One of the most persistent health and fitness questions is: What can I do about my rear end? Responding requires great care. I prefer to shift quickly into exercise science, charitably assuming the question is about physiology rather than booty aesthetics.
Oh, yes, I’ll say, the gluteus maximus is among the largest muscles in the body, and working big muscles burns more calories than working small ones. Oh, yes, the gluteus minimus and medius, while smaller, help stabilize core movements, a key to midlife function.
(I have learned not to say, ‘‘Oh, yes, your rear is as flat as a white board and just as wide, and you ought to do something about it.’’)
But back to the question: What can you do for your hind end? The current issue of Fitness Matters, published by the American Council on Exercise, offers new research on this timeless question.
We’ll omit details of the experiment; suffice it to say the study involved sticking electrodes on the hindquarters of a dozen college students while they did a variety of exercises often used to target the gluteus muscles. The test was conducted at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, by frequently published exercise researcher John Porcari and Blake Ristvedt.
The results confirmed the value of certain exercises for building the targeted muscles. In order of benefit: Quadruped hip extensions; traditional squats and lunges; and step-ups. Machine-based leg presses were considerably less effective.
The great thing about quadruped hip extensions, also known as kneeling kickbacks, is that they require no equipment, are easier on the knees than other work and pass the can-bedone-in-front-of-the-TV test.
Get on all fours, your back parallel to the ground, your thighs perpendicular to it, arms straight but not locked.
Slowly lift your right leg backwards until the thigh is parallel to the ground. Keep your knee bent at 90 degrees; your lower leg will point to the ceiling.
Slowly return to the start position, and repeat with the left leg. Do up to 12 per leg.
Don’t make like a coyote with your back arched and chin turned moonward. Keep eyes on the ground, neck relaxed. Don’t twist your torso as your leg rises; keep your core steady, shoulders square. Ankle weights can add challenge as you improve.
As for squats, the key is to stick your butt backwards as you lower your body, as if you’re reaching with your hindquarters for a chair seat. (In fact, use a chair to get the form right.) Keep your eyes forward, and do not let your knees slide forward beyond your toes. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then slowly push back up, keeping your belly tight.
For lunges, the key is to step forward far enough so your front leg is bent at 90 degrees, and (again!) your lead knee does not pass your toes. Keep your torso upright, your front heel down. Move slowly.
For squats and lunges, plus stepups, you can hold dumbbells for more challenge. If either exercise hurts your knees, stop.