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This 1 exercise will tone and strengthen your glutes — no equipment required

The donkey kick will work your entire backside, from shoulders to hamstrings.
Donkey Kick
Stephanie Mansour

Did you know that the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body? Our glute muscles are working constantly, even while we sit! Our back, hamstrings, glutes and hips all work together just to keep us upright while we sit.

That’s why both strengthening and stretching these body parts is critical for overall strength and mobility. The glutes specifically play a large role in stabilization, which is necessary for many activities we perform daily. Since the glutes are such a large muscle, there are many ways to work them. Donkey kicks, however, work not only the glutes, but the core, hamstrings, shoulders and back, making them a comprehensive exercise that allows you to work the entire back side of the body at once.

What do donkey kicks do for the body?

Donkey kicks target the gluteus maximus and medius. Without equipment, you can use this exercise to tighten and tone the glutes and core, preparing you for more advanced variations (think pulses) and improving your overall fitness level.

This isolation exercise is sure to give you a great burn while opening up the hips, improving posture and strengthening your upper body. Stabilizing your core is key and will make the exercise much more effective. Tightening your core takes the momentum out of the movement and also promotes proper alignment.

The common mistakes people make when doing donkey kicks

Balancing on three limbs is challenging, so keep an eye out for these common errors. Without core engagement, your low back will dip toward the ground. This primes your back for injury, so tighten the core without arching or rounding your back. This will help protect your back while preventing momentum from overriding glute muscle engagement.

It's also important to keep your hips square with the ground as much as possible. Your body will twist slightly when you lift your leg, so try your best to keep the hips in line with one another. Another common mistake in the lower body is kicking your leg too high.

  • The knee should remain at 90 degrees and shouldn’t go too far above hip height at the top of the movement.
  • My clients have a tendency to over arch the back to raise the leg higher. Height is much less important than control and engagement. Focus on form!
  • Squeeze the glute, not the low back, all throughout the movement.
  • Be aware of your neck. It should be neutral and in line with the spine.

How to do a modified donkey kick

The donkey kick requires a lot of balance, mobility, wrist strength and hip flexibility. Don’t feel bad about starting with the modified version! It is very close to the full movement with a slightly smaller range of motion. This will ensure your low back doesn’t compensate for imbalances and endure excessive pressure.

Set up on all fours the same way you would for the regular version. When raising the bent leg, only raise it up about half way between the floor and hip height. Keep your foot flexed and knee bent at 90 degrees. Lower with control and repeat for ten reps on each leg.

How to perform the donkey kick correctly

With proper form, this exercise will tighten the back of the body and enhance the core immensely. If you’re ready to work on strengthening those glute muscles, follow these steps:

  1. Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread wide, and knees directly below your hips. Press evenly into both hands and maintain throughout.
  2. Keep your back straight and abs tight. Maintaining the 90-degree bend in lift your right leg, kick your heel straight up toward the ceiling. Only go as far as you can without arching the back or letting your hips start to angle outward.
  3. Lower it back down with control, not letting your knee touch the ground. This is one rep.
  4. Perform ten reps on the right leg then lower the knee to the ground. Reset to make sure your spine is in alignment and hips are even before lifting the left knee.
  5. Repeat for ten reps on the left side.

4 exercises that will help you perform donkey kicks

If this feels too difficult for your wrists, core or back, no worries! Try these four exercises to strengthen the glutes and surrounding muscles.

Reverse lunge

Stand with your hands in prayer position or at your sides and feet hip-width apart. Step the right foot back into a lunge position. Brace your core and lower down until your knee almost touches the floor. Both knees should be at about 90 degrees. Step forward, and repeat 10 times before switching sides.

Plank

Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders. Step back with both feet and straighten the legs. Tighten your abs so that your back doesn’t round or arch and keep your shoulders pulled back. Hold for 10-30 seconds. If this is too strenuous, lower to your knees.

Standing reverse leg lift

Stand tall and place the weight in your right foot. Lift your left leg straight back while you contract the glute, raising it to about a 45-degree angle from the standing leg. Slowly lower the leg back down and perform 10 times on this side. To switch sides, place the weight in your left foot and raise your right leg back and up, squeezing your right glute. Complete 10 reps on this side. Try to remain as upright as you can, not leaning too far forward or to the side.

Bridge pose

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Your knees should be hip-distance apart. Raise your hips by squeezing your glutes to create a straight line from your neck to your knees, being careful not to hyperextend your hips. Clasp your hands underneath your back for a deeper stretch or keep the arms extended on the floor, fingers pointing toward your feet. Hold the pose for 10 seconds. Don’t let your knees splay out to the side or collapse in. Slowly lower down.

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