The Butt Builder

Women - who doesn't want a firm and toned butt! Julie Michaelson tells you how to train for the perfect back side. Workout includes nutrition advice.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Single Muscle Group
Barbell, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female

Workout Description

Firm ButtOne of my coaches once told me that my genetic gift is my legs. I am lucky that I am blessed with long, naturally lean legs. However, they once attached themselves to the typical “white girl butt”…flat. They were also “skinny” once the body fat was stripped away. I used to buy into the belief that training heavy would make me bulky, so I did light weights or bodyweight exercises whenever I trained legs. When I decided that I wanted to transform my physique into that of a figure competitor, I was told repeatedly that I’d have to grow my legs and start lifting HEAVY.

I have since become a huge fan of heavy leg training and high volume to achieve lean muscle growth. I like a keep-it-simple approach, basic, compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at a time. Effective. Efficient. In my opinion, the foundational exercises of a solid leg routine include: the squat, straight-leg deadlift and leg press. I build my leg training around those foundational exercises, focusing on strict form, high volume and heavy weight. I always cringe when I see women on the abductor and adductor machines doing light weight and high reps. I feel compelled to enlighten them and lead them to the squat rack, but I resist the temptation.

I’m also not a big fan of machines for any kind of training, but especially for legs. I think that barbells and dumbbells can provide an extremely effective, efficient and challenging leg workout. However, I still make use of the leg extension or leg curl machine from time to time.


I like to eat higher carbs on the days I train legs. I will typically increase my starchy carbs by 50-75 grams and always follow the workout with a protein shake made with Dymatize Elite Whey and 2 tablespoons of Gatorade powder. During contest prep, this usually changes with less carbs before the workout and I’ll substitute Xtend in the post-workout shake for the Gatorade.

My female clients love this workout and always happily complain that they can’t sit down for a few days afterwards. The following leg workout is one that, if done right, you only want to perform once a week, giving your body ample recovery time before hammering the legs hard again the next week.

The Workout

Workout Notes

  • Squats - I typically do back squats (I do not use a Smith machine and don’t recommend it if you can use a squat rack or dumbbells) but there are several variations you can substitute to change things up.
  • Squat and Leg Curl Supersets - Rest 60 seconds between each squat and leg curl superset. For example, perform 10 reps of squats immediately followed by 10 reps on leg curls. Rest 60 seconds, then perform this superset again. By the time you finish your 20 sets of squats and leg curls your legs should be pretty fried. I like to finish off the workout with 10 last sets of lighter weight exercises to finish off the legs.

Keep the rest periods short and the weight as heavy as you can go without sacrificing form. I like to keep rest intervals at 60 seconds-2 minutes max!

The Butt Builder
The Butt Builder
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat (Superset with Leg Curls) 10 10
Leg Curls 10 10
Reverse Barbell Lunges 4 8 to 10
Dumbbell Step Ups 3 12
Leg Extensions 3 Failure
About The Author
Julie Michaelson is a nutrition coach, personal trainer and NPC figure competitor. Julie was also a featured body transformation on Muscle & Strength.

