Everyone loves a firm, round, toned butt … but how do you get one, what physical benefits are there, what exercises should you do and how long will it take? Claire Clinton-Butler tells you all you need to know.
WHAT ARE THE GLUTE MUSCLES?
There are three main muscles that form the butt: gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. There is also the Piriformis muscle. These muscles, along with some smaller ones, basically work as a team to enable the body to facilitate movement in many different directions: forward, backwards, to each side, up and down. In addition, they allow the hips to rotate inwards and outwards
WHY SHOULD I WORK ON THEM?
The hips are the heaviest part of the body, therefore it makes sense that the family of gluteus muscles is the largest group of muscles in the body. The hips act like a fulcrum that joins the movement of the legs with the stability of the trunk. Consider the level of activity and lifestyle of our ancestors in their hunter gatherer roles, how movement and its efficiency was key for survival. Then compare it with our sedentary lifestyle pleasures such as binge-watching TV series; and work habits, plagued with the repetition of inefficient movement patterns and prolonged positions day after day wearing out our bodies faster than our predecessors.
Approximately 80% of the walking action takes place with your bodyweight just on one leg, so whether you are standing reading this article or sitting down, come to an upright position and lift one leg off the floor – are you steady? are you wobbling a little? … or maybe a lot? Over the years the human race has embedded more and more so called ‘conveniences’ into our daily living, especially in the West where we no longer squat to go to the toilet but lazily sit. Sitting in the same position for prolonged periods of time tends to weaken muscles and weakened muscles often become tight. Remember that all the body parts and muscle groups work together as a unit, so by strengthening your glutes the benefit transmits to many other areas of your body – that may even include things you would never think of as being connected such as improving your posture and therefore comfort in your back. Dr Perry Nickelston (of Stop Chasing Pain), an internationally recognised expert in movement assessment and diagnosis with a primary focus on performance enhancement and corrective exercise, has a straight to the point phrase: ‘strong glutes makes everything better’
WHY INCLUDE THE PIRIFORMIS?
Everything in the body is connected – good time here to remember that the word Yoga means yoke – joining – union. The Piriformis muscle is smaller in comparison with the larger glute group and is located deep within the butt. Its role is to assist in the movement of the hip and also turn the leg and foot outwards into external rotation. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body and decends from your lower back all the way down your legs. As it passes through the glute area it runs underneath the piriformis muscle – so image how tightness in the muscle and compression of the area may affect the nerve! How does the body show you this? Sciatica pain is a very sharp and sudden shooting sensation of pain that radiates from the lower back all the way down to your big toe. Men are more commonly affected than women, particularly because a lot of them keep their wallet in the back pocket which affects their weight distribution and posture when sitting.
HOW MUCH TIME DOES IT TAKE TO GET THAT FIRM, ROUND, TONED BUTT?
Muscles generally take 6-8 weeks to visibly show significant change so it won’t be just one week of exercise and instant gratification BUT trust me, the effort will be worthwhile. Find a reason that will keep you inspired and motivated: that reason could be based on aesthetics, it could be running your own personal version of Dubai’s annual 30 x 30 campaign, or maybe you’ve decided to be proactive and alleviate the effects of wear and tear over time and age, freely and gracefully. Another thing to remember is that even though your focus will be on your glutes, you may feel other muscles in and around this area working – your body will work the weakest muscle first and stretch the tightest muscle first, so for example in the Bulgarian split squats, which are illustrated later within the exercise suggestions, you may feel your hamstrings on the backs of your legs working too.
CAN I BUILD MY GLUTES WITHIN MY YOGA PRACTICE?
In my view, Yoga is a great way to maintain your glutes, but depending upon what activities you have done previously and what focus you may or may not have placed upon your glutes, you may wish to consider giving them specific attention to get the build underway.
DO YOU FIND IT CHALLENGING TO DO ASANA LIKE WARRIOR III OR OTHER ONE-LEG POSTURES? HOW STABLE IS YOUR HIGH LUNGE OR YOUR DOUBLE BENT KNEE LUNGE? CAN YOU SIT DEEPLY BACK INTO YOUR CHAIR POSE WITHOUT TAKING A STEP BACK?
If your glutes are already established, but you want to focus on them more in your Yoga practice, in addition to the postures mentioned above, try adding some of the following examples to your sequences:
• courtesy squats • fire hydrant lifts • Locust pose
• Yogic squat • Pigeon pose
• Warrior III keeping a small bend in the standing leg and adding in pulses.
