Booty, especially, the celebrity kind, hogs a lot of limelight, yet the gluteal muscles that underpin the butt and help to give it shape rarely get the recognition they deserve. There’s so much more to having strong, well-trained glutes than a perky rear end – the other benefits include a body that performs better and a lower risk of debilitating back injury and pain.
“The glutes are so overlooked yet they’re critical for doing any forward movement effectively – whether it’s walking, running or sprinting, strong glutes help you move faster,” says Michael Cunico, Fitness First’s national personal training manager.
They also help to injury-proof the lower back.
“One cause of lower back pain and back injury is instability in the hips. Strong glutes provide stability for the hips, which in turn, helps stabilise the spine, minimising the risk of lower back injury,” he explains.
For the triple benefits of a rear end that looks good, functions well and protects the spine, Cunico recommends:
A move borrowed from yoga, the bridge is a rock star of butt exercises. You lie on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then raise the hips so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to hips and knees. Hold this position for a second, then lower your body back to the starting position.
“For the best results you need to progress to adding some weight – a barbell with weights at each end balanced across the hips,” he says. “It can be uncomfortable at first but your body does adapt and you will get stronger.”
This is where you lower your body into a squat (as if you are sitting on a chair), with feet just a little more than shoulder-width apart. Your weight should be on your heels and your knees tracking over your toes.
“It’s important to work towards a deep squat where your thighs are at least parallel to the ground or lower,” Cunico stresses. “This is safe providing you have no problems with hips or knees and you do the squat correctly – your toes are slightly turned out and your torso straight. Again, you need to progress to using external weight like dumbbells or a barbell.”
The dead lift.
This works the glutes as well as the hamstrings and muscles of the back – but correct technique is important to prevent injury, Cunico says.
You can deadlift holding a barbell or dumbbells with an overhand grip – but start off with a low weight or no weight at all. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead or turned slightly outward. Slowly lower the bar as you drive your hips backward. When the bar reaches the knees, bend them until the bar reaches the mid-shin. Return to a standing position, keeping your weight on your heels. Keep the bar close to your legs, your eyes straight ahead and back flat.
What about doing basic exercises like squats or lunges at home using your own body weight?
“You can build strength in your glutes this way but the glutes are big muscles and there’s a limit to what you can do with your own body weight,” Cunico says. “To build more strength you need to use an external weight like a barbell or dumbbells.”
As for everyday movements to help maintain glute strength, his advice is to spend less time sitting on your glutes and to build as much movement into your day as possible.
The butt also has a bad habit of getting flatter as you get older. For women this is partly to do with the drop in oestrogen levels that come with menopause. It’s this hormone that drives the storage of fat around the butt, hips and thighs and when oestrogen levels fall, fat tends to settle around the mid-section instead of the lower body.
On top of this, there’s a reduction in muscle that comes with age that occurs in men as well as women, Cunico adds.
“But maintaining stronger glutes can help you keep a better shape as you age – and help your body function”