start reaping the benefits of muscle building for your metabolic health and overall well-being, you’ve come to the right place! We recently shared an article on the importance of upper body training, with a chest and shoulder workout for beginners.

In this article, we’ll explain the importance of building muscle plus some of the best exercises for beginners to build glute and hamstring strength.

What Does Muscle Mass Do For Your Health?

Woman doing exercises at home by the couch

Lower body exercise, like any other type of strength training, can help you build muscle. Muscle helps to boost your metabolic rate, as it is more metabolically active and burns more calories at rest than adipose tissue, or fat stores. 

Along with boosting your metabolic rate, muscle building through strength training may help to increase insulin sensitivity, which can support your overall metabolic health. Increased muscle can also support metabolic health by helping to support healthy blood pressure levels.

Weight training and muscle building are shown in research to provide support for your musculoskeletal system. This is because muscle can support healthy bone density and strengthen your ligaments, which may help to decrease your risk of injury

But, the process of increasing muscle mass can go beyond the physical benefits. It has also been shown to improve your physical self-concept, or how you view your physical fitness and body, and your self-esteem. Some research also suggests that building muscle can boost cognitive function.

Muscle Groups in the Lower Body

Muscles in the lower body

There are four major muscle groups that make up the lower body.  Each of these muscle groups plays an important role in various daily functions and can create a stable foundation for your body to perform everyday activities.

Benefits of Leg Day at the Gym

You know by now that muscle building has a host of benefits for your overall health. But, training your lower body, and more specifically your glutes and hamstrings, can have its own unique set of benefits. 

Training your posterior chain, or the muscles on the back part of your body, can help to prevent potential injuries, help with pelvic alignment, and can stabilize the knee joint. Research indicates that your glutes and hamstrings can also reduce joint pain and improve athletic performance

Working these muscle groups can also help with balance as your leg muscles are attached to your pelvic bones, and other structural muscles. Your lower limbs can also help with mobility and stability, which is why having strong leg muscles is important.

Best Hamstring Exercises

Hamstring Exercises for Building Strength

Best Glute Exercises

Glute Exercises to Add to Your Next Leg Day

Try This Glute and Hamstring Workout

You may be sold on the idea of building muscle in your lower body, so to start experiencing these benefits, here’s a sample glute and hamstring workout for beginners you can start with. Even if you’re at a higher level in your training, you can adapt this to any fitness level. 

If you’re a complete beginner, you may want to start simple and use just your body weight in these exercises until you feel comfortable progressing. Or if you’re already familiar with these exercises, simply add more weights progressively. 

Keep in mind, however, that before starting a new training program, it may be a good idea to consult a personal trainer to help you get a better sense of proper form. Regardless of your current level, here’s a customizable lower body workout you can try out to get started with your leg day training.

Start with a Warm Up

Man and woman warming up

First things first, you’ll want to start with a warm up. Research shows that an effective warm up can be a great way to activate and prep your muscles for your workout. You can start slow with the warm up to get your heart rate up.

Start off with 10 minutes of cardio exercise to get your heart rate up. This can be walking or jogging on the treadmill, walking on the stairmaster, or even dancing for 10 minutes. 

Activation Exercises

Next, you’ll want to do a few activation exercises that target your lower body muscles. Activation exercises help your muscles warm up and prepare for the upcoming workout, and can also help prevent injury to your muscles

Here are three lower body exercises to start out your workout. Complete three rounds of 10 repetitions.

1) Knee Hug

This exercise is as straightforward as it sounds. To do this exercise, you’ll want to sit down on your mat and follow these instructions: 

  • Bend your knees with your hands at the side (“hugging” your knees). 
  • Lift your feet off the floor slowly. 
  • Stretch and extend your arms to your side. 
  • Extend your legs and to a 45-degree angle. 
  • Lean your body back and lift your core, making sure to activate your lower body and core for proper stability. 
  • Return to your original position and repeat 10 times.

