Everyone wants a stronger and more shapely set of gluteal muscles for many reasons including the fact that the Gluteus Maximus (GM) is the largest muscle in the body, and arguably the most powerful. The main function of GM is to extend the hip and prevent the upper body from falling forward relative to the lower body and hip.
The most powerful exercise for targeting the glutes is the hip thrust because it emphasizes the fully extended position which is how we get the maximum activation of the glute. Initially hip thrusts aka bridges can be done on the floor lying on the back with knees flexed at 90% and lift the hips up as far as possible (without arching the back!) and lower back down again.
However very quickly more load is needed than just bodyweight and this is where things get tricky because loading this movement is not easy or comfortable. What most people do is place the back of their shoulders on a bench facing up with knees flexed then use a barbell across the hips. Not only is the highly uncomfortable it is really challenging to get into position without people handing you the loaded barbell.
Another option is to use something softer like a sandbag or Bulgarian bag which is more comfortable but still awkward and hard to get enough load to do the exercise properly.
The best option is to use a leg curl machine – yep you read that right – a prone leg curl machine. If you take the time to set the machine properly it is fantastic and you can find them in almost every gym. You will want to set the position of the pad so that it is in the lowest position possible. On some leg curl machines the leg pad has a pin adjustment to change the position of the pad relative to the machine and the machines fulcrum while on others it adjusts in and out from the machine.
In any case if you check out this video – you will see exactly how to position yourself, and as the creator suggests you want to avoid arching your back: https://youtu.be/ggiHxwblI00 So while it may look a little funny and take you a few attempts to get the hang of the adjustment and how to position yourself on the machine, once you get it – you will love it! No pain from a bar or band pressing into the front of the hip, and it is easy to load up the movement.
It is NOT a large range of motion and the key is holding the top position and squeezing the glutes without arching the back. Try a couple sets of 15 – 25 deliberate reps and you will immediately see why this is such a powerful exercise for the glutes.
If you couple this with exercises that place maximum stress on the glutes in the fully extended position like lunges, step-ups, and Split Squats with the rear foot elevated – you will get all the glute development you want. Then you just need to add in hip abduction for a complete glute routine!