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Do you have dead butt syndrome? Wake up your glutes with this exercise

Fire hydrants target the gluteus medius — an often-neglected muscle in the butt.
Young woman working out
TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

The glutes are a commonly targeted area, but go-to exercises often neglect the gluteus medius. They’re much smaller than the maximus, but strengthening this muscle is critical to construct a well-rounded backside, a sturdy core and strong glutes.

Located right below the hipbone in the upper corners of your glutes, the gluteus medius is inactive unless lateral movements are incorporated into your routine. Even seasoned fitness enthusiasts may forget to work these muscles because they require a combination of compound and isolation movements to hit properly. Luckily, fire hydrants are a great gluteus medius isolation exercise that works the core and hip abductors, too!

What do fire hydrants do for the body?

Studies show that gluteus medius and hip abductor weakness is common in people with low-back pain. Weakness in the gluteus medius is also referred to as "dead butt syndrome" and can cause a decrease in range of motion, as well as pain in the hips and back. Fire hydrants directly target this area of the glute, which can help prevent injury and reduce pain.

Fire hydrants can also be used as a pre-workout activation exercise, to wake up the glutes and help you get more out of exercises like squats. This bodyweight exercise requires some coordination and core stabilization to perform, which helps improve balance.

The common mistakes people make when doing fire hydrants

Fire hydrants are performed on all fours. Many people are unsure of how far apart to place their hands and knees. Follow this simple rule: place hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Hands will be shoulder-width apart and knees will be hip-width apart.

When lifting the leg, many of my clients have a tendency to lean the opposite way, placing more weight on the opposite wrist. We don’t want this because it strains the wrist and disrupts balance. Try squeezing the core to keep equal weight on both hands. Here are a few other common mistakes and how to combat them:

  • Arching the spine. This stresses your back muscles and can lead to injury. Keep your core engaged by pulling your belly button toward your spine and maintaining a straight line from your head to your tail bone.
  • Dropping your head. Be mindful to keep your neck in line with your spine. Try not to look up or down while performing the movement.
  • Twisting the hips. The purpose of the fire hydrant is to work your outer glute and hip muscles, not to tighten the supporting leg muscles. Keep your left and right hips at the same height as much as possible. Some unevenness is inevitable, especially in the beginning, but practice keeping your balance!

How to do a modified fire hydrant

If your feel unstable raising your leg to hip height, raise it only to 45 degrees. This exercise requires a lot of balance and mobility, so don’t worry if you can’t get your leg parallel to the floor. You will still feel the burn and target the right muscles raising your leg half way up. Also, spread your fingers as wide as possible to increase the surface area on the ground, which will give you more stability.

How to perform the fire hydrant correctly

If you’re ready to tone your glutes, improve mobility and strengthen the core with the full exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Start on all fours with your shoulders directly over your palms and your hips over your knees. Knees will be at 90 degrees, which should be maintained throughout the move.
  2. Brace your core and maintain a straight spine.
  3. Keeping the right knee bent at a 90-degree, raise your right leg out to the side and up toward the ceiling. Get it as close to hip height as possible.
  4. Lower the leg back down to starting position. Repeat on this side for 10 lifts.
  5. Switch sides, keeping the 90-degree angle in your left knee and raising the left leg to hip height before lowering. Repeat on this side for 10 lifts.

4 exercises that will help you perform fire hydrants better

Because this exercise requires coordination, in addition to core stabilization and strength, it may be best to start with some simpler exercises. If fire hydrants feel too intense, give these moves a try.

Standing side leg lift

Stand up tall and tighten your core. Maintain an upright position as you lift your right leg laterally to a 45-degree angle. Return to standing and repeat this sequence for 10 reps. Reset and regain your balance before moving on to the left leg.

Plank

Start in a tabletop position. Keeping your hands under your shoulders, step both feet back so that there is a straight line from your heels to your head. Avoid curving or rounding your back and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Hold this position for 30 seconds. If this exercise hurts your wrists, move down to an elbow plank and hold. Make sure your elbows don’t flare outward while in the elbow plank position.

Clamshells

Lie on your right side and prop your weight up on your right elbow with your elbow directly below the shoulder. Stack your knees, bending them knees both at a 90-degree angle. Keep the edges of your feet touching as you lift your top left leg toward the sky. Slow and controlled, lower it back down to stack on the right knee. Repeat the knee lift for 10 reps. Switch to the left side and repeat.

V-sit hold

Sit on a mat with your knees bent in front of you and feet flat on the floor. Lean back 45 degrees with your back straight and chest open. Your arms should be straight out in front of you, hovering by your knees. Gently lift your feet off the ground. Hold here for 10 seconds. Rest and then repeat for 3 rounds.

Try these other moves: