Ladies: Bring In The New Rear With Kettlebells!
You may not know it, but the kettlebell is the premiere butt-strengthening item in your gym. This is the guide that will take you from flat to all that!
I have a confession to make. Years ago in high school, I was made fun of for having no butt. It hurt—especially because it was true. But it also motivated me to do something about it. That was one of my initial pushes to get seriously into training, and eventually into being a trainer.
A funny thing about butts, though: As I became older and wiser, I learned that the importance of having a strong butt didn't end with aesthetics. It really only started there.
There are multiple reasons why every woman (and man) should work their butt "on" rather than "off" this year. The question is, how to do it? Sure, you could take the kitchen-sink approach with all types of free weights and all of the machines, but it doesn't have to be that complicated. As I explained in "Kettlebells and Bodyweight: The Perfect Pairing," the kettlebell is ideally suited to building strength where the sun don't shine—and doing it efficiently.
I've included two workouts below for women with different goals for their unique backsides. Both are brief, intense, and won't require you to wait around for someone to get off of the booty blaster.
Why You Need Strong Glutes
The glutes are the centerpiece of your body in more ways than one. Strength radiates out from them, supporting both your upper and lower body. The weaker your glutes, the greater your chances of injuring your back, knees, hamstrings, and groin muscles.
Back pain in particular often results from having weak glutes that aren't capable of doing much more than hang there. Stuart McGill, PhD, an expert on spine biomechanics, has popularized the term "gluteal amnesia" to describe the condition. It sounds silly, but it's no joke!
In "Low Back Disorders," McGill writes that "People with trouble backs, generally walk, sit, stand and lift using mechanics that increase the back loads. They tend to have more motion in their back and less motion in their hips. [This is] a common aberrant motor pattern known as gluteal amnesia."1
Translation: When your glutes are weak and you don't know how to lift properly, your back has to chip in. That may not lead to you being in pain right away, but over the course of months or years, it probably will.
When that "sproing" moment inevitably happens, people often start obsessing over stretching their back, when the real solution was in front of them—or rather, behind them— all along. In fact, I would argue that preventing back pain is reason enough to focus on building strong glutes—and proper movement patterns, of course.
But your reward isn't only a lack of pain. Athletes with strong glutes tend to be faster, more explosive, and more efficient. They can do more with better form, adding more lean-body mass and burning more fat along the way. Plus, the exercises that develop strong glutes, such as kettlebell swings, squats, and deadlifts, all have tremendous carryover into daily activities and other training.
Why You Want Strong Glutes
Different people's body parts respond to strength training in different ways. Some things get bigger on some people, while some stay the same size. But pretty much without exception, a stronger butt is a more shapely butt. You may not build a butt like that one you like (or that you're afraid of) on Instagram, but you can definitely make a firmer, rounder version of your current one!
And honestly, while people talk a lot about size, shape is what matters to most of us.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin actually investigated this, and they found men aren't as drawn to the size of the tush so much as a certain curvature that offers the look of a shapely butt.2
So let's talk about what you need to do!
Train and Eat Based on Your Genetics
First things first: While nobody seems to want to say it, the same exercise and nutrition protocol can have dramatically different effects on different individuals. People act like this isn't the case online, but those of us who work with actual people know it's true.
I've had many women come to me who were fearful of doing squats because just staring at a squat rack might cause them to no longer fit into their jeans. I like to refer to these ladies as BME for "builds muscle easily." Let's not dismiss the BME women as some kind of myth—let's work with them! For BMEs, I have found that a lower-volume leg program and some tweaks to their nutrition generally results in their jeans still fitting (if that's what they want).
In the other camp, there are the skinny-legged women who can't seem to put on muscle to save their life, even when they lift heavy. Their program has to include much more volume than their BME friends' just to see a slight change. What's to blame for the difference? Mostly genetics, but distribution of muscle-fiber types and variations in hormone levels can all play a role in how much muscle you pack on.
It's not fair, right? But the truth of the matter is that you should always follow a lifting program that works best for your goals, abilities, and yes, your body type!
Now before you worry that I'm trying to turn you into some kind of buttzilla professional bodybuilder, I'm not. If that's your goal, more power to you. But I can promise you one thing: That kind of muscle doesn't happen on accident!
A Routine for Every Butt
I'm including two simple butt-emphasis workouts for two different goals. Both should be approachable for a woman of any level of fitness after she learns the proper technique.
Beginners should start with a smaller kettlebell, somewhere around 18-25 pounds. If that's far bigger than the one you've been using, great! Intermediate and advanced lifters with some kettlebell experience can start with more challenging sizes, such as 35-53 pounds.
Kettlebell goblet squat
Routine 1 Pancake-to-Power Butt Workout
This higher-volume routine is designed for the woman who wants to lift and develop nice gluteal muscles, but who generally struggles to put muscle on.
Be forewarned: Your glutes will be sore after this! If you're new to glute work, I suggest you don't try all five rounds of paired sets your first time through. Start with two rounds, then work your way up. You should feel like you're working at 80 percent of your work capacity once your form and technique are solid.
One other thing: Don't skip the warm-up! Those two movements are great for getting the glutes firing after sitting on them all day.
Routine 2 Butt Strength Without a New Wardrobe
This routine is for the woman who perhaps tends to carry more weight in her hips and butt, and is sensitive about adding more muscle to that area. She wants to have a firmer rear end, but doesn't want it to get much (or any) bigger.
Go through each exercise one after the next. Take just enough rest to recover for the next exercise. It's OK if your heart rate is high throughout; just don't let it take away from the quality of your movement. Choose a challenging weight that feels like you are working at around 80 percent of your capacity.
Circuit: Perform 3 rounds, resting only as necessary between movements and resting 1 minute after each round
- McGill S.M. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers, 2007. pp. 110-111.
- Lewis, D. M., Russell, E. M., Al-Shawaf, L., & Buss, D. M. (2015). Lumbar curvature: a previously undiscovered standard of attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36(5), 345-350.