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The right exercise for butts and thighs

For better bums and thighs you must do the right exercises in the right way

Author: Gareth Degg July 13 2007

woman doing lunge with weights

How many people do you know that work out all the time, have a well-toned body and flat stomach yet still have a saggy butt and thighs? What is it that stops many people reaching that “body beautiful” goal that they crave, despite 4 trips a week to the gym?

When people ask me for exercises to shape the butt and the legs I tell them to do lunges and squats. But there are well over 100,000 different variations of a lunge when you add all the different possible variations, ranging from foot placement to arm movemement, to using weights and/or balls, to jumping around as you lunge - the list is endless. The same can be said of the squat; who said you have to perform the squat with both feet parallel, or even on both feet?

This is important, because it is crucial to include some of these variations in your exercise routines if you want the desired effect on your butt and thighs. To understand why, we need to do a bit of physiology!

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The anatomy and function of the hips show that it is a ball and socket joint, meaning the head of the thigh bone (femoral head) sits comfortably in the little cup that is in the pelvis (acetabular cup). Being designed this way allows the joint to move forward and back (flexion and extension), side to side (adduction and abduction) and rotate inward and outwards (internal and external rotation). These movements are known as ‘planes of motion’, and each joint in the body has the ability to perform all 3 planes.

Most people doing lunges in a gym will do a simple forward lunge with movement exclusively straight up and down, putting one side of the hips into flexion while the other is in extension – and that is it, meaning the hips have only moved through 1/3 of their movement capabilities. To take the hips through their full range of motion you must perform lunges in different directions.

For example, a lunge out diagonally behind you will cause the hip to externally rotate, using the gluteus maximus (the huge muscle in the butt) and many other muscles more than a forward lunge does. The muscles in the thighs also react differently; some are required to work harder in certain movements than in others.

Similarly for squats you can place move the feet at different angles, and vary the distance between them. We can go from a ‘normal’ common squat right through to a “narrow stance, right foot slightly forward and toes pointing out” squat. They are both squats, but the reaction and load that would be felt around the hips and thighs are different.

Another element that is missing from the classic “straight up and down” exercises you see many people doing in the gym is that their upper bodies are static while they do leg exercises. In fact, whenever possible, exercises should be integrated, meaning getting the whole body to work as one. Since our arms and legs are attached to each other via the core, getting these peripheral body parts working together will get the core working harder.

So when performing the lunge or squat let the arms do something as well. This can be a simple reach forward, or a twist or a reach to the side. These integrated movements can use balls, dumbbells, cables etc – again, there is a huge range of possible variations and movements. As before, we will improve the quality of this effort if we work all the muscles and joints through their full range and in all 3 planes.

So think about your exercise program and ask yourself if it consists of exercises that cater for the body’s whole range of capabilities. If in doubt, speak to the professionals at your gym and ask them to go through the movement patterns that will get you the legs and butt you have always dreamed of!

About the Author

Gareth is a Personal Trainer at the Holmes Place gym chain

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