It’s time to firm, tone, and sculpt the gluteal muscles! Most of us have some (or many) complaints about our tush. It seems most of us think our bottoms are too big or not big enough — and no matter what the complaint, most of us are looking for it to be a bit more toned!

In the next few posts in this category, I am going to explore glute exercises in all positions. These exercises will help us (if done consistently) tone, sculpt, and get to those really stubborn areas (saddlebags!).

Our first exploration in toning the buttocks will be Pilates Bridging Exercises. These really target the back of the legs (hamstrings) and buttocks.

Exercise: Rolling Bridge

This is an undulating (wave-like) movement which gives stretch and traction to the spine.

• Start on your back, arms to the side of the body, knees bent, and feet on the floor hip distance apart.
• Inhale and prepare.
• Exhale and start to roll the tailbone toward the ceiling.
• Keep peeling the spine up one vertebra at a time until you reach the top of the shoulders.
• At the top, the shoulders, hips, and knees should be in line. The front of the hips will be open and the pelvis square and even.
• You should feel work in the backs of the legs and the bottom of the behind.

A common mistake in lifting up is to squeeze and clench the buttocks to get up into Bridge. Be sure that you don’t initiate the rolling or lifting by squeezing in the gluteals and be sure you are using the breath and activating the abdominals to help lift you.

• On an exhale, slowly start to roll down the spine one vertebra at a time.
• Start the roll at the top of the spine between the shoulder blades, next the middle and lower spine, and last the sacrum and tailbone.

Most people skip over their lower back on the roll down and go straight to their behind and sacrum. Make sure to press and spread the lower spine into the mat before the behind and sacrum touch down.

Exercise: Hinging Bridge

This is another option for getting into Bridge.

• The hinging bridge (as opposed to the rolling bridge) is less of a flexibility challenge but more of a strengthening challenge.
• You start the same way, on your back with the arms to the side and the feet on the floor hip distance apart.
• Keeping the back flat, hinge up from the hips so you are anchored at the tops of the shoulders.
• Make sure the shoulders, hips, and knees are in one straight line.
• Again, make sure that you are using the breath and abdominals to help lift you into bridge and that you’re not just powering yourself up by squeezing the glutes.
• At the top, inhale.
• Exhale, and in one piece hinge yourself back to the floor.
• Again, the breath and abdominals will decelerate the descent of the body back to the floor.

Add On Challenge to the Bridge

This will really add a challenge and will help to sculpt and tone the glutes and backs of the legs.

• Come up into your Bridge position (either rolling or hinging)
• Exhale, stay in Bridge and hover the left foot a few inches above the floor. (Make sure the pelvis stays square and it’s not tipping to one side or the other!)
• Inhale and slowly set the left foot back down.
• Exhale and hover the right foot a few inches above the floor.
• Inhale and slowly set it down.
• Exhale and slowly lower the back onto the floor (either rolling or hinging).


To increase the work a bit more try the following:

• Start on the back again.
• For better alignment and activation of the inner thigh, place a small 12″ ball between the legs right above the knees.
• Roll or hinge into Bridge.
• Exhale, lift the right foot, and lengthen the right leg still holding onto the ball.
• Make sure the hips stay up and the pelvis stays square.
• Inhale and slowly bring the foot down.
• Exhale, staying in bridge, lift the left foot, and lengthen the left leg still holding the ball.
• Inhale and bring the left foot down.
• Exhale and slowly bring the back to the floor (either rolling or hinging).

~by Jennifer Gianni

We hope you found these tips helpful! Let us know what you thought below!

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  1. Pam2

    Another add on to the bridge are the arms. Lift both arms up and over head (keep parallel to the ears) as you roll up and lower with the roll down, activating the oblique and “lats”. Reverse the arms for an extra “tweak” in the abdominals. Weights for the hands and bands can also be added!

  2. Susan_677

    More add on’s to the bridge I have found fun and challenging:

    #1. Once in the bridge, extend the right leg straight at the knee and flex the foot. Kick the straightened leg back towards your nose twice ( as you do in the first exercise of the side kick series on the mat) Point the toe and lower the straight leg back to the level of the knee of the stationary leg. After 3-5 reps, repeat on the opposit leg. maintain squared hips.
    #2. While in the bridge, extend the right leg straight up to the ceiling and point the toes. Lengthen the leg from the hip, creating a small lift of the leg towards the ceiling. After 3-5 reps, bend the leg at the knee and place the foot back on the floor. Repeat with the opposite leg. Maintain squared hips throughout the lifts.

  3. Kristopher _266

    More Advanced. Once stable in the bridge, extend the right knee forward, Dorsi flex the foot, externally rotate the right leg from the hip pressing through the right heel, raise the leg straight up and perform a half circle opening to the right and circling around and back up the midline again. This is very difficult to perform keeping the pelvis absolutely stable. Be sure to exaggerate the external rotation each time you raise the leg and keep the knee cap pulled up to the thigh so the quad is tense and the hamstring can stretch. Then reverse directions. Happy Glutes! Oh yeah roll down and repeat other leg.

  4. Aline Beaulieu _125

    As I was reading Rolling Bridge…” A common mistake in lifting up is to squeeze and clench the buttocks to get up into Bridge. Be sure that you don’t initiate the rolling or lifting by squeezing in the gluteals and be sure you are using the breath and activating the abdominals to help lift you.” I was surprised as I was taught in my Pilates matt class to squeeze my butt before lifting off the mat. As I have tight hip flexors, right glute that does not easily fire up we have been working on the bridge. I am now somewhat confused. Can you clarify what I should do? Thank you so much.

  5. JenniferGianni

    I love all the comments and great variations on the bridge!! Keep them coming. Maybe we should do a Bridge Challenge. The most creative way to teach Bridging? Keep sending in ideas. Send in Videos!

  6. JenniferGianni

    Hi Aline,
    Thanks for writing in. I understand your confusion. I was first taught to do bridge in that way also. Here’s the thing ( and it is easier cued than to perform) your hamstring should fire a millisecond before your deep glutes in a pose like bridging. So if you anticipate by squeezing the life out of your behind even before you have left the floor you have missed the point of the movement. The strategy you learned will also cause you to compress in your lower back and to arch the back more than you need to do. You want to think of creating as much space in the lumbar spine at the top of your Pilates Bridge. I think an excellent way to cue bridging is to ask yourself or your client to imagine they are just a skeleton ( no musculature or other tissue). To get into bridge they are just moving through the fluidity of their joints. The movement should be slow and a pause should happen after the lifting ( or lowering) of each disc space. During the pause the mover asks themselves where they can soften without losing their shape or positioning. In this way the muscles are allowed to synchronize in a more organic way. Keep the great questions coming in!

  7. Sara154

    Hi everybody
    if we are talking about sculpting the buttox, here ‘s the secret 🙂
    go to the bridge neutral position and stay there for 1 minute, till the glutes start to beurn a little bit…then, whithout pause, start with all the other challenging exercises like one leg bridging etc etc….practice every day and your buttox will become marmoreal!!