By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
It’s time for an earful about your rearful. Call it what you want — butt, booty or derriere — we all have one and the majority of us complain about it as well. Too small, too big, too saggy, too flabby — in a unified feminine chorus we bemoan our behinds. “Does this dress/pants make my butt look big?” is the desperate cry heard round the world. Women are typically born with more fat cells and more active fat storage enzymes in the buttock. It’s a great storage depot for the fuel needed for breastfeeding as well as life-saving calories in times of famine. What should your behind look like? Look at the other women in your family and if there’s a general tendency toward a protuberant posterior, then you probably have the same genetics. This simply means you need to be realistic and readjust your expectations from “My butt’s so big it resides in another country but hey soon it’ll all be gone” to “OK, women in my family tend to have bigger butts and so do I so I’ll aim to make mine the best I can achieve by toning and training”. Now we’re talkin’!
Let’s start with peek into your own unique reality. Stand sideways in front of a mirror and let’s assess how bountiful your behind really is. Observe your rear as you slowly twirl before the mirror. Most women have a nice curvaceous rear and if your waist is small enough and your chest voluptuous enough, then your butt will be more prominent, giving you a classic hourglass figure. Or, if your chest is smaller and your butt and thighs tend to be bigger, then you’re a pear shaped lady. It’s all about where your body’s fat storage enzymes tend to lay down fat throughout your body. Genetics speaks loudly here, but just remember that while genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. Whatever body shape hand you were dealt in life, your job is to optimize it. Some simple strengthening and toning exercises combined with a balanced nutritional intake will do the trick! I highly recommend that you check out the WebMD Food and Fitness Planner to input all of your current data and get started today on a balanced diet and a more active lifestyle.
Speaking of which, before we launch into the butt blasting exercises, remember that you need to include consistent cardio at least 5x a week. If you’ve been sedentary, please patiently and gradually work up to cooking about 400 calories of cardio every day that you can. That’s roughly 10,000 steps on a pedometer. If you’re presently at 5000 steps, just keep adding an additional 1000 steps each week. Your body needs time to adapt and adjust to your New Normal activity level. Also, spice it up by adding more intensity. If you do, then you’ll shorten your cardio time and get more bang for your get-up-and-exercise buck. By intensity, I mean look for ways to sweat more — walking/running up hills, or simply speeding up your pace. You ramp it up for 1-3 minutes and then take it down to your moderate level for 1-2 minutes and then increase that intensity all over again. This is the high intensity interval training (HIIT) I speak so frequently about. 30 minutes doing HIIT = 1 hour walking slowly and not sweating much. Intensity is all relative to your current status. Everyone needs to customize this to their own strengths and limitations. Optimally, you’re getting some direction from a fitness professional. Here’s a nifty resource to find a certified fitness professional in your area.
All right, it’s time to mobilize your collective behinds. Remember that before you start any new activity program, if you have physical disabilities and/or medical condition(s) that need clearance from your medical team, please do so. Also, if you’re a beginner, please gradually build up and work out regularly so that one day you can achieve the goals noted with each exercise.
It’s butt blastin’ time! Each of these exercises will help to strengthen your gluteus muscles in your buttock region. Always keep in mind that any exercise is an opportunity to engage your core or ab muscles and maintain excellent posture and form as you execute each movement.
1) Backward Leg Touch and Lift: I love this simple and elegant movement that gets killer results. If you’ve ever taken a ballet class, you’ll recognize this as a staple at the barre. Simply grab the back of a chair or anything that is stable that you can hold onto at about waist level or above. Stand up with great posture, engaging your core and lengthening your spine so that you’re as tall as possible. Both legs are straight and there is about one foot length’s distance between the feet. Your feet are pointing forward. Keeping your right leg straight, gradually lift it off the ground behind you, reaching 6-12 inches in height. Keep your posture perfect and do not bend forward at the waist. If you feel yourself doing so, don’t lift so high. Once you’ve reached your height, squeeze your glutes and count to 5 and then slowly lower until your big toe touches the ground behind you. As soon as you touch, start right back up again. You do not rest on the touch. This keeps tension in your glutes. Watch out for bent knees. If your knee is bent your butt muscles will not be engaged. Lift and touch 10 times to each side. More advanced people can do 15-20 times per side. Anyone with ballet background can begin this exercise in first position and lift from there.
2) Donkey Kick Crossover Start on all fours: Get down on the floor mat on all fours, positioning your hands under your shoulders, knees under hips. Keeping your right knee bent, flex your right foot and lift your right knee to hip level, holding for a count of 5 and squeezing your glutes as you do so. Slowly lower your right knee to the outside of the left knee and then lift it back to hip level. Do three sets of 10-15 reps to each side. As you do this exercise, keep your head up, engage your core, avoid dipping your back, and please don’t rapidly swing your legs all over the place. Good form means you remain in control of the entire movement at all times.
3) Chair Wall Squat w/o ab ball/hand weights: Chair wall squats tone and strengthen your glutes, thighs, and hamstrings while improving range of motion in your knee joint. Here’s where you get to sit on an invisible chair. A chair wall squat involves assuming a sitting position with your back against a wall. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back flat against a wall or with your back against an ab stability ball. Your feet should be approximately 6 to 12 inches in front of your body. Slowly bend your knees into a squat position until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Imagine you’re sitting in a chair. Do not allow your knees to go over your toes when performing wall squats. Hold the squat for 5-10 seconds, then slowly straighten your legs. Increase the amount of time you hold the squat until you’ve reached 60 seconds. Caution: if you have any issues with your knees, get medical clearance before doing this exercise. Another safe modification is to bend your knees just to a point that works for you. This is a partial squat. You don’t have to go all the way down to a sit position. Go as far as you can and hold that position and then repeat. Your goal is to do 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Be patient as you need time tone and strengthen your muscles. To add a challenge, you can grab hand weights and hold them as you perform this exercise.
Try to incorporate these exercises a couple of times a week. You can do them anytime and anywhere so you call the shots. Stay mindful of your rear and your reward will be a pair of glorious glutes. That’s my bottom line for your beautiful behind!