Where once it was legs (and then abs), having a well toned posterior is the new thing in women’s fitness. Everywhere you look on social media, asses are proudly displayed, often accompanied by a set of exercises you, YES YOU! should use to achieve the desired level of pertness, roundness and size.
While it goes without saying that these pictures should be taken with a very large dose of salt – and a flattering camera angle – there are exercises you can use that will certainly tone – and increase – what you currently have, along with the right nutrition.
However, before you swing into hip-thrusting action, it’s worth reviewing what you currently have and what you are hoping to achieve. Be realistic. Everyone has a different bottom, thank goodness, and what suits one body frame may not suit another; it would be a mistake to think that only one kind of bottom could be sexy. There are many sizes and shapes of bums and each can be as attractive as the next. Appreciate what you have and you’ll find it a lot easier to work with.
That being said, there are several ways you can increase and shape your largest muscle (the gluteus maximus) and its smaller sister (the gluteus medius). Unlike with other major muscle groups, it will take a while for you to see results, as glutes are notoriously hard to grow. What’s more, women generally store a lot of fat in this area, so it can take a while for your hard work to pay off. But keep at it. If you want a pert posterior, here are a few of the exercises that will do it for you.
1. Bulgarian lunges (aka Bulgarian split squat)
Performed using dumbbells or a barbell, but also effective as a body weight exercise for beginners, the Bulgarian lunge requires participants to place one foot in front of the other, while resting the back foot on a box or step. A squat is then performed, where the back knee is slowly lowered to the floor, while the front knee extends over the front foot. The original position is then returned to and a set number of repetitions is performed before switching legs.
One thing to note about the Bulgarian lunge is that balance is key. You need to make sure you’ve honed the technique before progressing with weights. But it’s a really great lower body exercise, and is particularly good for the glutes. It might take you a while to get your feet positioned properly (expect some hopping about) and, once you’re in place, make sure that your front knee doesn’t extend over your toes (it should form a right angle). Final note; a lot of people would advocate keeping a straight back, but it can actually help to lean your upper body ever-so-slightly forward when you are lunging.
2. Glute bridges
I often use glute bridges at the beginning of my workout in order to warm up the muscles before I hit the heavier weights, however, glute bridges can be an effective exercise in their own right, have many variations for increasing intensity and can easily be performed at home. At their most basic level, lie flat on your back, hands by your sides, bend your knees and bring your feet towards your bottom, then drive your pelvis into the air, squeezing your glute muscles as you reach your highest point. Repeat the move for the desired rep range, remembering to clench those butt cheeks at the top of every move.
To increase the intensity you can try a number of techniques:
- Extend your arms over your head, so you can’t use them to help the move
- Raise your toes off the floor, so you are only balancing on your heels
- Raise your feet by placing them on a bench, BOSU ball (look it up), or low table (if you’re at home)
- Perform the move with one leg, raising the other or resting it on the opposing knee
- Introduce a weight or sandbag on to your pelvis
Watch: How to do a glute bridge
3. Hip thrusts
Admittedly, hip thrusts are very similar to the aforementioned glute bridge, but they are by far my favourite glute exercise. Instead of lying on the floor, the back is positioned on a bench, so your starting position is, more or less, sitting upright. To perform the move, place a weighted barbell or sandbag across your pelvis, keep your feet flat on the floor, and then use your glute muscles to drive your hips skyward – pausing at the top to really squeeze those butt cheeks.
As I said above, I absolutely love this exercise, as it’s really easy to increase the intensity, simply by adding more weight. The downsides can be finding a comfortable position that doesn’t put too much pressure on your lower back, and, equally, making sure you have appropriate padding for your hips if you’re using a heavy barbell (I’ve found a mat or towel work wonders). I really can’t emphasise enough how good these are; you will feel your butt working immediately if you get your positioning correct. Just do remember to add in that squeeze at the end; it will ensure the majority of the power is coming from your hamstrings and butt, rather than your lower back.
Kickbacks are pretty awesome for isolating your glute muscles. You’ll often see gym goers performing variations on the gym floor, generally using nothing but body weight. While I would never discourage any form of exercise, I would always add weight to kickbacks. For me, personally, I would never see any glute development by performing 50 unweighted kickbacks; however, jump on the Smith machine and it’s another story.
It may take a while to get yourself comfortably positioned on all fours, with your foot positioned under the bar of the Smith machine, but once you’re in place, you’ll be able to load up the weight and really start to build your glute muscles. Make sure you get your positioning correct, by keeping your knees underneath your hips – to prevent undue pressure on your knees – your back straight and your core engaged, and really squeeze your butt as you drive each leg towards the ceiling.
I was tempted to leave squats off this list, mainly because squats are a great compound exercise for the whole lower body, including your core. It can be hard for some people to really get glute gains from squats, as depending on your technique and positioning, a lot of power will normally come from your quads. Some people swear by squats – and monopolise squat racks for hours on end – while others will use them in moderation. I’m in the second camp. It can be very easy to get squat technique wrong; essentially, your feet should point slightly outwards, your knees should track over your feet, you should keep looking forward, keep your chest raised and your core engaged. You should breath in at the top of the squat (or on the way down) and use your exhalation to power your movement back up. You should lower yourself just so far as it takes your bottom to be lower than your knees – forget the ‘ass-to-grass’ idea.
The important thing to remember is to use glute bridges – or one of the exercises above – to activate your glute muscles before starting your squats. Wake your glutes up! Again, really squeeze your glutes as you power up, pushing your bottom forward and clenching at the top of each move. By doing this, you’ll start to feel your glutes working, rather than relying on the power generated by your quads.
Do you have a favourite glute workout? Leave your ideas or questions in the comments below.