You'll never think of activating your core the same way after you read this.

By Marietta Alessi
July 22, 2019
Kira Stokes

Ashley Graham is a beast in the gym. If you scroll through her trainer Kira Stokes' Instagram, you'll see the model pushing sleds, tossing medicine balls, and doing dead bugs with sandbags (even when her sports bra refuses to cooperate). Look closer and you'll notice one thing they all have in common: Graham is making sure her butt looks as "ugly" as possible.

Yep, you read that correctly. To ensure her form is perfect above anything else, it all starts with what Stokes and Graham have coined the 'Ugly Butt'.

The duo came up with the clever cue the day they met, during their first session together back in February. Stokes asked Graham to demo a plank, push-up, and squat. Sounds simple, right? Stokes (who also trains Candace Cameron Bure and Shay Mitchell), says this is her way of gauging a client's mind-body connection—and if they can nail proper form. “When Ashley did a plank, it was apparent to me that she’s never really been taught how to truly engage her core, despite the fact she’s been working out for a really long time,” says Stokes.

ICYMI, Graham has been an athlete her whole life, playing basketball, volleyball, soccer—and as you can see all over her Instagram, aerial yoga, rollerblading, and boxing. Even though she’s got crazy-impressive hand-eye coordination and agility, she hadn’t mastered core activation before she met Stokes. (For a serious core challenge, check our 30-Day Plank Challenge, created by Stokes.)

That's something that tons of people—even workout warriors—struggle with, according to Stokes. It all starts with understanding that your core isn't just your abs. "Your core muscles include all muscles on the front and back of your body from your glutes (butt) to the insertion of your lat muscles. Essentially it’s everything except your head and limbs," the A-list trainer explains. This is where the Ugly Butt comes in. (Related: 7 Butt Exercises Ashley Graham Uses to Build a Stronger Booty)

When Graham demonstrated her plank she did what comes naturally to her as a model: booty pop—or as Graham and her trainer affectionately call it, 'Hot Butt.' “If you ask someone who is used to modeling for eight hours a day to tuck and draw your butt in they're like, 'Huh? In every picture I’m supposed to stick it out, and now I’m supposed to do the opposite?’ But if you allow your pelvis to tilt anteriorly (booty pop position) instead of tucking your pelvis slightly and engaging your glutes ('Ugly Butt' position), you're setting yourself up to have real pain in the future, Stokes says.

That first session Stokes taught Graham how to tuck her pelvis inward slightly and squeeze her glutes to activate her core Graham looked at her trainer and said “Oh my God! I think for the first time I felt my core.”

So why does Stokes says nothing is more important than core activation? (She believes in it so much she has a whole class on it called Stoked AthletiCORE, plus core-focused workouts on her app.) designed to condition your core through "thoughtful, endurance-based strengthening.") "It's the powerhouse of your body," she says. "So many movements require a strong core connection/activation in order to be performed safely and effectively."

Stokes adds, though, that there are a ton of different ways to engage the core—not just your abdominals. “Bridging, bird dog crunches, endurance glute work where you’re on all fours and pulsing, are all great for core work,” she says. And if all of this didn't convince you, know that Ugly Butt will help you create symmetry in your body and prevent injury—two big perks you don't want to miss.

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