WHAT OTHER EXERCISES CAN I DO?
There are a multitude of exercises for your glutes and at the end of this article you’ll find a selection of exercises that cover the three main gluteus muscles (and Piriformis): these exercises will tone, strengthen and stretch. Many of these exercises you can take outside in the fabulous weather that we are now experiencing here in Dubai – for example, ‘hip hikes’ can be done on the steps between different levels around The Marina or the ‘standing from sitting using only one leg’ can be done using the border walls around some of the palm trees or even the benches. I suggest that you start with 15 minutes preferably for five or six days a week, at least for the first four to six weeks to kick off your programme. After that, when you have your desired result, you’ll be able to reduce frequency to maintain what you have built, rather than continue to develop. Mix and match the exercises to suit your fitness level and the feedback that your body gives you as you undertake them. Have the mantra of making sincere effort but with grace and surrender –your body uses pain and discomfort to tell you that there is something wrong – slow down and pay attention.
I’M PREGNANT, MAYBE I’LL WAIT UNTIL ANOTHER TIME …
Errrrrrr ‘think again’ is the answer here. Yes, you’ll need to modify some of the typical exercises, for example, lying flat on your back for glute bridges. Potentially with a weight bar across your hips clearly isn’t a good idea, but when pregnant, the human body produces another hormone called Relaxin which allows joints and muscles to expand and accommodate the growing baby as well as for the birthing process. This means that the hips, which we’ve already mentioned are the heaviest part of the body, can feel loose and become unstable, so there is really important work to be done to improve your hip stability – this will also have the added benefit of protecting your Sacro Iliac joint (SIJ) which is on both sides of your lower back where the two dimples are located. If the hips are unstable, the SIJ can easily shift out of alignment and when you realise that Relaxin stays in the female body until around five months after the baby is born, longer if the mother is breastfeeding, stability of the hips is a very important point.
IF I’M IN PAIN OR HAVE AN INJURY TO WORK WITH WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If you have an existing or previous injury that you are concerned about you may want to have the area assessed by your healthcare professional such as a Physiotherapist or Doctor. I’d suggest PhysioFit Dubai which is a sports and rehab clinic based in Healthcare City that also offers dry needling. Alternatively there is the Valiant Clinic in City Walk where Dr Kate, a practicing Ashtangi, is based.
See if you can get a training buddy – you may not be actually exercising together but you can start at the same point and help keep each other motivated. Another good idea is to take a photo at the beginning of your campaign and as each week passes you can compare with an updated image
IS THERE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SOMEONE TO GO THROUGH THESE EXERCISES WITH ME?
Yes! Claire is running a workshop at Zen Yoga (Media City branch) on Saturday April 13 between 2.30 and 4pm. During this 90 minute session Claire will go through exercises that will stretch, strengthen and tone this muscle group (including Piriformis) and you will leave feeling informed, exercised, stretched, and with the knowledge to start your own glute programme. If you are a qualified Yoga Teacher but want to expand your training to cover Yin Yoga, Claire is also running a 40 hour Yin Yoga Teacher Training (recognised by Yoga Alliance and REPS) at Zen Yoga across three weekends in March this year.
Claire literally ran into Yoga: breathwork whilst running was the start and then her asana and pranayama practice really deepened during the four years that she lived in India. After India Claire spent another four years in Cyprus where she qualified as a Usui Tibetan Reiki Master. Currently living in Dubai, Claire has been teaching at Zen Yoga for the past four years, providing her the opportunity to teach both the Yin and Yang of the Yoga practice: her Vinyasa classes (mixed level) have a strong focus on core and moving deliberately with the breath – her Yin classes offer more than a deep stretch, they are a way of continuing the journey into the mind and body, often using a mix of stretching techniques whilst the mind surrenders to music.
CLAIRE IS E-RYT
200, Yoga Alliance CET (Continued Education Provider), RPYT (pre-natal), and Usui Tibetan Reiki Master. Registered with REPS Claire teaches group Vinyasa and Yin classes at Zen Yoga Media City and teaches privately including pre and post natal Contact info Insta: Claire.Yoga
Email: Claire@The-Inner-Self. com | Mobile: +971 (0) 56 131 0967 | Web: www.The-Inner-Self.com