How To Get A Shelf On The Upper Glutes (With Workout)

December 7, 2022

Do you want your booty to pop through your jeans with an upper shelf? You’ve found the right article. And I’m going to give you the best advice within the first paragraph of this article. Stop copying band glute exercises from social media and start training your glutes with heavy loading!

The upper glute shelf is developed by building the gluteus maximus and medius. You must use heavily loaded compound exercises and ditch the light resistance band exercises.

Before diving into the nitty gritty, it’s essential to understand basic glute anatomy to maximize the upper glute shelf.

Glute Anatomy

There are three main glute muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus
How To Get Big Glutes

The gluteus medius and minimus are smaller glute muscles that abduct the hip (think of 80s Jane Fonda lying lateral leg raise) and medially rotate the leg (turn the leg inward). The gluteus maximus is the large, powerful muscle of the butt that extends the leg and assists in lateral rotation (turning the leg outward).

The gluteus maximus and, to some extent, gluteus medius are the muscles responsible for giving you the upper glute shelf.

How To Build An Upper Glute Shelf

How To Build An Upper Glute Shelf

So, how do you build the shelf on your upper glutes that make your jeans pop? Forget the endless walking band exercises you see on Instagram. You must lift heavy to effectively recruit the gluteus maximus (the primary muscle to create the upper shelf)!

The contributions from the glutes when squatting, lunging, or deadlifting increase as the load increases [1].

Meaning that the heavier the load, the more the glutes are used. For example, the hips provide a 33% greater contribution to the squat at 90% vs. 50% 1RM with no increase in knee extensor contribution (quads) [2].

The lunge is similar, with a 22.8% greater hip contribution at 50% additional bodyweight load vs. 12.5% load [3]. The deadlift follows the same suit with a 33% increase in hip contribution at 80% vs. 10% 1RM [4].

Heavy loads are needed to elicit large forces from the gluteus maximus to stimulate muscle growth. So, what exercises can we use to get a bigger butt grow the upper glute shelf?

Best Upper Glute Exercises For A Shelf

Deep Squats

To maximize glute involvement when squatting, squat deep to place the most extensive stretch on the glutes. You can make minor adjustments, such as using the low bar position, which increases forward lean, resulting in greater glute activation [5][6].

However, if you don’t like that position (I prefer high bar), stick with what's comfortable. Here’s how to maximize the squat for the glutes:

  • Unrack the bar on your upper traps or rear delts depending on if you are high or low bar squatting.
  • Stand with your feet slightly outside shoulder width and pointing out.
  • Break at the knees and hips simultaneously while pushing the knees out. Once you're in the bottom position with your bum touching your calves, drive through your entire foot back to the top position.

Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is a far better upper shelf glute builder than the deadlift. The deadlift doesn’t maximally stretch the glutes and doesn’t stress hip extension to the same extent as the RDL.

You can make small movement modifications, like bending the knees more when descending to place less stretch on the hamstrings and more stress on the glutes. You can also take a wider stance to hit the glutes harder [7]. Here’s how to do it:

  • Assuming you've picked your weight up, stand tall with your knees slightly bent and chest out. Activate your lats to keep the bar close by thinking about having oranges under your armpits.
  • To initiate the movement, arch your lower back like you're going to twerk and push your hips backward. Your bodyweight should be through your heels. You can either pack your chin and look down so you have a straight line for your spine, or you can have your head and eyes facing forward. Either is fine and go with what feels best.
  • The bar should travel down your legs as you push your hips back. You shouldn't have any space between the bar and your legs. That's how close it needs to be. Your knees should be at precisely the same angle as at the beginning.
  • The most crucial point many lifters get wrong is when to stop the descent. As soon as your hips STOP MOVING BACKWARD, that is the end of the descent. You will find this is either just above or below your kneecap. If done correctly, you won't have the bar by your shin, which will mean your lower back is taking the rest of the load, not your hamstrings.
  • Thrust your hips forward to get back to the starting position. Rinse and repeat.

