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What Are the Best Glute Exercises?

By August 24, 2014December 29th, 2016Ask Bret Contreras (ABC), Glute Training, Glutes

Hi Bret, what are the best glute exercises that I should be doing? Thanks, Cindy

This is a question that I receive very often – everybody wants to know what the best glute exercises are. This question is difficult to answer. First of all, in order to be confident, I’d need for there to exist approximately twenty high-quality training studies for me to examine – longitudinal studies that compared the gluteal hypertrophic gains between various exercises, using different combinations of glute exercises, and using different types of subjects (genders, training age, etc.).

This research does not exist. In fact, there is only one training study to my knowledge that measured gluteus maximus hypertrophy – it was a Russian study that examined the lying machine squat exercise. At this point in time, we don’t have any RCT’s to reference in order to help us answer the question. Therefore, we must go down the line in terms of the hierarchy of knowledge and examine acute studies (mechanistic research), pilot data, anecdotal data, and bro-science.

manly glutes

Second, the best exercise for one person might not be the best exercise for another person. For example, if a particular exercise consistently causes pain or injury, it’s not worth doing, no matter how popular or trendy the exercise is. Anatomy plays a large role in determining exercise tolerance, and not every hip is designed to full squat heavy, not every spine is designed to deadlift heavy, and some lifters don’t tolerate the hip thrust very well. Moreover, some lifters don’t feel popular exercises working their glutes very well no matter how hard the concentrate and focus on using the glutes – this applies to squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and back extensions.

Training age must be factored in too – a beginner needs to master the box squat, hip hinge, and glute bridge (and also the goblet squat) before adding more load. Moreover, logistics must be taken into consideration. Three of my favorite glute exercises are the band hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, and horizontal back extension, but most lifters don’t have access to a Hip Thruster, a reverse hyper, and a glute ham developer.

Ask the vast majority of lifters what the best glute exercise is and they’ll likely reply with the squat. Some might say the deadlift, others the lunge, and most of my fans would say the hip thrust. In fact, around 60% of my readers feel that the hip thrust (40%) or barbell glute bridge (19%) is the best glute exercise (see HERE for the results to a poll), with the remaining 40% coming from the squat (8%), deadlift (7%), Bulgarian split squat (6%), kettlebell swing (5%), single leg RDL (4%), lunge (4%), single leg hip thrust (3%), and back extension (3%). I’m sure if you polled primarily Olympic lifters or powerlifters, they’d reply with the squat, but I’d argue that most of these lifters don’t have ample experience with the hip thrust and they’re goals are centered around strength performance and not the hypertrophy of the glutes.

So how do we know what’s best? The answer is, we don’t. The research just isn’t there yet. We can speculate, but we can’t be certain. During my lifetime, I hope to compile a lot of this research and help us hone in on optimal glute training practices over time. In the meantime, we can utilize various tools to help us answer these questions. For example, we can look at electromyography (EMG) data. EMG looks at muscle activation. But there’s more to the hypertrophic picture than activation. While activation broadly mirrors active muscle force, especially during isometric contractions, it gets skewed when dealing with dynamic movements and under fatigue. While EMG is a good tool for estimating mechanical tension, there are three primary mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy – mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage (see HERE for a comprehensive article on this topic).

An exercise can have fairly low activation but move through a considerable stretch and produce a good amount of muscle damage. Muscle damage is more related to strain than activation. Similarly, an exercise can have moderate activation, but if it’s constant and doesn’t let up, then it can produce high levels of metabolic stress.

Nevertheless, an exercise that exhibits very high levels of muscle activation will be well-suited for all three mechanisms of hypertrophy, you just have to tinker around with the manner of execution. For example, let’s consider the hip thrust. Perform 4 sets of 6 reps with a brief isometric pause at the top and you’ll get high levels of mechanical tension. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps with no rest in between reps (constant tension – not touching the bar down to the floor), only waiting 60 seconds in between sets, and you’ll get high levels of metabolic stress. Perform 4 sets of 8 reps with an emphasis on the eccentric component (4-sec lowering count), using a higher bench so the hips move through a greater ROM, and you’ll get decent levels of muscle damage.

