The donkey kick or bent-leg kickback is a simple but sneaky butt exercise that will set your glutes on fire! 

Basically, you get down on the ground in all fours and you kick your leg back and up.

The right story of how this exercise got its name is that you’re kicking your leg back, just like a donkey!

As straightforward as it sounds, this exercise will literally kick your butt! It’s one of my favorites booty-shaping buttocks exercises.

You can feel all of your gluteal muscles working.

The donkey kick is a great exercise to target your glutes, hips, and lower back muscle groups all in one tiny little package.

This movement helps strengthen your abs, obliques, and shoulders.

It’s great for not only sculpting your glutes but creating stability in your torso and shoulders.

Keeping everything else stationary while your leg is moving can be a challenge!

Let’s cover the benefits, muscles used, a suggested warm-up routine, and the importance of proper form.

Then you’ll learn the basic donkey and anatomical cues to ensure you have the correct form.

Followed by 4 variations, tips, and a list of more exercises to target your butt.

Donkey Kicks Exercise Benefits

Squats aren’t the only exercise you can do to tone your glutes!

These kicks are also very similar to the fire hydrant exercise however donkey kicks focus mainly on glute activation rather than inner thighs, quads, and hamstrings.

Donkey kick workouts are great for firming and strengthening your glutes muscles. It also hits your hips flexors as you stretch and extend the moving leg up. 

By holding your body still in the tabletop position, you are also strengthening your core and shoulders. 

Primary Muscles: 

  • Primary Muscles: Gluteus maximus, hip flexors
  • Secondary Muscles: Abs, obliques

Warm-up

Warming up your body prior to any workout is imperative.

By warming up, you are not only raising your body temperature but you’re sending blood to the muscles you want to activate during the exercise (1).

It can also help avoid muscle soreness and reduce your chance of injury. Both equally important in your overall health. 

Warm-up right before your workout. Try getting your heart rate up with some jumping jacks or any cardio of your choice!

Then, you want to target the large muscle groups used in the activities you plan on doing.

For donkeys, you want to warm up your glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, and torso. Also, focus on your hip flexors. 

Stealing some moves from yoga, start with a forward fold of your choice.

This can be performing either standing or seated. It will really get into the backs of the legs. Take a few shoulder rolls.

Next, consider moving through the standard vinyasa sequence. This series moves with your breath. One breath, one movement.

Starting in your standing forward fold, step back to downward-facing dog. Inhale forward to plank.

Exhale lowering into chaturanga. Make sure you keep your elbows close to your body. This will really wake up your shoulders.

Move through your upward-facing dog before returning to the down dog.

Donkeys can also be used as a warm-up for your handstand practice.

If you’ve ever practiced handstand pike, you’ll understand the importance of strong glutes to control the movement of your legs.

Sets and Reps for Donkey Kicks

In general, for reps and sets of donkey kicks, start with 10 – 15 repetitions per side for 2 – 3 sets. 

If you are new to this particular exercise, start with fewer repetitions and sets until you master the proper form. 

Proper form is imperative for any exercise. It helps avoid injuries. By using the proper form you get the most out of every movement in your exercise of choice. 

You can reach your goals faster and stop wasting energy.

Every movement you make will count towards your goal. It also helps you breathe more effectively (2).

A good rule of thumb is that you are typically exerting force on your exhales.

Once you’ve got the proper form down, and you are ready for a challenge, then you can add resistance by using a dumbbell or resistance band.

Instructions for both exercises below. 

How to Do the Donkey Kicks With Proper Form

The set up:

  1. Start in a tabletop position. It’s recommended to use an exercise mat. If you have sensitive knees, you can place a blanket under your stationary knee. 
  2. Create a stable base. Your wrists are directly under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly into the mat. Your knees are directly under your hips.
  3. Focus on maintaining a straight spine. You want a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone. Keep a neutral cervical spine and your gaze down. You don’t want to crunch your ribs, elongate your torso. Engage your abdominals. Your upper body stays stagnate throughout the duration of the exercise.
  4. On an exhale, without rounding your back and keeping a 90-degree angle in your right leg, lift the right knee back until your right thigh is parallel with the ground and the sole of your right foot is facing the ceiling.
  5. Lift only as high as you can while keeping your hips neutral. If one hip starts to lift, do not lift your foot higher. Keep your other knee bent and firmly on the ground.
  6. Press through your fingertips for stability. Inhale returns to the starting position. Complete 10 – 12 reps for 2 – 3 sets. Repeat on the left side.

Let’s cover some fun variations and progressions of this exercise!

