How to Activate Underused Glutes (Because Yours Are Probably Sleeping)
The glutes are among the largest muscles in the body, but we sit on them for too many hours, and most of us starve them of enough movement. Here, the science of how to get your butt in gear. (Related: 7 Glute Exercises to Combat Dead Butt Syndrome)
Break the Sit Cycle
Americans sit about 10 hours a day, according to government stats. "Sitting is the killer for glutes," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at Huntingdon College in Alabama. "For hours on end, those muscles can be totally unengaged." That also means glutes are doing overtime in a lengthened position-not good for such stabilizing muscles. Standing helps, Olson says: The gluteus maximus plays a key role in keeping us upright, so get up to wake it. (Here are the best standing desks, approved by Shape editors.)
Mind Your Step Deficit
"We rely on our glutes to walk, but we don't do enough walking," says Olson. A recent Stanford University study found that Americans average 4,774 steps per day or 187 below the world average. Walking activates the glutes at 20 to 40 percent of their maximum contraction, says John Willson, Ph.D., an associate professor of physical therapy at East Carolina University. That's a step in the right direction, he says, "but to create an anabolic [that is, muscle-building] response in the glutes, you'd have to do something more, like take the stairs." Or run-Willson's research shows that the gluteus maximus and medius may reach 80 to 90 percent of max contraction in women as they run, akin to doing a lunge.
Gradually Run Farther
Women actually work their gluteus maximus 53 percent more while running than men. According to Willson's research, the greater activation average means that the glutes may fatigue 53 percent faster and cause women to tweak their biomechanics-a domino effect that could increase their chances of developing the repetitive-use ache known as runner's knee. Build up your glutes' muscular endurance by gradually increasing your miles, suggests Willson.
Squat Like You Mean It
The latest recs call for two strength sessions weekly to hit all your major muscles. Squats will ensure you firm the glutes: An American Council on Exercise study found that the staple move works the gluteus maximus at least as well as six popular machine or body-weight exercises. "To activate the glutes even more per squat, widen your stance and lower a bit past a 90-degree bend in your knees," says Olson. (Try adding this new squat variation to your butt workouts.)