It seems shapely backsides are more fashionable than ever. Witness the many images of curvaceous stars on the pages of celebrity magazines, the popularity of $150-a-pair low-rise jeans, and even Justin Timberlake's hit pop song "SexyBack."
Everywhere you turn, eyes are on bottoms. And whatever the shape of your butt, chances are, you want to improve upon it.
"At the very least, 99% of the women I train want to work with the glutes," says Paul Sorace, a trainer in Bayonne, N.J.
Just as many men equate having a muscular chest with being buff, for lots of women, "having a fit body is having a tighter set of buns," says Sorace.
"If a woman feels confident about having great glutes, she’s not too shy to show it off," adds Marilyn Gansel, a fitness trainer and owner of wellness studios in Stanford and Kent, Conn. "People are starting to see that curves are sexy."
But can we actually get those round, lifted, and chiseled derrieres so many of us covet?
It depends in large part on our genetics, says fitness trainer Janet Roget.
"When women ask me, 'How do I get a great butt?' my response is always: 'What you’re born with is what you have to work with,'" she says.
So if you're genetically programmed to have a flat backside, short of getting buttock implants (don’t laugh, there is such a thing), you can lunge and squat all day and you probably won’t be able to replicate Jessica Biel’s assets.
That doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon your strength or shape, she says.
"Can you make a difference?" asks Gansel. "Yes. I think we can bring it as far as your body will allow it to go. We just need to set realistic goals."
Maximizing Your Assets
The butt consists of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. They work together to help us move our upper legs in all directions.
"Every time you take a step, you’re using your glute muscles," says Roget. "That’s why we have glutes. Their function is to allow us to run, walk, squat and move. You’re working your rear end all the time."
As you might expect, walking is great for the glutes. For maximum impact, tackle some hills if you're walking outside, or use the incline if you're on a treadmill. Just make sure you keep your back from hinging forward, says Gansel.
Stair machines, arc trainers and elliptical trainers are also great butt-shaping choices, she says. For variety, suggests Sorace, try in-line skating or cycling (inside or out).
After working up a sweat aerobically, try these six butt-busting strength exercises recommended by our experts:
A great variation for beginners, says Gansel, is ball squats: Standing with your back to a wall, put an exercise ball between your low back and the wall, then squat, keeping your feet out in front on you.
2. Standing lunges. Beginning with your feet parallel and hip-distance apart, take one giant step forward. Slowly lower your body, bending both knees. Bend your knees no farther than 90 degrees, keeping your front knee aligned over your front ankle. Then repeat with the other leg in front.
A more advanced version is stepping lunges, in which you move forward after each lunge, alternating legs. But Roget believes most people don’t use proper form on this exercise, which can put undue stress on knee joints and low backs.
3. Prone leg lifts over a ball. Lie stomach-down on an exercise ball, with hands on the floor. By tightening your glute muscles, lift one of your legs slightly off the floor, keeping leg straight. Then alternate sides. As you get more fit, try lifting both legs simultaneously -- but only if you can do it without straining your back.
4. Prone hip lift over a ball. Lying stomach-down over an exercise ball, rest your forearms on the floor and stabilize the ball under your hips and tops of your thighs. Using the arms and trunk muscles as support, bend your knees to 90 degrees, and put your feet together. Squeezing your glutes, slowly move your thighbones slightly away from the ball, being careful not to use the low back muscles. This is a very small move -- you should raise your legs no more than about 2 inches off the ball.
5. Bridge. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor and 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.
6. Side leg raises. Lying on your side at the rear edge of a mat, place your feet at the front edge of your mat, then lift your upper leg and turn it out it in the hip socket. Keeping your hips stacked and your torso as still as possible, lift and lower the leg, reaching out from the top of the thigh. Repeat on the other side.
It's important to remember that healthful eating habits are a large part of the equation for creating a better shape -- for your glutes and the rest of your body, Roget says.
"If the rear end is too big, it probably means too big all over," says Roget. "You can’t spot-reduce."
Speaking of big rear ends, many of us fear that building muscle in our behinds might actually make them look bigger. It's a question every trainer hears, says Sorace.
But women "don’t have enough testosterone to build that kind of bulk" most people fear, says Roget. "If your butt is getting bigger, maybe there’s extra [weight] on top of the muscles. Get rid of the weight and you’ll see the definition."
Genetics play a role here, too, says Sorace. If you feel you do have the potential to develop a bigger butt, do your strength exercises without any added weight, and focus more on aerobic exercises, Sorace says.
And what if you're hoping to maximize your gluteus maximus?
"The butt is just like any other muscle," says Sorace. "You have to overload the muscle to build it."
That means doing strength exercises with increased weight, additional repetitions, and shorter rest periods between exercises. Progressive resistance training, along with a high-quality diet, builds muscle mass, he says.
Regardless of your genetics, you (and your backside) can’t go wrong with getting more fit.
"Exercise, done the proper way, consistently and progressively will shape and tone the butt,” says Sorace. “You’ve just got to get out there and reap the benefits."