Looking to tone up your booty for the upcoming short shorts season? There are a variety of Pilates exercises that are perfect not only for glute strength, but for hamstring, back, and ab strength as well. Many of us who spend a lot of time sitting during the day have tight hip flexors. Hip flexors are a group of large muscles that connect the front thigh to the pelvis and are in charge of flexing at the hip joint. Tight hip flexor muscles can pull your pelvis out of whack, which can lead to bad posture and low back pain. Performing exercises that focus on the glutes and hamstrings is perfect for realigning the pelvis and opening up tight hips while also shaping up that booty.
In my last article about toning your abs, I mentioned that Pilates is a full-body workout with an emphasis on the core. Meaning you never just work one muscle group; instead, you use the core to develop a deep connection through your entire body, from head to toe. Strengthening the core connection can help correct posture, heal back pain, prevent injuries, and rehabilitate.
It’s no surprise that Pilates is gaining immense popularity in the fitness world. I truly believe that if done mindfully, it is the healthiest and most efficient form of exercise.
Here are my three favorite exercises to tighten and tone your backside:
1. NEUTRAL BRIDGING
How it works: Lie on your back in your neutral spine and pelvis position with your arms by your sides. Your knees are bent with the soles of your feet flat on the mat. Start by taking a deep inhale, then begin to exhale, engaging your core and hugging your waistline in towards your spine. As you continue through your exhale, press down through your feet to lift your pelvis off of the mat, maintaining a neutral trunk position. Inhale, using your core control to lower your hips back down to the floor, leading with your tailbone. Repeat 3-6 times.
-Strengthens the core.
-Strengthens the lumbopelvic stabilizers (muscles that stabilize the lumbar spine and pelvis).
-Strengthens hip extensors such as glutes and hamstrings. Stretches the quads (front thigh muscles) and hip flexors.
*Do not round your spine; keep it lengthened in a neutral position.
*Keep your chest and shoulders wide, using your triceps and shoulder stabilizers to keep your arms rooted into the mat.
*Your palms should be flat with your fingers reaching long towards your toes.
*Think of your length, instead of how high you can lift your pelvis.
*Keep your ribs soft. Don’t let them pop out.
*Be sure that your legs are sitz-bones-distance apart (2-3 inches).
*Maintain a gentle inner thigh engagement to keep your knees parallel and pelvic floor engaged.
*Lift your pelvis up so that it’s higher than your sternum (breast bone) while reaching your knees in the direction of your toes and your heels towards your sitz bones.
*Lift your pelvis straight up, keeping your weight centered and both hip bones level.
2. SINGLE LEG KICK BACKS
How it works: Find your all-fours position with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders, knees underneath your pelvis, and spine/pelvis in neutral position. Inhale to prepare and shift your weight slightly towards the left. Then exhale to deepen your core and lift your right leg off of the mat, extending at the hip. Keep the knee bent and lift your thigh so that it’s parallel to the mat. While working to maintain the height of your knee, inhale to extend your leg straight out. Then exhale as you kick your heel towards your booty three times. Repeat 3-6 times with each leg.
-Strengthens the core.
-Strengthens scapular (shoulder) and lumbopelvic stabilizers. Strengthens hip extensors, such as glutes and hamstrings.
-Stretches the quads and hip flexors.
*Stay lifted out of your shoulders, keeping your scapula (shoulder blades) wide.
*Keep your head level with your trunk, maintaining the natural curve of your neck, with your gaze at the front of your mat.
*Maintain neutral spine by actively engaging your core.
*Don’t let your ribs pop out. This will cause your back to overarch, making it hard to stay neutral and to keep the core engaged.
*Lengthen the crown of your head away from your tailbone.
*Maintain an energetic connection between each wrist to the opposite knee.
* Find a slight external rotation at the humeral heads of your arms (where the arms connect to the shoulder girdle) to keep your chest wide and pec muscles turned off.
*Engage your shoulder stabilizers by keeping your scapula wide, hugging them towards the front of your ribs, and softening them away from your ears.
*Keep your weight as centered as possible.
*Keep your foot pointed.
*Kicks should be small and controlled.
Wrist injuries/issues? Place forearms on an elevated flat surface such as a yoga block, or perform the exercise in standing position, with hands on a wall. This relieves wrist pressure.
3. SQUATS IN PARALLEL
How it works: Begin in standing position with feet hip-width apart and knees parallel. Line up your spine in neutral position. Inhale as you begin bending your knees and hinging at the hips while reaching your tailbone back. Simultaneously reach your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Squat down as far as you can, maintaining neutral spine and pelvis position and making sure your knees don’t reach past your toes. Exhale as you press your feet down into the mat, straightening your legs and reaching your arms back down towards your sides. Repeat 6-8 times.
-Strengthens the core.
-Teaches hip differentiation (separating the movement of the legs and pelvis).
-Strengthens lumbopelvic stabilizers.
-Strengthens all of the leg muscles, with focus on the hip extensors like the glutes and hamstrings.
*Don’t drop your sternum.
*Maintain a parallel position of the arms and legs.
*Imagine that you are sitting back in a chair.
*Keep your weight centered over your feet, maintaining the connection of the soles of your feet to the mat.
*Don’t grip your toes, keep them long.
*Don’t flex your spine. Instead, lengthen your tailbone away from the crown of your head.
*Keep your gaze straight out in front of you.
*Feel for the connection of your hamstrings before straightening your legs by pressing through your heels.
When trying out these exercises, prevent overworking your muscles by thinking about the all-encompassing goal of finding balance throughout your body. A common tendency is over engagement of larger superficial (outer layer) muscles and lack of recruitment of smaller intrinsic (deep) muscles. One idea to keep in mind is that less is more. In other words, start out with a small range of motion focusing on your center. As your core strength improves, you can do more to challenge your stability.
Remember that it is best to add these exercises to a complete Pilates workout routine. Figure out what your goals are and choose your exercises accordingly. Even just 20 minutes of a solid Pilates workout can leave your body feeling so great that you will want to do more. If done on a consistent basis (30 minutes to one hour, 2-4 days a week), you will see fast results. Be sure to check back for more exercises and workout tips!
– ARIELLE BENDORY
Arielle is a 500+ hour mat- and apparatus-certified Pilates teacher through Erika Bloom’s program in Manhattan. She teaches private sessions and group classes at various studios in Brooklyn. She also offers her own in-home sessions and studio wall springs sessions at a reasonable rate.