They are among the largest muscles in the body, but we sit on them for too many hours, and most of us starve them of enough movement. Here, the science of how to get your butt in gear.
The three major groups of muscles that form the butt – gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus – are easy to isolate with strength exercises.
BREAK THE SIT CYCLE
Singapore office workers spend an average of seven hours a day sitting at their desks, according to a study conducted by the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and NUS Business School. “Sitting is the killer for glutes,” says Michele Olson, an exercise scientist at Huntingdon College in Alabama. “For hours on end, those muscles can be totally unengaged.” That also means glutes are doing overtime in a lengthened position – not good for such stabilising muscles. Standing helps, Michele says: The gluteus maximus plays a key role in keeping us upright, so get up to wake it.
MIND YOUR STEP DEFICIT
“We rely on our glutes to walk, but we don’t do enough walking,” Michele says. A recent Stanford University study found that Singaporeans average 5,674 steps per day, barely meeting half the recommended 10,000 steps by the Health Promotion Board. Walking activates the glutes at 20 to 40 per cent of their maximum contraction, says John Willson, an associate professor of physical therapy at East Carolina University. That’s a step in the right direction, he says, “but to create an anabolic [that is, muscle-building] response in the glutes, you’d have to do something more, like take the stairs.” Or run – John’s research shows that the gluteus maximus and medius may reach 80 to 90 per cent of max contraction in women as they run, akin to doing a lunge.
SQUAT LIKE YOU MEAN IT
The latest recs call for two strength sessions weekly to hit all your major muscles. Squats will ensure you ﬁrm the glutes: An American Council on Exercise study found that the staple move works the gluteus maximus at least as well as six popular machine or bodyweight exercises. “To activate the glutes even more per squat, widen your stance and lower a bit past a 90-degree bend in your knees,” Michele says.
How much more women work their gluteus maximus while running than men
According to John’s research, the greater activation average means that the glutes may fatigue faster and cause women to tweak their biomechanics – a domino effect that could increase their chances of developing the repetitive-use ache known as runner’s knee. Build up your glutes’ muscular endurance by gradually increasing your miles, John suggests.