124 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Fri, 07/02/2010 - 11:50
what if you dont combine it with the shake or gatorade powder?
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Posted Fri, 07/02/2010 - 14:12
Julie Michaelson
Hi Laura, You don't have to have the particular shake I recommended, but any time you are training you need to follow the workout with proper nutrition. Your nutrition choices will be dependent on your current goals. I always recommend a protein shake made with whey protein isolate within 30 minutes after any weight training workout. Whey isolate is quickly absorbed by the body which is why it is the best choice. The purpose of the Gatorade or other fast-digesting carb is to restore glycogen to the muscles. I like Gatorade because it is cheap and easy, but there are several other things you could use instead. You could also try Optimum Nutrition's 2:1:1 Recovery as well. The most important thing: get something in your body within 30 minutes of the workout and follow with your regular meal an hour after that. Hope this answers your question. Julie
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Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 09:30
Not big fan of step ups,would single squat be a good replacement?
Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 07/08/2010 - 16:21
Hi Beatriz, I would consider using dumbbell or barbell lunges.
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Posted Fri, 07/09/2010 - 15:48
Dania Al-Itani
Hi, what if you do not have those machines?
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Posted Mon, 07/12/2010 - 18:38
No machines necessary. You can do all of those exercises with barbells and dumbbells and a flat bench. If you don't have a barbell, you can modify the exercises and use dumbbells instead and vice-versa.
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Posted Tue, 07/13/2010 - 15:49
smith machine squats or rack squats? trying this friday nonetheless!
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Posted Fri, 07/16/2010 - 23:33
Jeanice - I'm not a fan of the smith machine for squatting. If you can do your squats in the squat rack, by all means, do it! Find yourself a good spotter and go deep to really recruit the glutes, provided you don't have knee injuries. Hope you like it! Julie
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Posted Thu, 07/15/2010 - 17:37
How often do you recommend this exercises to be done..?
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Posted Fri, 07/16/2010 - 23:34
Rose, if you're doing the workout right, with proper form and heavy weights, you will only want to do this workout once a week. Give your body plenty of time to recover before nailing the legs again the next week! ;) Julie
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Posted Tue, 07/27/2010 - 13:26
If you already have the bubble and mass in your upper legs and just want to tone should I just do squats without the weight?
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Posted Tue, 07/27/2010 - 16:41
Hey Brandy, that's exactly where I'm at now. I'm no longer trying to add mass to my quads and glutes, so I do a lot of light weight, high rep work with all of the same exercises. I will go as high as 50 rep sets. I've been getting great results with this as a way to maintain what I have without adding bulk. Also, always make sure your nutrition is on point for your desired results. If you are eating a surplus of calories you are going to gain. So, I'd suggest either making sure you're eating at a deficit or increasing your cardio to create the deficit. Hope this helps!
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Posted Thu, 07/29/2010 - 06:43
Julie, I am an older lady (57.) My cardio has been spinning for 2 years now, about 3 days per week which I supplement with running on other days. I find my thighs have gotten huge. Is there a way to thin them out with this workout? I have been using the heaviest weights I can and workout with weights 2-3 days per week. I have been using the machines, but also can use the smith machine, since I have no spotter. My diet consists of 1300-1500 calories per day. Thanks!
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Posted Wed, 08/04/2010 - 09:15
My gym only has the upright leg curl machine and it doesn't fit properly - only gets the lower part of the hams. How can I make up for it to get nice big hams?
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Posted Tue, 08/10/2010 - 15:26
dear julie, I am a beginner and finally decided to pluck up some courage and start working out! im am only 22 years old but im very very flabby and have always been. How long do you think It takes to start seeing some results??? I'd also like to tone up my legs.. do you think these exercises will suffice for gluts and legs or only gluts??
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Posted Wed, 08/11/2010 - 10:15
I was just wondering if you could explain the Squat to me...what exactly is the superset with leg curls? Thanks!!
Steven's picture
Posted Wed, 08/11/2010 - 11:21
Hi Courtney, You can learn more about the squat here: A superset means you perform one exercise, and without resting, immediately perform another exercise.
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Posted Sun, 09/12/2010 - 15:00
Wow, great routine...I could not do 10 sets of squats and leg curls and ended only doing 7 of each (super setting). Posted the rest of the modified routine in my journal area.
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Posted Sun, 09/19/2010 - 22:35
Hi, I'm restricted from doing squats due to a surgery I had...single legs are OK though because of less midline pressure. Can you suggest a replacement for squats? Thanks!
Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 09/20/2010 - 15:43
Can you perform single leg, leg presses?
