Want Stronger Glutes? This Popular Exercise Might Not Be Cutting It

There are better options out there to strengthen the largest muscle in your body.

Danielle Zickl |

  • According to a new study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, clamshells don’t activate your glutes as much as you might think.
  • Instead, unilateral exercises like single-leg squats and single-leg glute bridges might be a better option for those looking to build glute strength.

In order to get stronger and faster, you have to do more than just run. Hitting the weights a couple of times a week is a necessity if you’re aiming for a new PB or trying to avoid being sidelined by an injury. One of the most important – but often overlooked – muscle groups to focus on? Your glutes.

As we’ve reported before, our glutes stabilise our pelvis and hips and help propel us forward. Weak glutes can affect your entire kinetic chain, which can result in injury.

While there are many exercises you can do to strengthen your glutes, clamshells are one that comes to mind for most people. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, clamshells might not activate your glutes to the extent other exercises do.

In the small study, 10 healthy adults performed three sets of six common lower-body exercises after a five-minute warmup: single-leg squats, single-leg glute bridges, side-lying hip abductions, side-lying clamshells, the running man exercise (which simulates the motion of running one leg at a time), and the resisted hip abduction-extension exercise. Each participant had EMG electrodes – which measure the activity of skeletal muscles—attached to all parts of their gluteus medius (anterior, middle, and posterior).

The results? The highest levels of overall glute activity were seen from the following:

  • Single-leg squat
  • Single-leg glute bridge
  • Resisted hip abduction-extension exercise.

Moderate levels of glute activity were also seen with the side-lying hip abduction and the running man exercise. As for clamshells? They weren’t very effective in activating any part of the gluteus medius.

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

According to study author Damien Moore, Ph.D.(c), a sports physiotherapist at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, the reason clamshells don’t activate your glutes much is probably because your top leg isn’t working against gravity as much as the other exercises – therefore, not every part of your gluteus medius is firing.

In contrast, “the single-leg squat requires larger demands to maintain pelvic-hip stability as your center of mass is being lowered towards the ground, hence [it] requires higher recruitment from all segments of [the gluteus medius] to maintain this,” Moore said.

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So, if your overall goal is strength, unilateral exercises like single-leg squats and single-leg glute bridges might be a better option. But that’s not to say you should never incorporate clamshells into your routine ever again. Moore says that clamshells can be effective for working on motor control and coordination. (It’s also worth mentioning that you can always perform your clamshells with a resistance band to get more bang for your buck.)

Additionally, the clamshell can still be an effective exercise in early rehab when you’re coming back from an injury, according to Moore, since going straight to single-leg squats right away may not be safe.

The bottom line? To build strength in all parts of your glutes, adding instability – which requires more glute activation – may be key. But if you are coming back from an injury or want to work on motor control, you don’t need to completely discount the clamshell.

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