Reverse Lunge

For your upper glute shelf, the reverse lunge trumps the forward lunge because of the shin angle and the ease of loading your backside versus your quads. A slight forward lean also helps stretch the glutes throughout the movement, promoting muscle growth. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step back with your right leg while simultaneously lowering your hips. Lower the knee to the floor as your right toes touch the floor. Your front shin should be near vertical.
  • Drive through the left heel and push to a straight leg. Repeat with the same or alternate leg.

To make this more intense, you can elevate your front foot to get a deeper stretch!

Walking Lunge

While the reverse lunge is great, the walking lunge is still excellent for building the upper glute shelf. Especially when performing high-rep walking lunges. As in, 100-400 m non-stop. Good luck walking the next day with the glute soreness. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step forward with your right leg and lower your hips as your foot hits the floor. It should be one fluid motion with your back knee lowering to the floor.
  • Push through your right foot and bring your left leg forward, continuing the same pattern.

Back Extension

While the name makes it sound like a back exercise (which it is), a simple modification turns it into an epic upper shelf glute builder. Instead of raising your shoulders, push your hips through the pad and squeeze hard. Here’s how to do it:

  • Squeeze your glutes as you thrust your hips through the pad. At the top, continue squeezing.
  • Slowly lower yourself to the bottom position.

Glute Bridge

The glute bridge is the most straightforward upper shelf glute targeted exercise. It elicits greater glute activation than the hip thrust [8]. But the range of motion is much shorter. Here’s how to do it:

  • Roll the barbell over your hips and set your feet on the floor. Point your toes out for better glute activation.
  • Drive through your heels and tilt your bum forward. This will posteriorly tilt your pelvis, giving you better glute activation.
  • Squeeze at the top and slowly lower the weight to the floor.

Hip Thrust

I love the hip thrust for training glutes, and it should be the main staple for your upper glute shelf training. Heavy and burnout sets will leave you walking funny. You can add a band around your knees during the hip thrust to increase the challenge to your glutes since they are hip extensors and external rotators.

You now have resistance vertically with the barbell for hip extension and laterally for the external rotators. Here’s how to hip thrust:

  • Sit on the floor with your back against a bench. Roll the barbell, so it is in the crease of your hips. Use a barbell pad or mat to cushion between you and the barbell.
  • Bring your feet flat so your shins are vertical at the top of the movement. Shift your back up the bench, so your shoulder blades are against the edge.
  • Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top.

Step Up

Two pieces of information completely changed my view on the step-up. First, a systematic review compiling all of the relevant glute muscle activation research found the step-up lit up the glutes the most [9].

Secondly, the Bulgarian Weightlifting team dropped all back squatting in favor of the step-up.

It was reported many lifters had stopped squatting and hit personal best snatch and clean & jerks. The world record holder at the time Leonid Taranenko who clean & jerked 586 pounds, only performed the step-up as his heavy leg training for four years leading up to this.

His best step-up was 396 pounds for 3 reps with each leg which is insane. What matters to you, however, is the Soviet coaches observed the lifters who used the step-up instead of the squat developed more complete muscularity than someone who not just lifted heavy weights but also sprinted and jumped.

Here’s how to perform the step-up:

  • Find a box or bench that allows your upper thigh to be parallel with the floor when your foot is placed on it.
  • Unrack the barbell and step one foot onto the box. Drive with the entire foot until your leg is straight.
  • The bar should remain over your hips, so don't lean too far forward. Slowly lower yourself so your free foot touches the floor.
  • Once grounded, raise your front leg and place the foot back on the box to perform all reps on one leg.

Reverse Hyper

When equating load with the back extension, research suggests the reverse hyper elicits greater peak glute activation [10]. This makes it a viable option for developing your upper glute shelf. Further, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for relieving lower back pain. Here’s how to do it:

  • Squeeze your glutes to initiate the movement. Don’t go so far that you need to hyperextend your lower back. Just far enough to squeeze the glutes hard at the top.
  • Control the weight down.

Hyper Deads

The hyper dead is my favorite back extension variation. It’s the strictest hip extension exercise, maximally overloading the glutes and hamstrings. However, you need a 45° back extension. While you can use a 90° back extension, I’ve found the range of motion is too short. Here’s how to do it:

  • Set a barbell and use a snatch grip to increase the range of motion. Use straps so your grip is not a limiting factor.
  • Create tightness and tension throughout your entire body. Squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips into the pad while maintaining a big chest.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the floor.