Dumbbell Donkey Kick

  1. Start in a tabletop position. Check your alignment so your wrists are under your shoulders, knees under your hips. Gaze down. See above for the full set up.
  2. Place a dumbbell in the crook of your right knee. Squeeze, trapping the weight between your calf and hamstring. Use your fingertips for control.
  3. Continue squeezing and with control, on an exhale, lift the right leg into the kick. 
  4. Inhale, returning back to the starting position. That’s 1 repetition. Continue for 10 – 12 reps for 2 – 3 sets. 
  5. Switch sides and repeat with the dumbbell snug in the left knee pit. 

Only use as much weight as you can without compromising your form. As with adding any weight to an exercise, start light and work your way up to a heavier load.

Donkey Kick Exercise with a Resistance Band

This is also known as the banded donkey.

  1. Loop the resistance band around the knees. Start in your tabletop position, checking your posture, torso the same as above. Gaze down, fingertips spread. See above for the full set up.
  2. Adjust the band so that it is resting right under your knee caps and flat against your body. You don’t want any twists.
  3. On an exhale, kick your left leg up, bending through the hip flexor. Feel the stretch in the hamstring. Inhale, returning to the starting position. Use control as you kick heel.
  4. Complete for 10 – 12 reps for 2 – 3 sets. 
  5. Switch legs, looping the resistance band around your left thigh and sole of the right foot.

Start with a lighter band and work your way up to heavier resistance.

Option: you can also hold the resistance band in your hands instead of looping it around your quads. 

Straight Leg Donkey with Half Circle

This variation will target the full range of motion in your hips.

  1. Begin in the starting position, checking your alignment. See above for the set up with full anatomical cues.
  2. Lift your right knee off the ground. In one motion, kick your foot back as you straighten your leg, lifting your right heel towards the ceiling. Once fully extended, point your toe. Your pelvis stays neutral and parallels with the ground.
  3. With control, kick your leg out to the right side, drawing half a circle with your toes. Once your toes reach the ground, return your knee back to the starting position.
  4. This is 1 repetition. Complete 10 – 12 for 2 – 3 sets. Repeat on the left side.

Make sure to warm up with some hip openers prior to executing this variation.

Smith Machine Donkey

Want to add even more resistance? Try the exercise on a Smith Machine.

  1. Set the Smith Machine bar at a height appropriate for your body.
  2. Begin in the starting position, using the anatomical cues outlined in the basic donkey above. Have the arch of your right foot on the underside of the bar, your thigh is parallel to the ground. 
  3. Engaging your glute, push the bar up with your foot, extending your knee. Keep control as you lower back down.
  4. Complete 10 – 12 for 2 – 3 sets. Repeat on the left side.

Personal Trainer Tips

Donkey kicks can be performed on your forearms! Ensure your elbows are directly under your shoulders for proper alignment.

Distribute the weight evenly and keep yourself balanced throughout the movement. Spread your fingertips wide.

Press through your fingertips for stability.

Focus on your breath, moving with your inhales and exhales. 

Don’t gaze around. Keep a neutral cervical spine with your gaze on the ground in front of you. 

Search a reliable video platform for examples of these exercises.

Calories Burned: Donkey Kicks

The number of calories you’ll burn during any exercise will depend on many factors including but not limited to your weight and how long you do this exercise.

It’s important to focus on raising your heart rate when concerned with the number of calories burned.

Other lower body exercises for the butt:

These kicks aren’t the only exercise you can do to tone your booty. Consider adding these to your workout as well!

  • Squat
  • Fire hydrant
  • Lunge
  • Glute Bridge
  • Step-up
  • Jumps
  • Pike Handstand

The Takeaway

Channel your inner donkey in this simple but very effective booty sculpting exercise you can do virtually anywhere.

Warm-up with a little yoga prior! Start with a forward fold or two. A vinyasa flow is everything you need in one tiny little package.

Flow-through a plank, chaturanga, down dog, and an upward facing dog. Donkeys can be used as a warm-up themselves for a pike handstand!

Always use the proper form and the appropriate number of sets and reps for your fitness level.

Master the basic donkey before moving onto the 4 variations covered. When using additional weight, remember to start lighter first and work your way up to a heavier load.

For effective butt exercises, check out this list of butt workouts to try. 

Search your favorite reliable video platform or high-quality live sites for examples or social videos of the exercises mentioned above.

  1. “The Right Way to Warm-up and Cool Down.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 July 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045517.
  2. Bogoevski, Kosta. “5 Reasons Why Proper Form Is so Important.” BOXROX, 30 Aug. 2016, www.boxrox.com/proper-form/.

About the Author

Jennifer Triplett, RYT, NASM CPT

Jennifer Triplett is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. She was introduced to yoga in the early 2000’s and hasn’t stopped practicing since. She currently teaches online and in New York City.

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