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.
The Butt Workout: Six Exercises for Glutes
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.
For an advanced version, progress to squat jumps, says Todd Durkin, CSCS, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, Calif., and trainer to 30 NFL athletes including Drew Brees. Each time you come out of the squat, leap off the ground.
2. Lunges. Beginning with your feet parallel and hip-distance apart, take a giant step forward or backward. Slowly lower your body, bending both knees. Bend your knees no farther than 90 degrees, keeping your front knee aligned over your front ankle. Step together and repeat.
Alternate legs or do all sets on one leg and then switch for a greater challenge, says Olson: "You're cutting the rest time by half, and even though you do the same amount, your legs will be working harder."
Beginners should stay in the lunge and just lower and lift by bending the knees, she says.
Ross likes tweaking a forward lunge to really target the glutes: While lunging, reach both arms down toward the floor outside the front foot (hold a medicine ball or light dumbbell for added challenge). Durkin adds a hop to alternate feet for the advanced client.
3. Bridges. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Slowly peel your spine off the floor from the bottom, one vertebra at a time, tightening the glutes and hamstrings (backs of the thighs) until you've created a diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees. Return to the floor slowly, one vertebra at a time.
Olson likes the one-legged bridge: Hold the knees tightly together and extend one leg at knee level while in the bridge position. Do all repetitions on one side, then switch.
To take it to the next level, try the bridge on a stability ball. With the head and tops of shoulders balanced on the ball, lift the hips into a tabletop position, level with the shoulders, then lower slightly and repeat.
Advancing from there, lift into the bridge position on the ball, then take two baby steps to your left, changing the line of gravity so you're off-center, then drop and lift the hips. "The left glute should work a bit harder than the right," Ross says. This move, he emphasizes, requires good core balance and takes only a very small shift (2-4 inches) in lower body position. Do all the repetitions on one side, then switch.
4. Step-ups. Using a weights bench (a step would work, too), step one foot on top, then push through the top leg and glute to lift the bottom leg up and tap the bench. Lower and repeat using the same leg. Add hand weights or a knee lift with the tapping leg for a greater challenge, suggests Olson.
5. Leg/hip extensions. Reaching a leg behind your body is a great way to work the glutes. In Pilates, it's done while lying on your side, but you can also do it while lying over a stability ball or standing. Using a slow, controlled motion, extend the leg behind the body while squeezing the glutes and keeping the torso stable. Do three sets of 15 repetitions, then switch legs.
Up the ante with a single-leg dead lift, a Durkin favorite. While standing, extend one leg back and hinge from the hip. At the same time, lower the torso to parallel with the floor. Keep the abs tight and return to standing, lowering the back leg.
6. Skater plyos. Feeling like Drew Brees? Try this plyometric side step, a Durkin staple. Standing with feet under hips, take a lateral (sideways) hop to the left on your left foot while coming down to touch your right hand to the floor. Alternate sides and try to complete three sets of 20. Ouch! "This is great for strength, power, agility and toning up," says Durkin.
The Butt Workout: Getting Results
Whatever butt workout you choose, the experts suggest following a few rules for best results:
1. Set goals. Having a goal in mind will help you to stay committed to your workouts and enable you to chart your results. Weight loss seems an obvious one, but Durkin says this should only be part of a goal, not an end in itself. Better goals would be losing inches or body fat, training for an upcoming event (like a 5K), increasing endurance, or lowering resting heart rate.
2. Surround yourself with positive people. "I'm a big believer in the mind-set," Durkin says. Even the NFL athletes Durkin trains aren't always motivated to exercise hard. That's why they enlist the help of a trainer -- accountability.
"Read motivating books, attend a class, get a trainer, get a coach, get an accountability partner," says Durkin. This will help keep you honest and on track with your fitness goals.
3. Stay consistent, say Olson and Durkin. Anything worth having is worth working for, and a sculpted butt is no exception. Experts say that if you work the glutes three days a week, you can expect to see changes in about three weeks. "You should actually be able to see that they are a little tighter and more lifted up," says Olson.
4. Use good form. Galliano recommends watching yourself in a mirror to ensure proper technique. Work slowly to execute each move correctly, adds Olson. This way, you don't risk injury and you get the most out of each set.
5. Fit movement into your daily life -- "when you brush your teeth, when you boil water," says Galliano. And she practices what she preaches. "I do a lot of Pilates standing footwork while I'm waiting ... waiting at the bank, the post office, at the airport, at Lowe's; even just watching the sunset the other night." This involves wrapping your legs together in a turned-out position, and pushing through all the balls, arches, and heels of the feet while bending the knees slightly.
6. Stretch the opposing muscles. The hip flexors are often overworked because we spend so much time sitting (in flexion), says Ross. Before working the glutes, it's a great idea to stretch the hip flexors so you can activate the glutes more easily.
Beyond the Butt Workout
Keep in mind that a great butt workout is only part of the picture. Eating right is important, too, say the experts. After all, no one will see those fabulous glute muscles if they're hidden underneath excess poundage.
"It's going to take a balance of good nutrition," says Durkin. A diet consisting of whole, less-processed foods, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates -- which is also low in sugar and saturated fat -- can help build lean muscle, says Olson.