Nowadays when we ask ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ we’re often hoping the answer is ‘Yes’ as celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian champion the trend for bigger bottoms – the so-called ‘bubble butt’.
But it’s not just about looking curvy and sexy. In the last few years, research has shown that a bigger bottom is actually healthy – helping to protect your heart and prevent diabetes.
‘You do have to be realistic,’ warns personal trainer Jacqui Porjes. She points out that many celebrity bottoms have undergone (potentially dangerous) implant surgery and that a naturally voluptuous butt is mainly written in your genes.
However, while you can’t magically conjure up a bubble butt, you can definitely make your bottom pert – rounder, fuller and firmer. The buttocks are made up of three major muscles: the gluteus maximum, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. The good news is that they respond really well to a targeted programme of cardio and weights. Even better is the fact that, by targeting the buttocks, you inevitably also tone and firm your hips and thighs.
‘If you want a toned bottom, you do have to work hard,’ says Porjes. We all know the basics – take the stairs, not the elevator; cycle and walk rather than hop on a bus. But, in addition, Porjes says we need to keep upright as much as possible. ‘Don’t sit down unless you absolutely have to,’ she says. ‘Stand up to work on a computer; do squats while you’re watching the news on TV; get up and lunge the length of the corridor at screen breaks.’ A recent survey found that many of us spend up to 12 hours a day sitting at our desks or on our sofas and research shows that a sedentary lifestyle can shorten your life, as well as flatten your bottom.
Just using your bodyweight isn’t quite enough. Porjes says, for the best results, you need to up the resistance on the cross-trainer and bicycle at the gym and don’t be afraid to use weights. Adding kettlebells or a weighted bar to squats really powers up the buttocks and thighs.
Diet can help too. ‘Don’t forget that if you eat too much and are carrying excess fat you can have the most toned butt in the world but it won’t be seen,’ adds Porjes. ‘So cut out the usual culprits: sugar, processed carbohydrate and alcohol. With a little dedication you will see amazing results.’
The five best bottom toning moves
Use this workout three times a week (allow a day’s rest in between to allow muscles to recover). In general aim for three sets of 10-15 repetitions. If using weights, try one set with the heaviest weight you can manage – so you can barely finish the set.
1. Air Squats
To recruit the whole of the buttock region you need to go really low. This focused squat is tough but it works.
• Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
• Keep your back straight and slowly bend your knees and lower your bottom down (imagine you were going to sit on a chair). Make sure your knees don’t push out over your toes and go as low as you can. Push your arms forward to help your balance.
• Push up firmly with control to return to the starting position.
Work your butt harder? Single-leg squats. As before but keep one leg out in front of you. This is really tough but it is one of the most effective butt exercises as it works muscle fibres that aren’t fired up by normal squats. Start by holding the wall for balance, or hold a weight in front of you for a counterbalance.
2. Glute Bridge
Often overlooked, this is a great exercise for butt-building which also protects and strengthens your back.
• Lie on your back. You can keep your arms by your sides or in line with your shoulders for greater stability.
• Bring your feet towards your bottom so your knees are over your feet.
• Slowly raise your buttocks and back off the floor to form a bridge. Squeeze your bottom as hard as you can. Your pelvis should be high enough that you create a straight line between your knees, hips and shoulders.
• Slowly lower your bottom, squeezing it all the way down.
Work your butt harder? Place a weight plate or loaded barbell over your hips to increase resistance. Or keep one leg raised (your leg should be straight – keep your thighs in line with one another).
Lunges work all the gluteals plus your hamstrings, quads and calves. Be careful if you have weak knees – make sure your technique is very precise. Keep your feet quite close so you’re not tempted to splay your knees.
• Take a big step forward with your right foot. When your foot lands, bend both knees as deeply as you can. Don’t let your right knee push over your foot – it needs to stay behind your toes. Your left knee can go as deep as feels comfortable. Keep your back straight, core engaged and squeeze those buttocks.
• Push back to your starting position (squeeze the buttocks as you do) and then repeat on the other side.
Work your butt harder? Add hand weights or a kettlebell (or increase your overall weight by putting on a weighted rucksack). Alternatively you can use a bar-bell behind your shoulders (make sure it rests on the fleshy part; not on your neck).
4. Donkey kicks
The technical name is a ‘quadruped bent-knee hip extension’ but donkey kick describes the move far better. It’s a superb butt-builder that also strengthens the back and abdominals.
• Kneel on all fours in a square shape, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees below hips.
• Now, keeping your right knee bent to 90 degrees, flex your foot and lift your knee to hip level (you’re creating a right angle between your thigh and calf). Focus on your buttocks, squeezing your gluteals as hard as you can.
• Lower, without your right foot touching the ground and repeat for 10-15 reps.
• Now repeat on the left leg.
Work your butt harder? Slide a hand weight behind your knee to increase the resistance. You can pause at the top of the move and pulse your leg before lowering. You can also try a donkey kick crossover – as you lower your right knee take it to the outside of your left knee and then diagonally lift it back to hip level.
5. Sumo squats and leg raise
Also known as the wide-legged barbell squat, the sumo squat targets slightly different muscle fibres than normal squats. Adding in a leg raise really fires up the gluteals.
• Stand with your feet more than hip-width apart, toes turned out.
• Squat as low as you can, dropping your buttocks towards the ground (as you did with the air squat).
• As you come up, raise your right leg up and out (as if you were a dog having a pee).
• Return the right leg slowly to the ground and repeat on the other side.
Work your butt harder? Hold a kettlebell, handweights or bar-bell to increase resistance.
The best all-over workouts for your butt
Check out your local gym or fitness centre for these buttock-firming super-workouts
• Kettlebells – seriously targets the bottom as nearly all the moves are made in combination with squats or lunges. Adding in the weight of the kettlebell makes this a killer workout for the gluteals.
• Kickboxing or Boxercise – you may think it’s all about the jabs, but any boxing class really hits the buttocks too.
• Ballet or Barre classes – Plies really stretch, life and squeeze the gluteals. Think squats with attitude.
• Spinning – No big surprise that cranking up the resistance on a static bike really pumps the buttocks.
• Legs, Bums and Tums – Old school maybe, but a toning class will really focus those butt muscles. It will also make sure your technique is good.
The cheat’s guide to the bottom line
‘The jeans you choose can create the illusion of a larger bottom,’ says Jacqui Porjes.
• Look at pocket placement. Small, high back pockets make your bottom appear larger.
• Add embellishments. Sequins, stitching, or coloured thread on back pockets can draw the eye to your rear.
• Try high-waisted jeans — the top should fit around the slimmest part of your waist, making it look small and your butt appear bigger.
• Wear a fitted shirt if you’re wearing low-rise jeans – it gives the illusion of a bigger rear.
• Wear jeans with big pockets or no pockets at all.
• Wear dark wash jeans – they make your legs and rear look smaller (especially if you’re wearing a light-coloured top). Instead, try white, pastel, or light blue jeans.
A version of this feature first appeared in Top Sante.