By Lisa Hubbard
My clients are always looking for ways to get a more toned, uplifted butt. Women in particular are prone to gaining weight in their hips and thighs and need to work extra hard to develop musculature in that area. Another challenge is the gravitational downward pull that happens to us all!
The glutes are the most under-trained muscles in most exercise programs—including Pilates. Though classical Pilates offers astounding benefits for the entire body, mind and spirit, we all can benefit by incorporating more glute work into our Pilates programs.
A complete training routine needs to target the hamstrings, gluteus minimus, medius, maximus and the six deep external rotators. Not only will these muscles help you look better in your jeans, they also have an important role in the gait cycle, as well as in stability and balance, which is especially important to the aging population. Other benefits of training these muscles include improved posture, injury prevention, less back pain and, overall, a better functioning body. It can also translate into enhanced athletic function during activities, including walking, running, hiking, rock climbing, dancing, golfing and playing tennis.
There are a few common misconceptions about how to train your glutes. Many magazine articles typically offer the same moves: squats and lunges. These are excellent exercises that have their place; however, they are mostly quad dominant and put tremendous strain on the knee joint. My Reformer program emphasizes the glutes and hamstrings with no quad effort, while also minimizing pressure on the knee joint. The exercises also include hip extension and external rotation, which help give you a dancer-like bottom.
Balance is one of Joseph Pilates’s six principles, and to balance the strength we gain from a conditioning program, it is equally important to incorporate stretching. For instance, it’s difficult to develop the gluteals if your hip flexor muscles are tight. The same applies to tight gluteals, which will cause the lower back to do most of the work, leading to lower-back pain, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, sciatica and piriformis syndrome. For this reason, I recommend incorporating specific stretches for the glutes and their opposing muscles (e.g. Figure-Four Supine and Pigeon).
The following exercises can be integrated into any Pilates program on the Reformer. Be sure to focus on proper muscle recruitment and form and aim to do the exercises two to three times a week for best results.
1 spring, footbar in lowered position
purpose: strengthens the external rotators (turnout muscles); increases hamstring strength, coordination and endurance
setup: Facing the footbar, lie on your stomach on the Long Box. Align your shoulders with the front edge of the Box and your chest slightly off the edge. Place your feet in the foot straps, then externally rotate your hips and press your heels together. Hug or fold your arms around the Box for support and slightly lift your upper back, gazing outward. Engage your abdominals and gently press your hip bones and pubic bone into the Box, finding a neutral position for your pelvis. Keeping your legs straight, lift your knees off the Box, then bend them in to a 60-degree angle.
1. Exhale as you curl your legs toward your body (your knees will naturally separate). Keep your knees lifted off the Box and your pelvis in a neutral position.
2. Inhale as you return your legs to a 60-degree angle, maintaining a small degree of tension throughout.
3. Bend your knees until they are in at a 90-degree angle and, maintaining a neutral pelvis, lift your heels toward the ceiling. Flex your ankles and press your heels together, engaging your glutes. Do 8–10 curls and then 8–10 lifts.
tips: Keep your pubic bone firmly planted on the Box. Imagine your spine lengthening and arcing outward and upward.
modification: To reduce tension in your neck and shoulders, don’t lift your upper spine as much. Perform only steps 1 and 2.
Costa Mesa, CA-based Lisa Hubbard is the creator and founder of Rhythm Pilates™, a new form of mat Pilates that incorporates more fluid movements into classic Pilates workout routines. These classes are available online at pilatesanytime.com or at her website, rhythmpilates.com, which also has information on upcoming workshops, certifications and instructional DVDs. In addition, Lisa is a faculty member and teacher trainer for BASI Pilates® and has been a Pilates teacher for more than a decade.