Hip Thruster barbell band

The Hip Thruster is the best way to do the hip thrust – stable and versatile!

Now, I’d argue that different exercises should be used to target the different mechanisms of hypertrophy. For example, moderate to heavy hip thrusts for mechanical tension, high rep band hip thrusts or back extensions for metabolic stress, and walking lunges or Bulgarian split squats for muscle damage. This is why the best glute building programs involve sufficient variety. Moreover, some folks might have a particular physiology that makes them respond better to certain types of stimuli (for example, the lifters whose butts blow up from high rep hip thrusts and back extensions might respond better to metabolic stress, whereas the lifters whose butts grow substantially from squats and lunges might respond better to muscle damage), but I digress…

For the past few months, I’ve been collecting extensive EMG data for my PhD thesis. I’ve tested some very strong and fit women. In fact, this year alone, I’ve examined 10 powerlifters, 2 Olympic lifters, and 8 bikini competitors. While my thesis primarily examines the squat and the hip thrust exercises, I’ve also compiled a ton of data on other glute exercises.

I’ve looked at different types of back extensions – arched back, neutral, roundback, bodyweight, dumbbell, and band. I’ve looked at kb swings, kb deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and pendulum quadruped hip extensions. I’ve examined several types of squats (full, parallel, front, goblet) and hip thrusts (barbell, American, band). I’ve looked at different lateral band movements, and I’ve even looked at various combined movements (for example, banded goblet squats).

Band Goblet

And, I’ve looked at upper and lower glute activity during these movements. While I’m not allowed to release the data just yet as I intend to publish it, I want my readers to know a few things:

  1. Hip thrusts kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  2. Back extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  3. Pendulum quadruped hip extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes

In future studies, I would actually like to pit the hip thrust, back extension, and pendulum quadruped hip extension against each other with equal relative loading with advanced subjects. It would be very close, but based on what I’m seeing, the hip thrust would probably be best for mean glute activation, but I suspect that the back extension might elicit the greatest peak upper glute activity and the pendulum quadruped hip extension might elicit the greatest peak lower glute activity.

At any rate, here is my advice in terms of best exercises for glute training:

  1. Variety is ideal, so don’t just rely on one exercise for glute building. Tinker around and figure out the variations of each movement pattern that suit your body best – everyone is unique.
  2. Make sure you’re regularly performing at least one type of hip thrust movement (barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, band hip thrust, American hip thrust, single leg hip thrust)
  3. Make sure you’re regularly performing a back extension movement (bodyweight for high reps, band or dumbbell for medium reps, single leg, 45 degree or horizontal)
  4. Make sure you’re performing a couple of squatting movements (bilateral or unilateral) that feel right for you. This can include goblet squats, front squats, back squats, box squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, or pistols.
  5. Make sure you’re regularly performing a deadlifting movement that feels right for you. This can include kettlebell deadlifts, American deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, block pulls, deficit deadlifts, or single leg RDLs.
  6. When possible, try to add in an open chain hip extension movement (pendulum quadruped hip extension is best, but many gyms have machines that allow for this – HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the leg curl machine, HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the smith machine, and HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE are various butt machines. If you find one that feels right, then go really hard on these and make them a staple movement and go for progressive overload over time. If you can’t find a variation that feels right (you don’t feel the glutes working hard), then don’t do them and don’t sweat it. The 4-way hip machine can work well, as seen HERE. They can also be done with a cable column (HERE), bands (HERE) and ankle weights (HERE) fairly effectively, but in this case, I would do them at the end of a workout for high reps. The pendulum underneath the reverse hyper is best, but again, very few people have access to this machine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and have gained some insight as to what glute exercises are best for building a solid booty. Train glutes a few times per week for best results, and make sure you’re getting stronger over time.



  • Ron says:

    Something you’ve touched on before that I was hoping you’d expand on further is why should I choose a barbell hip thrust over a barbell glute bridge and vice versa? As you’ve stated most people can lift more weight with a glute bridge which has advantages and the hip thrust has greater ROM, which in most cases counts the most. So, if I may, why should I choose one over the other and I mean this for the lower back and hamstrings as well, not just the glutes?

