Driven byA-listers and social media influencers, butts are the latest body obsession. But is it possible to change the shape of your rear by spot training, asks Peta Bee.
Where once we all craved a flat stomach or a Grand Canyon cleavage, the most coveted body part for women is the one you are quite possibly sitting on.
Right now, the bottom is the prime focus of our workout attention, the reason we pay our gym membership and the preoccupying thought when we start to flag in a class or on the treadmill. Women everywhere want firm and rounded, voluptuous buttocks and a tiny waist — the status symbol of the current gym generation.
There is no shortage of inspiration. From Kylie Minogue to Kylie Jenner and from Beyoncé and Jenifer Lopez to the Kardashians, the most perfect peachy bottoms are paraded in front of us at every opportunity. On social media, it is difficult to ignore the ever-growing presence of the posterior with hashtags for squats numbering 16.7million and for glutes 4.7million at last count, and increasing by the day.
We can buy butt-lifting pants and jeans and gyms lure us with the promise that they can target our buttocks with glute-firming moves and classes focusing purely on the body part of the moment. In Hollywood, A-listers are heading to Bunda training, the self-styled ‘home of the better butt’, where the only goal is to boost your buttocks.
Meanwhile, the rest of us speak of workouts in the currency of squats and lunges totted up, our minds forever on what is happening behind.
But can we really hope to dramatically change the shape of the derriere we were born with or do genetics determine our fate?
According to the not-for-profit consumer watchdog, the American Council on Exercise, endless spot-training of the gluteal muscles “doesn’t work because it usually targets muscles that are relatively small through exercises that are relatively insignificant in terms of enhancing overall fitness and strength”.
You can change the size and shape of your bottom — up to a point. Ultimately, though, its destiny is governed by genetics and by hormones. Younger women store fat in their buttocks during which gives them a fuller, rounder appearance.
“Hormonal changes later in life, around the menopause, can change that and shift fat storage,” says the trainer Matt Roberts. The result? The flat-bottomed look of middle age.
Desperation to change their shape has given rise to a darker side of the buttock obsession. In recent years there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of so-called Brazilian butt-lift operations — a procedure which involves fat being taken from a part of the body and injected into the buttocks.
Billed as a means to changing the size and shape of your buttocks from flat or droopy to rounded and firm, its popularity has spiralled and it has usurped the trend for breast implants that was predominant in the 1990s.
John Curran, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee and a spokesperson for IAPS, says he has seen an increase in enquiries for surgeries such as “fat grafting of the buttocks for buttock augmentation”.
In 2016, a survey by whatclinic.com revealed a sharp 150% rise in enquiries about butt lift operations — which cost on average €5,400 — making it one of the most popular procedures behind brow lifts and mini facelifts.
But this year, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) advised its members to stop performing the cosmetic operation until more information about its safety is available. And, while it remains available, similar concerns have been raised by the Irish Association of Plastic Surgeons (IAPS).
Curran describes it as “a highly technical procedure” that carries “potential risks and complications”.
There is a risk that fat injected into large veins travels to the heart or brain, causing serious problems. One-in-3,000 operations performed worldwide is said to end in with death, with many more cases of illness and injury. In August, Leah Cambridge, a 29-year-old mum from Leeds is said to have died after undergoing a butt lift procedure in Turkey.
Curran stresses the need for caution when pursuing surgery.
“It is very important that patients ensure their plastic surgeon is adequately trained by looking for the FRCS (Plast) qualification or for membership of the IAPS,” he says.
Resorting to such extremes is far from necessary, says Dalton Wong, an A-lister personal trainer who has worked with Kit Harrington, Amanda Seyfried and, most recently, Robin Hood actor Eve Hewson, the daughter of U2 frontman Bono.
Wong says that exercising in the right way can do much to strengthen and shape our behinds.
“The glutes are the powerhouse muscles of the body,”he says.
There are three main muscles of the glutes — the glute minimus, medius and maximus — that need to be worked in a variety of directions.
A variety of squats lunges and other butt-firming moves will engage the entire lower half of the body, including the hips and calves, gluteal muscles, the quadriceps and hamstrings and calves, hitting the core, shoulders and back.
This extra high metabolic demand gobbles more calories than most other routines you will do at the gym. In 10 minutes, you can burn around 180 calories through squatting and lunging, more if you add weights. “They can have a dramatic effect on your body shape,” Wong says.
There are functional gains from stronger glutes, too. The gluteus maximus’ primary role is to extend and externally rotate the hip — it is the main muscle that pushes your leg back when you walk, explains the physiotherapist Kim Saha. But the other gluteal muscles also play important roles in posture and general health.
Your pelvic floor is supported by the glutes (along with the abdominal muscles and hip flexors), so ensuring they are well conditioned will help to retain pelvic floor health. “A lot of people who slouch do so because they have weak buttock muscles,” Saha says.
"Long-term weakened gluteals can result in all sorts of problems in the lower back and hips, where the load is taken through the joints, instead of the muscles designed to absorb the pressure of standing.
Certainly, the gains of working your butt off are not purely aesthetic. Squats have been shown to keep your brain healthy. Scientists monitored 324 twins for a decade and found that those with the strongest legs at the start of the study eventually displayed the lowest decline in cognitive ability.
The reason, the experts suggest, could be that working these muscles releases biochemicals that affect the cellular health of the brain.
In 2017, results of a decade-long study of 80,000 adults, researchers from the University of Sydney found that people who performed simple, home-based workouts, including buttock-firming favourites squats and lunges, twice a week for 50 minutes had a 23% reduction in their risk of premature death by any means, and a 31% reduction in cancer-related death.
“There is far more to working your buttock muscles than just getting a shapely butt,” Wong says. “By maintaining your glutes, you will become a healthier and stronger version of yourself.”
1. Lunge: Stand with feet together, then take a large stride forward with your right leg, raising your arms as you lunge. This helps to engage your core muscles. Make sure your torso is straight and strong and your head held upright. Lower your arms as you return to the standing centre position. Repeat for 45 seconds without stopping, then change to the other leg.
2. Curtsy lunge: Stand with your feet together, then perform a curtsy lunge with both arms raised. To do this, step your right leg behind your left, maintaining an upright posture. Lower arms and return to centre. Repeat for 45 seconds without stopping, then change to the other leg.
3. Deep squat: Start with your feet together, standing upright. Take a large step sideways as you raise your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Bend from the hips, pressing your weight into your heels and keeping your back straight. Bend as deep as you can by lowering your bottom to the floor. Push up and return feet to the starting position. Repeat for 60 seconds.
4. Goblet squat: (See above) Stand with your heels shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards. Hold a dumbbell or weighted ball with both hands against the middle of your chest. Keeping your weight on your heels, start pushing your hips back and towards the floor so that your hips move before your knees bend. Again, your knees can drive forwards beyond the feet. Keep your chest up and aim to wedge your elbows in between your knees at the bottom point of the movement. If you can’t reach your knees focus on pushing them slightly apart. Drive your hips forward, squeeze the buttocks and push through the heels to return to the start position. Repeat for 45 seconds.
5. Split squat: Stand with hands on hips and one foot in front of the other, a good stride apart. Raise your back foot onto the balls of the foot, keep your front foot flat on the floor. Squat down by flexing the knee and hip of your front leg. Allow the heel of your back foot to rise up while the knee of your back leg bends slightly until it almost makes contact with floor. Straighten and push the hip and knee of your front leg to return to the starting position. Repeat. Continue with opposite leg. Perform for 45 seconds on each side.