KB Swing

KB swings take advantage of speed to elicit high-force outputs and glute activation. In fact, a light 16 kg kettlebell produces similar glute activation as a percentage of maximal voluntary contraction to hip thrust with a 10RM load [11][12].

The rapid acceleration and deceleration are what make up for the light loading. Here’s how to do them:

  • Initiate the kettlebell swing by pushing the hips back while maintaining soft knees. Thrust the hips forward and squeeze your butt hard.
  • Your arms should remain loose, and the power will dictate the height of the kettlebell swing from the hips. Not from raising the kettlebell with the shoulders.
  • As the kettlebell returns, hinge at the hip to have the kettlebell pass as close to your crotch as possible.
  • Rapidly reverse the downward momentum to upward propulsion.
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Best Workout For An Upper Glute Shelf

This is a simple glute workout you can plug into your current training program to build the upper shelf.




A1) Hip Thrust

3 x 8, 1 x 15


B1) Step Up

3 x 8/leg


C1) KB Swing

3 x 10


D1) Back Extension

2 x 20-30


D2) Reverse Lunge

2 x 20/leg



To build a shelf on the upper glutes, you need to lift heavy. Light band exercises that look great on Instagram will only get you so far. Great upper glute shelves are built under a heavy barbell. Perform a mixture of heavy exercises for low reps and light exercises for high reps.

You can also use bodyweight exercises for ultra-high reps to finish off your glutes, such as high-rep hip thrusts or walking lunges.

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1. Beardsley, C., & Contreras, B. (2014). The increasing role of the hip extensor musculature with heavier compound lower-body movements and more explosive sport actions. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(2), 49-55.

2. Bryanton, M. A., Kennedy, M. D., Carey, J. P., & Chiu, L. Z. (2012). Effect of squat depth and barbell load on relative muscular effort in squatting. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(10), 2820-2828.

3. Riemann, B. L., Lapinski, S., Smith, L., & Davies, G. (2012). Biomechanical analysis of the anterior lunge during 4 external-load conditions. Journal of athletic training, 47(4), 372-378.

4. Swinton, P. A., Stewart, A., Agouris, I., Keogh, J. W., & Lloyd, R. (2011). A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 2000-2009.

5. Murawa, M., Fryzowicz, A., Kabacinski, J., Jurga, J., Gorwa, J., Galli, M., & Zago, M. (2020). Muscle activation varies between high-bar and low-bar back squat. PeerJ, 8, e9256.

6. Glassbrook, D. J., Helms, E. R., Brown, S. R., & Storey, A. G. (2017). A review of the biomechanical differences between the high-bar and low-bar back-squat. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2618-2634.

7. Koderi, K. L., Tan, K., Azzfar, M. S., Abd Malek, N. F., Mohamad, N. I., & Nadzalan, A. M. (2020, April). The effects of stance width on muscle activation and performance during Romanian deadlift exercise. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1529, No. 2, p. 022026). IOP Publishing.

8. Kennedy, D., Casebolt, J. B., Farren, G. L., Fiaud, V., Bartlett, M., & Strong, L. (2022). Electromyographic differences of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis between the barbell hip thrust and barbell glute bridge. Sports Biomechanics, 1-15.

9.  Neto, W. K., Soares, E. G., Vieira, T. L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T. A., de Lima Sampaio, V., & Gama, E. F. (2020). Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic review. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19(1), 195.

10. Cuthbert, M., Ripley, N. J., Suchomel, T. J., Alejo, R., McMahon, J. J., & Comfort, P. (2021). Electromyographical differences between the hyperextension and reverse-hyperextension. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 35(6), 1477-1483.

11. Van Gelder, L. H., Hoogenboom, B. J., Alonzo, B., Briggs, D., & Hatzel, B. (2015). EMG Analysis and Sagittal Plane Kinematics of the Two‐Handed and Single‐Handed Kettlebell Swing: A Descriptive Study. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 811.

12. McGill, S. M., & Marshall, L. W. (2012). Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(1), 16-27.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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