All women want it: That shapely, sculpted, and defined butt we see in the magazine ads for cellulite cream. Closets full of skinny jeans and miniskirts have us focused more than ever on lifting, tightening, and shaping our behinds.
"It's beautiful to be symmetrical," says Pilates guru Siri Dharma Galliano, who helped Carrie-Anne Moss get her sculpted buns to play Trinity in The Matrix movies.
"Round is nice; square isn't so nice. It's an aesthetic thing," says Galliano, owner of Live Art Pilates in Los Angeles.
Yet our glutes do more than just help us look good in our clothes. The butt consists of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. They work together to help us move our legs in all directions. Because they're connected to the hips, the lower back, and the legs, strengthening the glutes can help to stabilize the back, says Galliano.
But what many of us really want to know is this: Is there a butt workout that can actually help us get those round, lifted, and chiseled derrieres we covet?
"If you're a 45-year-old mother of two and you start doing glute exercises, you're not going to look like a 20-year-old woman who's never had kids," says Maryland-based fitness trainer, speaker and consultant Jonathan Ross.
Fat cells the body has deposited around the hips and thighs are less responsive than in other parts of the body, Ross explains. "Progress is still possible. It just takes a lot of i dotting and t crossing when it comes to nutrition and exercise," he says.
Realistically, say experts, you can improve the strength and shape of your butt with diet and exercise. But if you're expecting to look just like that picture in the magazine, you may be disappointed.
Aerobically, walking hills is a great butt workout. Indoors, use a 5% to 7% incline grade on your treadmill, says Michele Olson, PhD, CSCS, exercise physiologist at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala.
Climbing stairs is another great choice for working the glutes. Find a stadium, or use a stair machine, elliptical, or arc trainer to help define the butt. For variety, dust off those inline skates and hit the pavement.
After working up a sweat aerobically, try these six butt-busting strength exercises recommended by our experts (aiming for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each):
1. Squats. One of the best exercises you can do for your butt, hips, and thighs is the squat, say experts. Stand with feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your hips, making sure not to let your knees go out past your toes.
Variations are endless. "I like plie squats to really work those deep rotator muscles," Olson says. To do them, stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, legs turned out. When squatting, keep knees over ankles; press through the feet and squeeze the glutes as you come up to standing.