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Posted Sun, 09/26/2010 - 21:13
Can you perform leg curls without a machine? If so how? Thanks!
Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 09/27/2010 - 10:57
Hi Monice, You can perform an exercise know as a glute ham raise:
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Posted Fri, 10/08/2010 - 15:38
Is it possible to do leg extensions without a machine also?
Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 10/11/2010 - 13:08
Hi Dina, You can perform them with ankle weights, or by holding a dumbbell between your feet.
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Posted Thu, 10/14/2010 - 13:41
Hi! Cant wait to do this workout on Monday. My leg muscles get very big very fast without even using alot of weight my problem is my butt doesnt! i also had lipo suction a few years ago and as a result i now have loose skin on my legs do you think this workout will help that? Thanks so much
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Posted Wed, 05/04/2011 - 11:34
jo d
Hi there, I was wondering if your question "Hi! Cant wait to do this workout on Monday. My leg muscles get very big very fast without even using alot of weight my problem is my butt doesnt! i also had lipo suction a few years ago and as a result i now have loose skin on my legs do you think this workout will help that? Thanks so much" was answered. I also have a problem with loose skin following major weight loss a few years ago. Just wondering what was the answer. Thank you.
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Posted Fri, 10/22/2010 - 08:13
Hi Julie, I am wondering why you don't like the Smithmachine... what do you see as disadvantages. I'm happy to learn more about that. Thanks, Rosa Rus (Netherlands)
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Posted Sat, 10/30/2010 - 12:52
Hi Rosa, It's not necessarily that I "dislike" the Smith machine, but I feel that if you don't have any injuries preventing you from doing free weight squats they are a better option as they recruit the core and stabilizer muscles that aren't needed when using the Smith machine. I don't do a lot of "core specific" training, so I make sure I do exercises like squats, dead lifts, pull ups, etc that really help me build core strength. I hope this answers your question! Julie
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Posted Sun, 10/24/2010 - 15:20
thanks for the info this has acutali beeen helping me recently in the gym :) i can already see good results
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Posted Sat, 10/30/2010 - 12:57
So glad to hear it Ashley!! Julie
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Posted Fri, 10/29/2010 - 06:11
Hi Julie, I wonder if you can help me,I get big really quickly and like my quads the way they are but really want to get a nice lifted tight bum. I'm sceptical about squats and lunges because I find these build my quads too much and I don't really notice as much on my hamstrings and butt compared to doing single leg bridge raises and dead lifts. Do you have any advice ont this and are there any other exercises that target just hamstrings and glutes without working the quads too much? Thanks, Regards :)
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Posted Sat, 10/30/2010 - 12:56
Hi Jess, If you're really looking for a hamstring-dominant leg workout I would definitely suggest doing stiff-legged deadlifts as you already are. I like to use the Smith machine to do pelvic presses: put a flat bench under the machine and a step to elevate your feet. The bar should rest right over your pubic bone (you'll want to use a pad for the bar!!, hips should be off the bench, go all the way down and explode up with your hips squeezing your glutes hard! This is a great glute builder that doesn't use much quads. If you're trying to maintain leg size go with lighter weight, higher reps. I would still suggest doing squats just keep the weight really light. Hope this helps Julie
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Posted Fri, 12/31/2010 - 02:53
Im 21 and hve a super fast metabolism. I eat a bunch and it's hard for me to gain weight. I've been wanting to get in shape, mainly tighten up things like my upper legs and my butt. I've been jogging but I don't want to lose any weight. What should I be taking (shakes and vitamins wise) to keep my weight on,if not gain some; while getting a bigger butt and toning my legs.
Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 01/13/2011 - 14:09
Hi Debi, One of the real keys to toning is to undergo a shift in how you approach eating, by adding more frequent smaller meals that focus on some degree of protein intake. This helps the body maximize training, adding a few pounds of muscle and making a body look "toned". Here is an article that can help on this topic: As far as supplements, I recommend this article:
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Posted Sat, 02/05/2011 - 15:30
Hi, I'm 55 and have been working out for the last 2 years approx.3-4 days a week. I do weight training with heavy weights and I do cardio 2-3 times a week. I am not having any luck with firming the back of my legs( which are very dimpley) or my butt. I have a bubble butt and in clothes it looks ok but I hate the way it looks w/o clothes. I really need help and am willing to do the work. Am I to old to change it? Thank you
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Posted Mon, 02/21/2011 - 17:04
hi. im new to the excersice world,ive lost alot of weight without excercise and as a result i have alot of excessive loose skin, especially on my thighs!! i just bought an elliptical and have began an excersice routine with squats to try and tighten my legs and butt,, any pointers on how i can tighten before the summer?? please, any info would be greatly appreciated... thanks
