It’s time to change the conversation about butts

Too often, the muscles on our backside are relegated to the domain of Instagram models, “booty bands,” and bikini bootcamps. To be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing off your butt, or wanting to build a nice-looking derrière.

But sculpting your backside doesn’t have to be a strictly aesthetic pursuit. The truth is, our glute muscles do much more than just make us look good in yoga pants. They help us maintain proper posture and engage in activities like running, jumping, and climbing.

If you’re not already incorporating movements that target your gluteal muscles into your workouts, you’re missing out on strengthening arguably the most important muscle group in the human body.

Without diving too deep into anatomy and kinesiology, your glutes are divided into three distinct muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus. This is the largest glute muscle, responsible for the shape of your butt. It helps keep us upright when sitting or standing. Your gluteus maximus is also important for activities that require generating force from your lower body: jumping, running, standing up, climbing a staircase, etc.
  • Gluteus medius. The gluteus medius is between the gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. Its role, like the gluteus minimus, is to help with the rotation of the leg and the stabilization of the pelvis.
  • Gluteus minimus. The smallest and deepest of the three main glute muscles, the gluteus minimus is also an important part of rotating lower limbs and keeping the pelvis stable when we move.

In addition to these three, the tensor fasciae latae — commonly known as the IT band — assists with balancing the pelvis and providing stability through the knee when we walk or run.

Whether you’re trying to get a bigger booty or not, you still need to be strengthening your glutes.

Think about how often you do things like walking, standing up, or using the stairs — without our glutes, these movements would be impossible.

Unfortunately, most of us are actively weakening our gluteal muscles with an activity we spend hours on every day: sitting. According to a survey by ergonomic manufacturer Ergotron, 86 percent of full-time American workers are required to sit all day, every day. And that’s just at work.

Combine long hours at your desk with your evening Netflix binge on the couch and you’ve got a recipe for weak glutes and tight hip flexors, the muscles that help pull your legs toward your upper body.

These problems can spell serious trouble for parts of the body beyond your butt, including back pain and knee soreness. That’s why it’s so important to strengthen your rear end.

“Neglecting the glute muscles, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to complications beginning at the hip and spanning all the way down to the foot, or all the way up toward the cervical spine,” says Jake Schwind, BS, NASM-certified trainer and owner of Schwind Fitness personal training in northern Virginia.

Maybe the sitting problem doesn’t apply to you at work, or you’re one of the 23 percent who gets the recommended amount of weekly exercise. Even if you’re an athlete, a runner, or just an active person, you still need to train your glutes.

And there’s research to prove it — a 2015 study indicated that greater gluteal activation enhanced the force generated when jumping from a squat position. A 2012 study suggested that “low-load exercises targeting the gluteal muscle group acutely enhance explosive power output.”

To recap: Not only are the glutes your body’s largest, most powerful muscle group, training them will help you improve your posture, minimize back pain, and generate speed and power during exercise and athletic performance.

There’s really only one question left: What’s the best way to train your glutes?

While you can get some great gluteal activation out of compound barbell movements, these lifts aren’t the easiest to perform, especially if you’re new to the gym.

“Back squats and deadlifts are great glute exercises, but many people have difficulty maintaining correct form with these movements,” Schwind says.

Squatting only targets the gluteus maximus. For a well-rounded butt (pun intended), you need to perform movements that hit all of the muscles mentioned above.

Here are three glute exercises to add to your workout:

1. Hip thrust

Also called “bridges,” this exercise is pretty self-explanatory.

  1. Lying flat on the ground with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet tucked in, force your heels against the ground while moving your hips upward.
  2. Go slow and tighten your core and glute muscles the entire time.

If you’ve never done a hip thrust before, start by using only your bodyweight. Once you get the hang of it, you can add weight by carefully laying a medicine ball, kettlebell, or barbell across your pelvic area. The extra resistance will help your glutes get stronger.

2. Lateral banded walks

Begin by placing a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees. If you want to increase the difficulty, place the band below your knees, above your ankles.

  1. To do the move, push your butt backward and bend your knees as if you were squatting.
  2. Keep your back straight and engage your core while you move your right foot 8-10 inches to the right, then bring your left foot in toward it.
  3. Then, repeat with the opposite leg.

The key is to drive your legs with your hips.

The gluteus medius and minimus are most important in moves that require abduction, or movement away from the middle of the body. With lateral banded walks, you target the glutes as well as the hip muscles.

As you get better, you can increase the difficulty by using a thicker band with more resistance, or moving the band farther down toward your ankles.

3. Curtsy lunge

Not only will the curtsy lunge recruit the smaller gluteus medius and minimus muscles, it’s also highly customizable depending on your level.

  1. Begin by standing with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. With a straight back and tight core, bring your left leg behind and to the outside of your right foot.
  3. Drop your hips through your glutes until your right leg is nearly parallel with the floor, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 4 reps and then switch legs.

In addition to your glutes, the curtsy lunge also recruits your quadriceps, calves, and hip adductors.

To make the movement more difficult, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell. You can also pause for a few seconds at the bottom of the motion to add some extra burn.

It doesn’t matter what your fitness goals are or where you’re at on your journey, strengthening your butt will help keep you healthy, pain-free, and improve physical performance.

Now go make Sir-Mix-A-Lot proud and build that booty!

Raj Chander is a consultant and freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, fitness, and sports. He helps businesses plan, create, and distribute content that generates leads. Raj lives in the Washington, D.C., area where he enjoys basketball and strength training in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.