    • Bret says:

      Good point Ron, I agree with you. If we think of strength…partial squats can help build squat strength, and rack pulls/block pulls can help build deadlift strength, so glute bridges will help build hip thrust strength. And for hypertrophy, I imagine you’d get more from doing both than just one alone. So you can definitely feel free to perform both bb glute bridges and hip thrusts throughout the week.

  • BCC says:

    Great information, as always! I don’t know where I’m going to put it, but I’m going to buy a reverse hyper! I will only be using it for pendulum quadrupled hip extensions, and I don’t know which one to purchase? Westside has one as low as $895.00, they have dual pendulum, bent pendulum…any thoughts? Cheers!

    • Bret says:

      BCC – just make sure you buy one that’s conducive to QHE’s. For example, the roller models are not. I have the classic pro Westside model. The bent pendulum, dual pendulum, ultra pro, and ultra extreme models don’t look like they’d work well for QHE at all. But the Rogue model might (as long as there’s just a pendulum and no foot pads). You’ll want to pick up an Airex balance pad too (to kneel on).

      • BCC says:

        Thanks, I’m super stoked! Hey, maybe in your free time could you invent something for performing pendulum quadrupled hip extensions without having to buy a reverse hyper? (I’m kidding, I realize you have NO free time.) I love me a reverse hyper more than anyone, but they’re giant. Best with your PhD thesis!

  • Carlos says:

    Lovely Article, Bret, Thanks

  • Terje says:

    Great information, thanks. How do doing sprints compare to doing the exercises you mentioned? How important are they for overall glute development?

    • Bret says:

      I’m not a fan of sprints for glute development. Sprinting is risky business, and many of my female clients have given sprinting a try, only to end up with an SI joint, hamstring, hip flexor, or calf injury. Sprinting must be gradually increased in effort, and most athletes just go out and sprint at 100% their first time out. It’s difficult to manage the volume of sprinting too, in concordance with weights. So controlled lifting through a full ROM with a fluid tempo and a concentric/eccentric component will be superior for hypertrophy and safer. And sprinting doesn’t activate the glutes higher than that of hip thrusts, so I just don’t advise it for most lifters (for athletes it’s vital, but for physique clients seeking better glutes, it’s not).

      • Derrick Blanton says:

        Hill sprints, though?

        Way safer than flat sprints, less pounding.
        Fuller ROM at the glute.
        Constant explosive tension on the full glute complex, to propel upwards, as well as stabilize for the other hip to swing through.

        EMG has to be off the chart on these.

        And if the hill is steep enough, the sprint turns into a “climb”, and even going 0.01 mph, you are just crushing the glutes. In fact, once fatigue has really set in, it’s like a max grind it out HT on every cycle.

        Brutal and effective.

        • Bret says:

          Sure Derrick and EMG research supports your claim. However, as good as hill sprints (and sled pushing for that matter) are at hitting the glutes, they’re only doing so through concentric contractions. I believe that exercise builds more muscle when there’s a full range concentric and eccentric phase, which is why resistance training is generally superior for building muscle than other endeavors. But I could be wrong, perhaps hill sprints can build considerable glute muscle.

  • Jeff says:

    that last girl has the perfect backside.

  • Larry Mims says:

    Hi Bret, my question is about execution of doing hip thruster at the end of the ROM? Should my lower back be flat or a little arched back at the end ROM?

    • Bret says:

      Flat. If it’s arched, it means lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt, which means slightly more hamstring and less glute activation. It also could lead to low back pain over time (damage to the posterior elements of the spine). So keep the low back in neutral (or a slight posterior pelvic tilt is acceptable too).

