The truth is, the appearance of your butt is partially out of your control, says Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer and Fitbit ambassador. “Genetics is the number-one component of the size and shape of your butt,” he says. “Different ethnicities also have certain biological predispositions for adiposity in different parts of the butt, or different waist-to-hip ratios that give the butt and hips a particular look,” he adds.
Pasternak also notes that how you’ve used your glutes throughout your life may also dictate the natural development of your butt. “So someone who was a gymnast as a kid might have more developed glutes, or an easier time toning the glutes as they get older, than someone who maybe didn’t do any sports as a child,” he explains.
Now for the good news: Just because you can’t necessarily battle the natural curve of your booty doesn’t mean you can’t amp up the assets you have, he assures. Plus, there are so many benefits of developing a strong, toned tush that go beyond how it fills out your jeans. Having strong glutes can make you a better runner, improve your posture, and more.
So genetics aside, what else could be stalling your dream derriere? There are other little errors that people unknowingly make that can take the emphasis off of the glutes, Pasternak says. Make these exercise and lifestyle adjustments to accelerate your results.
Certain moves that we often associate with the glutes actually recruit other large lower-body muscles (namely the quadriceps) to do most of the work. “This tends to be the case with basic body-weight squats and leg presses,” Pasternak says.
Instead, Pasternak recommends focusing more on unilateral movement, or working one side of the body at a time so that other large muscles in both legs don’t dominate. “Unilateral training will allow you to access the glutes more directly,” he says. Moves to work into your butt routine: single-leg deadlifts, lunges, and lying single-leg hip thrusts.
Related: 4 Moves to Perk Up a Flat Butt
“Your butt is mainly fat. That’s just a fact,” Pasternak says—and fighting flab requires a combo of cardio and a healthy diet. But you should be doing more with your cardio than steady treadmill runs if you want to zero in on the glutes, he says. “Steady running can actually shorten the hamstrings and cause the glutes to become disengaged,” he says.
Instead, opt for walking or sprinting. “Walking forces you into a longer stride, which gives you the opportunity to access your glutes better. Sprinting requires your knees to lift higher, which also fires up the glutes,” Pasternak explains.
For even more effective butt-targeting cardio, add incline. “I think stairs are just the most underrated glute blaster there is,” Pasternak says. “I recommend that all my clients hit a step goal of 10,000 or 15,000 steps per day, and at least 1,500 of those should be on hills or stairs if you want to really want to tone the glutes fast.”
Putting all of your bodyweight on your butt for hours upon hours each day can actually change the shape of it, Pasternak says. “Sitting also shortens and tightens the hip flexors, which impacts our ability to really activate both our glutes and core even when we’re not seated,” adds physical therapist David Reavy, owner of React Physical Therapy in Chicago, Ill.
After a period of being sedentary (and especially before going from desk chair to workout), Reavy suggests doing these three exercises to help lengthen the front of your body and re-activate the glutes:
Mobilization backbend: Start in a split stance, with one foot slightly behind you and the heel slightly raised. Reach back with the arm of the same side and place your fist on your sacrum. Lean back as far as you can and hold for a few seconds. Repeat the movement on the other side. Do about 10 reps on each side, bending back as far as you can each time.
Hip-flexor release: Lay on your stomach and put a lacrosse ball under your psoas. Allow your bodyweight to release onto the ball as much as possible without pain and lay until you feel your hip flexor relax.
Hip thrusts: Put your shoulders on a flat bench, heels on the ground. Using your glutes, lift your hips up to a bridge position, hold for a few seconds and lower your hips. Reavy suggests putting a resistance band around your thighs for added challenge: “This helps turn on your external rotators, which are part of your glutes, so you’ll be working your butt all the way around,” he says. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
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