Please forgive, as I am about to share something that may shock and appall: Getting lifted, strong buttocks / bottom doesn’t come from what you may think it does. It 100% does not come from squeezing your seat, buns, butt, or buttocks.
Why? Because it doesn’t work. Sorry.
The glutes stabilize your pelvis, allowing you to stand, hinge over from the hips, and move you forward as in walking, hiking, biking etc…so there are many reasons to want strong glutes!
If looking better in your jeans and ending hip pain are goals, then there is a good reason to read on!
When one thinks of Pilates, many believe it is all about the core…from the pelvic floor, and transverse abdominals to your low, mid, upper abdominals. This is true, however the core also includes your back body as well as your hips and glutes!
What makes Pilates a great workout for a solid booty is it targets not only your glutes, but also the muscles that support your hips, such as your hamstrings, quads and inner/outer thighs, supporting your hips and low back. The different ranges of motion and subtle postural changes in pilates help engage all muscle groups without addition external weight.
Spot Training: is a myth as the glutes don’t work alone
Many of you know that there is no such thing as “spot training”. You cannot craft the perfect set of buttocks by squeezing them or working them alone. You work as a whole.
In truth, you never have to squeeze any muscle to get it to work or strengthen it to look fit.
What you do have to do: actions that use those muscles in their primary and secondary ways. It’s that simple, really. And it takes your whole body to allow that to happen. All the better!
According to Shari Berkowitz an ergonomics and biomechanics scientist, trainer and Pilates Instructor trainer (she’s one of my mentors) says, “if you do squeeze your buttocks constantly in all exercises, it actually causes more harm than good. This can hurt you. You see, when you squeeze your seat you are actually causing a tremendous amount of compression of hip joint/ball & socket/acetabulofemoral joint, the sacroiliac joint, L5-S1…and it simply does not look good.”
Gently drawing sit-bones towards your mid-line engages your glutes and can help fire your anterior pelvic floor…(think LA, which helps engage your deepest layer of pelvic floor muscles), however it is a subtle hug inward!
Pilates + Yoga utilizes the glutes in more exercises than you would think!
Traditionally, squats and lunges are considered one of the main glute builders, however, if you don’t like squats/lunges or have knee issues and can not do them…there are many other ways to work your glutes within the pilates repertoire as follows:
Prone Exercises – on your stomach automatically fires the glutes
Kneeling Exercises – keep your hips in extension vs folding at the hip
Standing Work – especially single leg extension on chair, or reformer
Side-lying Leg work – single leg bridge or side-lying clam, + leg lifts
Glutes + Their Movements (Actions):
There is one superficial Glute muscle and 2 deep muscles: gluteus maximus at the base of your bottom is superficial and gluteus medius +minimus to the top /side of the glutes are deep glute muscles.
Based on where they are and the desired action they either assist in a movement or they stabilize a joint in the action. And every single muscle in your body is actually working for that to happen.
So you can’t get great buttocks by squeezing them. Simply, you must work the entire body and allow the glutes to do their actions naturally.
Hip extension – lengthening your leg downwards or behind your pelvis
Abduction – moving your leg out away from mid-line of body
External Rotation of hip – pilates “V” in footwork + feet in straps
Pilates Mat/Apparatus Repertoire that works your BACK-SIDE
The Pilates Mat/Apparatus Repertoire that works your BACK-SIDE is such a long list but to name some below, we can see there are exercises that require the glutes as primary movers and some as stabilizers. They either move you (the equipment or you) or they are stabilizing you as other muscles are moving you!
- Long box – back rowing extension when you’re on your stomach in prone position
- Footwork / Feet in straps – bending + extending the legs parallel/turn-out
- Short spine / long spine /Jack-knife, roll over
- Scooter – single leg standing
- Standing side-splits
- Hip lifts/rolls – especially single leg hip lifts
- Kneeling chest expansion + front rowing kneeling arm circles (*new reason to love kneeling )
- Side-lying leg work with feet in straps, springs or mat based repertoire
- Plank + Side-lying plank
- Long stretch, down stretch, up stretch
- Step up /mountain climbers on the chair
A reason to love the “Scooter” or any single leg balance work:
Single leg standing work on the reformer, such as the scooter utilizes your glute max to move the carriage back as you extend your hip. Your deeper glutes (medius + minimus) engage unconsciously as you find balance and they stabilize the pelvis on your supporting leg which can be more challenging than moving the carriage with your gesture leg! This is a good exercises where BOTH legs are working; one to stabilize + one to move the carriage away.
“Side-lying” Pilates taps into deep glutes better than Squats:
Whether you’re on the mat, reformer or cadillac, side-lying pilates exercises tap into the deeper glutes . According to Jennifer Aldofs from Pilates + Joint Exercises, “side-lying exercises can fire your deep glutes more so than traditional squats!”
Why Can’t I feel the burn in my Glutes?
Certain repertoire such as side-lying where the glute meds are primary movers of your leg and hip will result in quite the burning sensation. However, not every muscle has to be engaged 100% to be continuously supporting or working. In fact the deeper layers of our postural muscles closest to the spine and pelvis are always working in a low-grade way.
The Glutes don’t work alone!
As Shari Berkowitz says …..
“All muscles work all of the time. Even when you don’t think so.
And all muscles assist in all movements. Even when you don’t think so.
There is not just one muscle group working to move you…there are many muscles working cohesively to achieve an action.”
Stabilizing your pelvis with the action of your front (pelvic floor, transversus, low, mid, upper abdominals ) + your back body(spinal erectors/multifidi) , inner and outer thighs, all of these muscles working cohesively will help extend your legs from the hip joint and or will help stabilize you.
Both working and stretching your hips/glutes will help develop strength as well as hip-mobility.
So what is the BOTTOM-LINE on building strong glutes?
Engaging them only to the degree that is needed.
Don’t try to release them if they are doing what they need to support or move you.
If you can’t do the action required within an exercise you adjust or modify.
When given the right environment, exercises, and appropriate level of work the glutes will engage when they’re supposed to on their own helping you to develop lifted, strong and shapely behinds!