  • Maria says:

    I don’t get how anyone can pick one favorite exercise for the glutes! I have several, ranging from exercises that engage more muscles (LOVE straight legged deadlifts!) to exercises that isolate the glutes better – always get great contact with the glutes when bridgeing, vertical back extending or hip thrusting. Considering what you write in the end of your article, I’ve probably put together decent lower body programs (deadlifts once a week; squatting, back extending and thrusting/bridgeing twice a week in different exercises, plus an exercise performed standing on one leg per lower body day – that would be bulgarian split squats and cable kickbacks). Own a copy of Strong Curves, but as long as I’m making this kind of insane progress I’m currently making, I’ll stick to these. 🙂

  • Sami says:

    I like to stick a (moderately) heavy dumbbell behind my knee and execute quadruped hip extensions and fire hydrant movements with my knee bent maximally, trapping the dumbbell there with my calf nearly pressing against my upper thigh. It may feel a bit awkward, but I have come to prefer it to cable kick-backs and the glute machine at my gym (which I feel was designed for a man’s body). I wrap a t-shirt around the dumbbell handle to improve comfort. These produce an awesome pump and I was surprise to discover can produce quite a bit of soreness in the glutes, which I’d only ever experienced from lunges before.

    Thanks, Bret, for another great article!

  • SUSAN says:

    Great article as always Bret. I know the guys love it but when the women are shown posing in an extreme anterior tilt won’t this set a poor postural example for beginner female and even male lifters? Thanks, Susan.

    • Bret says:

      Well Susan, I don’t think we can stop it no matter how hard we try! It’s a natural reaction…kind of like when guys suck in their stomachs as soon as their shirts come off. When I places electrodes on women’s glutes, I always notice that they arch their backs and APT haha! People naturally want to look their best and make various parts stick out (or not stick out) further. So I try to teach proper posture during lifting, but with posing/pictures, it would be fighting a losing battle.

  • Cassye says:

    Thank you so much for offering a veritable smorgasbord for hip extension moves. My gym doesn’t have a butt blaster, and leg extension machine is really rickety. It will be so fun to give some of these a try. Oh, and I thought you’d appreciate my latest PR on glute bridges today at 225 lb. Thanks for all you do!

  • V says:

    can playing hockey or skating give you a make your butt get bigger

      • Derrick Blanton says:


        Much like hill sprinting, skating is also concentric only, is it not? 🙂

        Other concentric dominant activities that may translate to growth: cycling for quads. Rowing for back. (Real rowing on water with oars, that is.)

        Don’t get me wrong, BC, I’m with you on the value of eccentric actions as well!

        So much like vegetarians need to eat food in combinations to get a full amino acid profile, a variety of exercises, volume, and intensity ranges may = maximal growth.

        • Bret says:

          Touche! Trust, me I see your point. I wish there were studies comparing hypertrophic gains between concentric only sporting actions such as these, versus controlled resistance training (don’t know how you’d equate volume – I personally would not want volume to be equated as this isn’t always representative of real life).

  • Eden says:

    Bret, we have a glute machine at our gym which you don’t touch on. It is similar to what the guy in this video is using: Is this worthwhile to use? Would it be equivalent to the Pendulum quadruped hip extensions?

    • Bret says:

      Yes, Eden, this can work very well too (the 4-way hip machine). Some of them are comfortable and feel right, while others aren’t. You can usually figure out the right adjustments to feel them working the glutes thoroughly through the full range of hip extension. Stronger males are not always able to achieve a sufficient workout from these if the cable stacks top out at 200 lbs, but I’ve had success pinning extra weight to the stack. And I used one a few months ago that was specially made for athletes (400 lb stack, allowed for adjustments for taller people) and it was great. I will add this into the blog as I forgot to mention it. Thanks!

      • Eden says:

        And so would this work in the same way as the example you provided of kickbacks with the Smith machine – that was one I was thinking I could do, but if the 4-way hip machine works the glutes in the same way, I will just use it (and get less stares 🙂 ). Thanks for this article – excellent!

  • This one’s going in the ‘Best Of’ file. Great explanation of the mechanisms of hypertrophy and how to train the glutes for each.

  • Thanks for linking me on the kickbacks with the Smith Machine. I really love them and believe they work. I love all the information you provide and will continue to follow.

  • Tiago Dagge says:

    Hi. I’am 21years old and since i was 14 till around 17 all i did was sitting in front of computer all day, either playing games or doing other stuff. At 17 i finally started doing some exercise. First i tried running which i quite liked even though i was slow like a turtle. I then tried road cycling because there was some organized group rides in the zone and i tought it was really cool. Indeed it was, i loved it from the first pedal stroke and have been doing ever since.

