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Donkey Kicks: What They Are and How to Do Them

Woman does a donkey kick in a light, spacious room

Donkey kicks are a funny-sounding exercise that offer serious benefits. Clearly, the move is inspired by the manner in which the horse-like animal kicks, thrusting their hind legs back in the air. If you haven’t already made donkey kicks a regular part of your workout routine, you should, as the simple move packs a definite punch. Ahead, discover everything you need to know about donkey kicks, from proper form to common modifications, straight from fitness experts Tanya Becker and Kailee Martin.

 

What Is a Donkey Kick?

A donkey kick is a quadruped bent-knee hip extension designed to isolate the glute muscles, explains Martin. “This exercise works your gluteus medius and maximus,” she explains. “The technical term is quadruped bent-knee hip extension, but considering it looks like a donkey—as it involves being on all fours, lifting one heel toward the ceiling in the bent-knee position while keeping the back and neck in proper alignment kick—most fitness regimens call it a donkey kick so clients can easily remember.”

Becker adds that they are also a great way to sculpt and strengthen your core and hamstrings. “One of the biggest benefits of this exercise versus using machinery, is that you have to engage your entire body-weight bearing on your supporting leg, core stabilization, arm strength, and balance,” she adds.

They even help strengthen your postural muscles. “Sitting too long, poor posture from prolonged periods of time on electronic devices, and a weak abdominal wall can all lead to lower-back pain. All of these conditions can be greatly improved by making this exercise a staple in your strength-training routine,” she notes.

Benefits of Donkey Kicks

  • They Are Great for the Glutes: Donkey kicks are the perfect way to isolate your glutes, “specifically gluteus maximus and medius,” says Martin.
  • They Strengthen Your Core and Hamstrings: Tanya Becker adds that they are also a great way to sculpt and strengthen your core and hamstrings. “One of the biggest benefits of this exercise versus using machinery is that you have to engage your entire body-weight bearing on your supporting leg, core stabilization, arm strength, and balance,” she says.
  • They Can Help Improve Posture: They even help strengthen your postural muscles, says Becker. “Sitting too long, poor posture from prolonged periods of time on electronic devices, and a weak abdominal wall can all lead to lower back pain. All of these conditions can be greatly improved by making this exercise a staple in your strength-training routine,” she notes.
  • They Can Be Easily Modified: After you have mastered the donkey kick, it can easily be modified. “Including different variations of the move (by adding a weight or a band) can make it more challenging, helping to increase strength and stability,” Martin explains.
  • They Can Help Prevent Injury: Martin notes that performing this simple movement can even help progress your everyday movement patterns “and help prevent overall injury, since stability and strength are key to our body functioning safely.”
  • They Also Activate the Shoulders: “The shoulder and core muscles are also working to hold stability and posture through the movement, which is an added bonus!” says Martin.

Proper Donkey Kick Form

Becker demonstrates how to do a donkey kick.

  • Come to an all-fours, with your hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Keep your neck and spine neutral.
  • Keeping your arms straight, core engaged, and knees bent 90 degrees, raise your one knee off the floor and lift so that it is line with your torso.
  • Reverse the move, lowering your knee to the starting position.
  • Repeat movement for 30–60 seconds (or until fatigue) on both legs.

How to Modify a Donkey Kick

There are a few ways to modify donkey kicks. If you have sensitive wrists, you can lower down to your forearms, suggests Becker. If you have knee injuries, make sure to add an extra cushion on the floor, she advises.

Want to make a donkey kick more challenging? Try adding a band behind the foot or shoe or add a dumbbell behind the knee or ankle weight at the ankle, suggests Martin. “Be sure to maintain proper form, with no sinking of the back as the weight or tension is increased.”

Donkey Kick vs. Supine or Glute Bridge

The donkey kick is most similar to the supine or glute bridge, says Martin. “The donkey kick is going to isolate the gluteal muscles whereas the glute bridge is going to target the hamstrings as well as glutes,” she explains. Although both can help any client with back injuries, bridges are usually the safer route to go here for injuries.

Safety Considerations

Martin notes that if you have preexisting back or hip injuries, you may need to modify this move depending on the injury. “Wrist injuries can always switch to the upright donkey kick position,” she says.

Examples of Donkey Kick Variations

 Weighted Donkey Kicks 

  • Coming down into starting position on all fours: knees hip-width apart, hands directly under your shoulders, neck and spine neutral
  • Take a dumbbell and place it in the back of the knee with a tight squeeze from the calf to the hamstring to keep the dumbbell in place. If a dumbbell is too heavy, an ankle weight can work as well and be an easy modification to a weighted donkey kick.
  • Engaging your core, take a big inhale, lift your left leg off the floor, knee staying bent, foot staying flat or flexed, and hinging at the hip.
  • Use your glute muscles to press your foot directly toward the ceiling with a big exhale while squeezing your glutes as tight as possible as you press your heel to the ceiling creating a 90-degree angle and squeezing the dumbbell between the calf and hamstring as tight as possible. Be sure your pelvis and working hip are parallel toward the ground with no sagging into the lower back or dropping the belly toward the floor as the leg lifts. Maintaining stability is the goal, especially when increasing weight.
  • Return to the starting position.

Banded Donkey Kicks 

  • Take a mini band and place it underneath the shoes.
  • Come down into starting position on all fours: knees hip-width apart, hands directly under your shoulders, neck and spine neutral.
  • Engaging your core, take a big inhale, lift your left leg off the floor, knee staying bent, foot staying flat or flexed, and hinging at the hip.
  • Use your glute muscles to press your foot directly toward the ceiling with a big exhale while squeezing your glutes as tight as possible as you press your heel to the ceiling, creating a 90-degree angle and pressing the band to the ceiling as high as possible without sinking into the lower back. Be sure your pelvis and working hip are parallel to the ground. Maintaining stability is the goal, especially when increasing tension.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Complete all the reps on one side before switching to the opposite.

Upright Donkey Kicks 

  • Take a long band and loop it around something stable.
  • Loop the band around the bottom of the shoe and stand arm-distance away from the band to create tension.
  • Engaging your core, take a big inhale, lift your left leg, knee staying bent, foot staying flat or flexed, and hinging at the hip.
  • Use your glute muscles to press your foot directly toward the back of your space with a big exhale while squeezing your glutes as tight as possible as you press your heel backward, creating a 90-degree angle. Be sure your pelvis and working hip are parallel toward your space. Feel free to hang on to something for balance if needed while sending the leg out in the upright position.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Complete all the reps on one side before switching to the opposite.

Donkey Kick Extension

  • Start in donkey kick position.
  • Hold the knee at torso level and extend heel away from your glutes.
  • Bring your heel back toward your glutes. This move works your hamstrings in a more dynamic range of motion.
  • Repeat movement for 30–60 seconds on each leg.

Donkey Kick Knockout

  • Start in donkey kick position.
  • Lift your knee to torso level.
  • Open knee to the side and lower back to starting position. This will work your gluteus medius while engaging your core and gluteus maximus in an isometric hold.
  • Repeat movement for 30–60 seconds on each leg.

Donkey Hover

  • Start in donkey kick position.
  • Hover your weight bearing knee off the floor while you simultaneously lift and lower the other leg. This adds more strength training for arms and core, while also adding some cardio.
  • Do this move for 20–30 seconds on each side.

The Final Takeaway

Donkey kicks are a great exercise to add to your routine. Not only are they incredibly easy to execute, but there is very little injury risk involved, and they are a minimalist way of activating the glutes and even the core.

 

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