2) Glute Bridge

Woman doing a glute bridge on yoga mat

To do a glute bridge, follow these steps:

  • Lie down on your mat with your back on the ground and knees bent.
  • Plant your feet firmly on the floor and keep your arms at your side.
  • Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line or “bridge.”
  • Squeeze your glutes to keep them activated through this movement and hold for three seconds.
  • Bring your hips back down and repeat the exercise 10 times.

3) Lunge With Elbow to Instep 

This is a compound exercise that incorporates a few different movements. Here’s how to do a lunge to instep.

  • Stand up on your mat with your legs shoulder-width apart. 
  • Step your right foot forward as you would in a lunge, making sure to squeeze your glutes as you do this exercise. Your left foot should have its heel slightly off the ground.
  • Move your abdomen forward and down, making sure to keep your back straight.
  • Place your left hand on the floor (outside your foot) to support your posture.
  • Bring the same side hand to the inside of the right knee and move your elbow down to the floor.
  • Bring your hand back and push your torso back to return to the original position 
  • Repeat the movement on the other side and complete five repetitions on each side.

Lower Leg Workout

After you’ve warmed up and activated the lower limb muscles, it’s time to move onto the main portion of this leg workout. 

Complete 10 to 12 reps of the following four exercises, and then repeat each one four to five times with a three minute rest in between each round.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Woman doing single leg romanian deadlift

For this exercise, make sure you choose light dumbbells if you’re a beginner and focus on form and balance throughout the movement. 

  • Start in a standing position with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Press your right leg and foot into the floor, keeping your foot firmly on the ground
  • Bend your knees slightly and extend your right arm to the side.
  • Slowly bend your hips in a forward-hinging movement, pushing your glutes backwards.
  • As you do your hip hinge, move your torso forward, until it’s parallel to the ground
  • Lift your left leg, making sure to keep your back straight.
  • Keep your glutes engaged by squeezing them throughout this movement to avoid injuring your lower back.
  • Return your body to the original position and repeat 10 times before moving to the next leg.

Dumbbell Step Ups

For this exercise, you’ll need a step stool (luckily most gyms have this). you’ll want to hold your dumbbells in each hand and step up onto a bench while alternating legs. Here’s a detailed step by step. 

  • Stand up on your mat with your legs shoulder-width apart while holding your dumbbells at your sides. Make sure your palms are facing towards your body. 
  • Step up onto the stool and push your body up by lifting your opposite heel off the ground. 
  • Make sure the foot on the stool is planted firmly.  
  • To return to the original position, step off the stool while making sure to flex your hip and knee. 
  • Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Dumbbell Hip Thrust

Woman dong dumbbell hip thurst

This can be a really effective exercise for building strength in your glutes. You’ll need a bench or another piece of flat equipment to support your back for this exercise.

  • Sit on the floor with your back against the bench with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Tuck your chin in for proper form. 
  • Hold your dumbbell or barbell (if using) over your pelvic region and then extend your hips and push up slowly, making sure to squeeze your glutes and keep your core tightened. 
  • Lower your hips down to the original position and repeat 10 times. 

Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

This is another compound exercise that targets both your hamstrings and glutes.

  • Stand up on your mat with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Keep your dumbbells at your side.
  • Step backwards with your right leg and push through your feet and heel to keep your body rooted down. 
  • Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times on each leg.

Hamstring Curls

Person doing hamstring curls on yoga mat

This exercise can be done with a resistance band on the floor or using a lying leg curl machine available at most gyms. Here’s how to do this exercise with a resistance band.

  • Tie your resistance band to a bench, pole, or another piece of sturdy gym equipment.
  • Lie face down on your mat, placing your resistance band around both ankles. 
  • Keeping your arms at your sides, create resistance with the band by bending your knees, bringing them as close to your glutes as possible. 
  • Slowly unbend your knees, allowing your feet to return to the original position. 
  • Repeat the movement 10 times.

Cool Down

Finish off your workout with five minutes of stretching, making sure to focus on the muscles you just worked out. Research shows there may not be a significant difference between an active cool down and a passive one, so you may want to choose which works best. You can also discuss the best cool down method for your body with your physical trainer. 

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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