    During that time i have gotten much fitter. I was in really bad shape before even tough i wasn’t fat. My resting heart rate dropped 20 bpm and my endurance obviously went through the roof.

    For a while i wasn’t aware of my muscular imbalances but i started to pick it up from various things. Mainly my pedalling which i never felt natural. I also noticed that the pros i rode with had much bigger asses than mine and more strenght in general in that part of body while i was very quad dominant.Till one day an ex pro told me i wasn’t using the glutes in my pedalling. I confess only after that day did i realize there were muscles there and that i was supposed to use them lol
    So i’ve been searching the internet how to correct my problems but there’s so much information that i don’t know where to start. I finnaly found your work after being recommended in other places so i tought you, the master of the glutes might help me with more concise and specific advice 🙂
    Here’s the list of problems i have(there’s problably more i haven’t picked up…): anterior pelvic tilt, tight hips, tight quads, no hamstrings and no glutes.

    I’ve doing hip stretches like the kneeling hip stretch because they say tight hips disable glutes. I also plan on doing myosfacial release to release the tension in my quads and hips, i’am just waiting for the balls and foam roller to arrive.
    I have tried some glute bridges but i have a hard time doing them correctly. First i can’t get up too much because of the tight hips and also i can’t make the back not do any work. I do feel the glutes contract but so does the back which i think is not supposed to.
    You say hip thrust are king but what if i can’t even do a basic glute bridgle properly?

    Here’s 2 photos from me doing the kneeling hip stretch to better assess my situation. And some photos from where i would like to end up which are from a successful pro road cyclist. I don’t know if u can see well from photo but he has tons of hamstring and glute strenght.

    How do i go from here? I appreciate any help.

    • Bret says:

      Tiago, it just requires patience. Start with glute squeezes in different positions, along with quadruped movements (these can usually be felt in the glutes even with beginners). Begin adding additional glute activation exercises over time. Spend a couple of months learning to really fire your glutes. Then start going for progressive overload, choosing a few exercises that allow you to really feel your glutes. Over time, you can make the glutes a strong point, but it requires patience and consistency.

  • Omar Flores, PT, DPT says:

    Chris Powers, PhD, PT, FAFTA published a study last year on JOSPT that showed clams, crab walks, unilateral bridges, and fire hydrants get the most glute med and max activation. From speaking to him personally, he suggested to integrate bands around the knees to get an external rotation component and involve the glutes even further. Here’s a link to that study:

    • Bret says:

      Omar, these get high activation as far as rehab exercises are concerned, but they don’t hold a candle to barbell hip thrusts, back extensions, and pendulum quadruped hip extensions (even if you use bands for resistance). I just finished testing 13 very fit ladies in dozens of glute exercises, so I likely have more data than anyone on this topic.

    • Danica says:

      Thank you for the link to that journal article on rehab exercises! I am reading Bret’s article as a person currently in rehab (6 orthopedic surgeries in the last four years–feet, hips, knee)–and I have joint hypermobility (classical EDS). I’ve done a number of the exercises listed in the article but my PT and I have noticed that I don’t activate my glutes enough in hip hikes or squats. We recently used a band around my quads, near my knee, to activate the glutes during a squat on the reformer. I was really surprised–I actually felt my butt working!! It was great!!! So I’m on a butt-building quest–trying to soak up all information on how to make those muscles bigger, stronger and functional, so thanks again for that link!

  • Patricia says:

    Hi Bret:

    First of all I would like if the quadruped hip extension or kickbacks with a dumbell on the rear part of the knee (I hope you understand what I mean) results a good way to perform this exercise in order to get a bigger butt. Please I have a second question. Is the hyper reverse a good exercise to get a rounder butt, does it works the upper glute and how many series and repetitions should I do in order to build a bigger butt. My upper butt is quite flat so I need to get it bigger and rounder but I’m afraid that if I do too many repetitions I will get the opposite result, I mean get it flatter. I hope again you understand what I mean, if not, I also speak Spanish, if it’s better for you.
    Thanks a lot for your help, I need it. Another question . What about the press machine with the feet together in the top of the platform. Is it good to build a bigger butt?

