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Get anti-gravity glutes & a functional booty

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Anti-gravity GlutesI can’t recall which comedian said “By the time I turned forty, I finally had my head together…and then my ass fell apart” but I do recall thinking it was hilarious at the time.  By the time I turned fifty, I didn’t think it was so funny any more.  And now that I am beyond fifty (how much beyond is a state secret), many of my cohort are lamenting the state of our fallen asses and are ready to take action to achieve anti-gravity glutes.

So I thought I’d ask one of my fan-tastic Pilates teachers to give guidance on how to achieve anti-gravity glutes.  When I learned that Amanda’s Instagram handle was @assbyamanda, I knew our asses were in good hands.  All puns intended. 😉

My first question was how she came by that handle:

“I had a client I was rehabbing from an SI joint injury.  One day she was walking out of class and I said ‘Damn girl, your butt looks great’!  And she responded,  ‘Ass by Amanda!’  So when I got onto Instagram that name was a must.”

That said, Amanda is quick to emphasize that Ass by Amanda is less about a nice ass and more about a functional booty.

“A lot of injuries I’ve worked with have been in the hip, low back and sacroiliac area.  Glutes play a large role in supporting these areas of the body.  So I’ve spent countless hours geeking out on the anatomy of the hips, low back and SI joint.  I guess you could say the ass and I were meant to be.”

More important than giving you a perky bum, strong glutes help stabilize the hip and sacroiliac (SI) joint.  This equates to a pain-free back and hips, so that as we age we can continue being active and doing the things we love with grace and ease.  That a great ass is the byproduct of healing, strengthening and supporting these areas is a booty beauty bonus!

So what are the glutes, exactly?

Known officially as the gluteal group, the glutes work together to do the following:

  • stabilize your thighbone (femur) in your hip socket
  • rotate your thighbone internally (medially) and externally (laterally),
  • draw your leg back (extend) and
  • abduct the leg (move the leg out to the side and away from the midline of the body).

These movements are needed for us to stand, walk, get in and out of chairs, run and generally motor around.  Our glutes give us our power!

The 3 major muscles of this group (with their action on the femur at the hip joint described for those who also wish to geek out on glute physiology) are the:

  1. gluteus maximus (extends and laterally rotates, and lower fibres assist in adduction, which moves the leg back in toward the midline of the body),
  2. gluteus minimus (flexes and medially rotates) and
  3. the gluteus medius (has a dual role:  the posterior muscle fibres work with the gluteus maximus to extend and laterally rotate while the anterior fibres work with the gluteus minimus to flex and medially rotate).

But Amanda points out that these aren’t the only muscles to pay attention to; there are also the deep six (aka the lateral rotator group), a group of six muscles under the glutes that act on the hip and SI joint.

“The deep six work kind of like a rotator cuff for the hip, and laterally rotate the hip joint.  The piriformis is a key muscle from this group.  When the piriformis is tight, but not necessarily strong, it can create sciatica-like pain. Any good booty practitioner must familiarize themselves with the deep six.”

Why do our glutes fall?

Our glutes fall because our modern lifestyle is a pain in the ass (pun fully intended).  We sit on our butts all day until, over time, they become flat as pancakes!  We sit to get to and from work.  Many of us sit all day at work.  Even more of us sit in front of our TVs/tablets/computers after work.   Sitting is hip flexion, so our hip flexors get tight while our glutes (which are the body’s major stabilizers) don’t need to do as much work.  As a result, our glutes get lazy and out of practice.  Then they don’t work as well as they should when we need them.

And our glutes are linked to a whole chain of muscles!  So there is a ripple effect when they aren’t doing their share, which puts stress and pressure on other parts of the body.  Parts like our hamstrings, lower back, and those tight hip flexor muscles (like the iliopsoas and quadriceps), making us more prone to injury in these areas.

So how can we achieve anti-gravity glutes and a more functional booty?

We need to get off our duffs and strengthen our glutes through exercise!  The first thing many of us think of are squats and lunges.  Surprisingly, these are Amanda’s least favourite way to work the glutes.  While these are good exercises, it is best to do them in moderation to avoid putting too much pressure on the hip and knee joints.  Her favourite glute exercises are the ones that extend the hip joint to move the leg behind the body.

“The hip joint spends a lot of time in flexion as we spend a lot of our day seated.  Strengthening the ‘smile line’ in the bum cheek (composed of glute max, glute med and the hamstrings) gives the hip flexors a stretch.  At the same time, it works the glutes in a way that strengthens your hips, SI joint, and your low back.”

Some of Amanda’s favourite exercises you can easily do yourself at home are single and double leg extensions.  She recommends this video to learn how to do these (click here to view it).

“This lady is awesome and funny and she does a good job of explaining how to keep the pelvis neutral and really get the glutes on.  I’d do three sets of five reps for each single and double leg extension.”

She also favours lots of abduction exercises, working the dimple at the side of the bum, like side lying leg abduction and Pilates clams (click here to learn how to do both).   These increase hip stability but also lift the butt to help achieve those coveted anti-gravity glutes (aka a perky bum).

What about stretching?

Stretching is very important and something we often overlook.  Amanda loves a yoga pose called Janu Sirsasana, also known as Head-to-Knee Pose (click here to learn how to do it).  The forward fold element gets into the hamstrings and she feels it puts less stress on the knee than pigeon pose.

She also loves this reclined twist with one foot in a strap (click here to find out how it is done – the whole sequence is excellent and steps 3 and 4 give you the twist).

“This reclined twist not only gets into the glutes but also the muscles of the iliotibial (IT) band, a tight spot for a lot of people.”

When taking these stretches, Amanda says, be mindful that the waistline and hip points are even.  She recommends performing each of these stretches daily, holding each for ten deep breaths.

Sometimes, however, what feels like tight muscles can be a sign that you need to strengthen rather than stretch them, according to Amanda.

“Let’s say you feel like your hip flexors are tight, and you’ve been stretching them forever with no relief.  I’d say that’s a sign you actually need to strengthen them.  You gotta get those muscles’ filaments squeezing.  The same is true for glutes.  If you’re sitting in pigeon pose every day and nothing’s getting better, try strengthening your glutes, as well as your piriformis.  The Pilates clam is great for this.”

The glute muscles can perk up at any age; it just takes some consistent effort.  To begin seeing results, perform these exercises at home (or attend a good Pilates class near you) three times a week for a month.  Before you know it, those anti-gravity glutes will be yours!  But even more important, back and hip pain will be a thing of the past.  And then, as Amanda says in class:

“Pat yourself on the butt and say something nice to it – it works hard for you!”

About Amanda

Amanda Sheather has been a dancer since she was two.  She began practicing yoga and Pilates almost twenty years ago as a way to condition her body while she was dancing professionally.  She is fascinated by human anatomy, the way different bodies move and the vast array of movement techniques to condition and tone the body.  Amanda graduated from the Simon Fraser University Dance program with a Minor in Kinesiology.  She received her Yoga Training Certificate from YYOGA in Vancouver and her Pilates Mat and Reformer training at Body Harmonics in Toronto. 

She teaches in a way that educates her students (like me) about our bodies so that we can bring that knowledge into our daily lives and other workouts.  You can find Amanda in person at Prashanta Yoga (aka my local), YYOGA and MuseMovement.  Also on Instagram, of course, at @assbyamanda.

Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your expertise with us!


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