Remember that Greek myth about the dude who was eternally doomed to push a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down again? Well, for plenty of women, the challenge to get a chiseled, goddess-like bum could feel like the same never-ending struggle.
“Working out your butt can be difficult, especially for women, because the hips and upper legs are common areas for body fat storage, which can make it tough to see the muscle you might be developing,” says ACE spokesperson Cris Dobrosielski, owner of Monumental Results and author of Going the Distance. “And when results come slowly, many of us feel our efforts are not paying off.”
If you’re sweating it out at the gym each week and your booty still ain’t rockin’ everywhere, don’t raise the white flag just yet. Here are eight perfectly good explanations why your butt routine isn’t working—and how you can give it the encouraging kick in the rear it needs.
You can do squats until you’re blue in the face; but if you’re not maintaining proper form while you’re doing them, it’ll all be for naught. When it comes to toning up your backside, technique is everything—and once that goes out the window, so does all your hard work.
“I see this a lot: People think they’re engaging their glutes, but they’re actually not,” says celeb personal trainer Monica Nelson. “You’d be surprised at how often you can do a squat improperly.”
To make sure your squats are on point, Nelson recommends focusing on these body alignment tips first, and then worrying about how deep your squats are:
- Face your head forward (not down) and hold your chest up, open, and out.
- Keep your shoulders back (not rounded) and place your feet hip-width apart or wider.
- As you’re squatting, bend your legs as if you’re going to sit in an imaginary chair—with your back straight and your heels grounded.
- At the bottom of your squat, your thighs should be parallel to the floor, with your knees slightly over your ankles.
- Don’t let your knees buckle in toward each other on your way down, as tempting as it might be to do so.
If you’re trying out other booty exercises for the first time, like lunges or deadlifts, it’s also not a bad idea to connect with certified strength and conditioning specialist (C.S.C.S.)—even if it’s just for a few sessions—so they can help you nail your form.
Your glutes are a workhorse, and they can handle much heavier loads than you expect. If you really want to sculpt those muscles into stallion-like shape, sticking simply to your go-to bodyweight squat just won’t get the job done. In reality, change happens when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
“Women are sometimes a little hesitant to lift heavy weights because they fear they’ll get ‘bigger,’” says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and lead running coach for Running Strong in Atlanta. “But in order to challenge a large muscle like the glutes, you should lift to the point of fatigue. That usually means heavier weights and fewer reps.”
L.A.-based trainer Mike Donavanik agrees that ladies shouldn’t shy away from more hardcore exercises, like barbell hip thrusts, Olympic squats, and trap-bar deadlifts.
The secret to these butt-blasting moves is to pound out as many as you can before you start to lose form. So if you’re doing a set of 10, then on your 10th rep, you should really have to focus and push yourself to finish it while keeping your alignment, says Hamilton. As you move on to the next set, that point of fatigue will happen sooner—at your eighth rep, for example—because your muscles are already tired out from the previous set. To see results, Hamilton says you should be doing three to five sets, fatiguing between six and 12 reps, and taking a one- to two-minute break between each set.
Doing the same workouts day in and day out can also kill your progress toward a better backside. To get your bum into a round, perky shape, you have to work it from all angles—which won’t happen if you’re repeating the same moves.
“To develop lean muscle mass, routines should contain multiple exercises,” says Dobrosielski. “Three days per week of targeted resistance training—full extension squats, lunges, and hip hinging, for example—and at least two days of cardio work that focuses on glute engagement will help. Think stair stepping, hill climbing, or running.”
Switch up your squat with these 20 variations that will help you tone your butt:
Think about it: You wouldn’t spend weeks putting together a report at work, only to toss it straight in the trash when it was finished, right? Well, that’s essentially what you’re doing if you’re busting your ass in the gym and then not eating properly when you get home.
“Putting in an hour of exercise five to seven days a week is only part of the equation,” says Josh Kernen, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Bridgetown Physical Therapy and Training Studio in Portland, Oregon. “You need to support your work and boost your results with a clean diet.”
To build muscle and melt any fat you might be packing in the trunk, Dobrosielski recommends sticking to vegetables, lean proteins, and good fats, while passing up on sugar, processed foods, and other empty calories. If you’re having trouble figuring out your diet, talk to a registered dietitian to find out how to get the right balance of nutrients that will keep you healthy and fuel your workouts.
This might seem counterintuitive, but in order for your booty to change, you actually have to sit on it once in a while. “The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle of the body,” says Kernen. “High levels of activation with heavy lifting leads to muscle breakdown, and then muscle growth. When lifting heavy weights, the body needs time to repair all the micro-tearing that occurs in the muscle, which typically takes between 36 and 48 hours.” In other words, you shouldn’t be working your glutes every day, no matter how eager you are to see progress. “This will only set you up for pain, discomfort, possible muscle injuries, and a plan that is probably not suitable for the long run.”
To see better results in your butt—and avoid hurting yourself—Nelson recommends backing off your training program at least one to two days a week, and sprinkling a healthy dose of foam rolling, massage, yoga, or other restorative practices into your rest days.
Are you one of those people who do a few squats and then check the mirror for instant results? (Come on, we’ve all done it!) If so, you’re only training your brain to be impatient with your fitness regimen—which could cause you to give up before any real results get the chance to show face.
“When starting a new weight-training program, the body is learning to activate and use as many muscle fibers as possible,” says Kernen. “It’s not until you have been training for six to eight weeks that the body starts developing muscle and shaping the glutes. People typically get frustrated at that point, which is the most critical point, and stop.”
Like all good things in life, achieving a bootylicious figure takes time and commitment. If you tend to get bored easily, Kernen says it’s best to know ahead of time what it will take to reach your goals. Try planning out your routine four to six weeks in advance so you’re not picking random exercises every time you hit the gym. Zeroing in on your target and wholeheartedly committing to it—no matter how long it takes—will get you exactly where you want to go.
The problem might not be that your workout isn’t working, but that you’re comparing your rump to the ones flooding your Instagram feed—figures that might not be realistic for your body type.
“If you have a Kate Moss or Kayla Itsines frame, you’re not going to have a J.Lo or Kim Kardashian booty,” says Donavanik. “You just have to come to terms with what your body type is and be reasonable with your expectations.”
As the world of Photoshop and filters piles on the pressure to look flawless, it’s important now more than ever to stop worrying about looking like someone else and focusing on your own personal well-being instead. The results may already be there, but you just might have to look at yourself from a different perspective to see them.
“Maybe you don’t have the ‘look’ that you see pictured on Instagram, but there’s a good chance you’re not giving yourself adequate credit for the improvement that you made,” says Hamilton. “If you don’t see it as the picture-perfect backside that you want, take comfort knowing that you’re moving in the right direction.”
That brings us to the next speedbump: genetics. “Your gene pool determines the blueprint of your physique,” says Hamilton. “If you’re genetically gifted, then you may be able to get results with even a less-than-ideal workout routine.”
But even if you’re not naturally predisposed to have a bodacious behind, that’s not to say you can’t shape what your momma gave ya. “Don’t give up,” Hamilton continues. “Just because you’re not seeing the results you want doesn’t mean you’re not improving your overall strength and health. You’re also better protected against back pain because of all the time you’ve invested in strength training. Being stronger is a big benefit to a lifetime commitment to conditioning.”