    Thanks again,


  • Vab Kumar says:

    Hi Bret:

    I am a tall guy having long legs which make me more to look more skinny. I am working quite hard from 2 years but fail to add 1 inch to my legs and butt. I almost give up that I cant fix my flat glute, but after watching your blogs and science behind glutes , gave me some hope again.

    I will really indebted to you if you will provide me a leg workout exercise routine which will really make a difference to my stubborn flat glutes and quads.

  • Max says:


    Hi my name is Max,

    I now being going to the jym for about for 15 Months, but cannot improve on my hamstring problem on my left thigh. I love my Treadmill, but have to lay off at the moment.

    Can you please suggest strong glute excirse to strenghten my hamstring/glute.


  • Rachel says:

    Hi Bret!

    I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading in your blog and it’s really inspired me to incorporate some different glute activation exercises into my workout. Squats have always been my Achilles tendon as I simply never feel my glutes working.
    The other day I decided to give the Barbell glute bridge a whirl. My glutes were on fire when I finished, however, I expected to be sore the next morning, only I wasn’t. Do you have any ideas, suggestions and Is this normal?

    Thanks so much!

  • Emma says:

    Brett, I have just purchased your book and am really excited to get going. However I am pretty disappointed to realise that three of the main pieces of equipment that you use are not in my gym…. The Pendulum, Glute-Hamstring Developer and Hyper-Extension Bench. In fact I cannot think of any gyms in my area that do have them (plus I’m tied in on a contract to this gym anyway).

    Obviously there are many exercises in your book that utilise this equipment and I have spent ages trawling the net looking for alternatives to the exercises but to be honest I am just confused and unsure if what I have found is as useful, or as effective, as anything you could suggest.

    So please would you mind suggesting or at lease provide a link to alternative methods of performing the following exercises without the equipment?

    The Prisoner 45 degree hyperextension,
    45 degree side bend,
    Dumbbell back extension,
    Bodyweight reverse hyper

    Many thanks in advance Brett!


    • Darren says:

      I think that Emma makes a good point, you won’t find any of the equipment that you use in many, if any, commercial gyms.

      However, I do find that B-stance RDL, DB swings and reverse BB lunge work hamstrings and glutes quite well. My advice however, would be to do some bodyweight glute activation exercises before hand – single leg glute bridge, through the heel, or even a standing glute contraction, in the anatomical position, where you feel a slight posterior rotation of the hip, as the glutes contract to pull them into a more neutral position. Then go on and try one or more of those exercises mentioned above.

      Step ups are also good, but you should emphasise driving through the heel to take the emphasis off the quads and shift it more towards the glutes.

  • Justin Gambini says:

    If I do dumbbell lunges and barbell Bulgarian split squats will that get my glutes sore?

  • Lucas says:

    Bret, I am doing a research work about glutes hypertrophy, but the problem is the lack of studies measuring it. I would like to know the russian gluteus hypertrophy study you mention in the beggining of the article.

  • Gail says:

    So aside from squeezing glutes for each rep how can I focus on building my glutes without adding to my hams and quads. It could just be because I have been bulking for almost six months now and I accumulate more fat on my things than butt. Or it could be genetics since my lack of glutes is still the largest of all my sisters. But I really feel like my glutes hav enot been growing. I do a ten by. Four of single leg dead lifts, squats, reverse lunges or good mornings and then single leg hip thrusters, sometimes I do a five by five of pistol squats or Bulgarian squats instead of four by ten regular squats at the beginning of my work out to increase strength to take on more weight. I Do in upper lower split four days a week. Thanks!

  • James says:

    I am a member of La fitness which has a butt blaster (where you get on your hands and knees). I’m also a member of Xsport which has a different butt blaster (where you stand up). Are both of these exercises considered pendulum quadruped hip extension machines?

  • Nicole says:

    Hi Bret, how often should I change my glute routine?i train glutes 3-4 times a week, but i am not sure after how many months or weeks i should be changing up my routines?

  • Adriana says:

    i have been cutting , is it possible to build round glutes with heavy training at same time? or would i have to got to maintenance calories to stop losing fat, my largest part on hip is 35 inches it has remained same while my waist has lost more inches than my butt. would i be able to get a one time customized workout plan for just 2 weeks to see any changes. Thanks!

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