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Posted Tue, 03/01/2011 - 01:35
I started working out for the first time today (gym membership) and am honestly lost in all of this. Im looking for a 3-4 day workout per week. A friend told me to make a workout plan and I have no clue where to start. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
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Posted Tue, 03/08/2011 - 10:55
Hey julie I don't know if u can help but I want to know if u can help me my had a kid and now has a lot of baby fat and loss. All her figure and I don't know what workouts she should be doing she goes to the gym but its not helping could u give me a whole body workout for her
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Posted Sun, 03/20/2011 - 08:47
Julie ,Does this workout routine apply for young girls (15-18) ?I know this amazingly beautiful girl who is real skinny ,And she wants to gain weight ;So I'm wondering should she just eat a lot of junk food or should she do the type of things your doing?
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Posted Wed, 03/23/2011 - 16:06
Julie a lot of junk? No, no one should do this EVER unless they are just looking to get fat. My daughter is also very tall with long, skinny legs. She eats a well-balanced diet and is active. She is 15 and I do not do much more than body weight stuff with her at this point. She can do light weights, but I'd get a physical done before beginning an exercise program!
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Posted Sat, 04/16/2011 - 08:18
Eating junk food is not the way to gain weight properly..If your friend wants to gain muscle mass, increase the amount of calories she's intaking and do heavier weights with a lower rep range. Continue eating healthy foods, but more of it.
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Posted Wed, 03/30/2011 - 14:57
Hi Julie, I've been working out for a year and a half already and I can lift heavy weight when it comes to legs. When Ive done squats with barbell I can do up to 25 on each side doing 4 set of 12-15 reps. When I do lunged i can do 3 sets with dumbells of 15 lbs sometimes 20lbs. Leg curls i usuall do 4 sets of 12-15 rep usin 40,50,55,65lbs. Im trying to gain weight in my butt and tone it. What do you suggest me to lift. keep doing heavy or light? Thanks for your help
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Posted Sat, 04/30/2011 - 16:38
Julie, I recently got a membership to a gym that actually has a decent selection of equipment to use. Whenever possible, I try to workout with my boyfriend as he is much more comfortable with working out and familiar with the gym. But, I know that the workout routine he does is probably not right for me. I feel lost when I go to the gym as I do not know what I need to do and do not feel very comfortable with all the equipment. I know that I need a routine for me but even after looking on-line for a good schedule, I still am not sure what to select. I am 20, and am definitely more pear-shaped. I have small shoulders and waistline but my legs and bottom are a little larger. I am not toned at all. I am looking to lose body fat in my legs and bottom and for them to be more toned, and to flatten out my stomach a little. I would love for my arms to be a little tighter, also. Anything will help. Thank you so much, Lauren
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Posted Thu, 05/05/2011 - 00:33
hey i was wondering what a good meal plan is in order to build muscle i have been working out for awhile and havent seen results and i think its because i dont eat the right food please help thank you i do work out tell i am sore and i stay sore for a couple of days so i can only work out 2 times a week anyway if u have any sujestions it would be greatly appretiated i dont need to lose weight eighter i want to gain weight thanx serlina
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Posted Thu, 06/23/2011 - 08:47
Oo, I'd really like to hear the answer to Shelley's question (07/29/2010 - 6:43am). Her circumstances almost exactly mirror my own. I've just hit my 50s and have always been heavy-set. I did gymnastics at school and have always had a too-stocky build for a female. I've never worn summer dresses or sleeveless tops etc. because I can't bear the way I look in them. Just once, I'd love to be in control of my body and have it do what I want for a change. I've convinced myself that because of my tendancy to amass bulk very quickly, that's the main reason I don't work out as much as I should. So if Shelley's question could be answered you'd be helping another at the same time.
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Posted Sat, 06/25/2011 - 13:01
Hi. i am currently doing the three day whole body work out and was wondering if i could fit the butt builder workout in with my current 3 day program
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Posted Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:43
Hi, I was wondering if I should be doing leg workouts on another day of the week on top of this butt routine? Thanks!
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Posted Tue, 07/05/2011 - 11:01
Hi Julie, I'm a 20 year old, and about a year and a half ago I turned vegetarian. My body's always been a bit flaccid, but since then it got even worse, particularly my legs and butt. Will these exercises help me "get rid" of this situation? Which ones do you think are better in order to get rid of all this flab? Thank you!
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Posted Mon, 07/18/2011 - 19:29
Ms. Julie, Do I increase the weight with each set or is it the same weight throughout the entire no. of sets?
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Posted Wed, 07/20/2011 - 17:57
Tommy Tobin
You forgot weighted hip bridges. Do it with a 25 lb plate on your crotch.