A strong and fit posterior not only looks good, but it also assists in many of the movements you make throughout the day – standing, bending, walking upstairs – so getting in some butt exercises while you're stuck in a seat at work, commuting or just watching TV may hold a lot of appeal. Enter butt clenching. The action of tightening, then releasing, your glutes – butt clenches – may help strengthen the muscles, but it won't give you the firmness or shape an exercise the way lunges or squats will.
The strengthening benefits of routine butt clenching may well be worth the effort, however, because if your glutes are weak, your body may try to compensate by using other muscles during these actions, which could lead to problems such as back, hip or knee pain. No one wants that.
What the Gluteal Muscles Are
The butt muscles – also called gluteal muscles or glutes – include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus forms the bulk of the buttock region. You can locate the gluteus maximus by placing a hand on each of your butt cheeks. This muscle acts as a powerful extensor of the hip and participates in lateral rotation and adduction, such as when you kick your leg out to the side or rotate and extend your leg behind you. The gluteus medius and minimus muscles are layered beneath the gluteus maximus. In addition to assisting in hip motions, these smaller muscles are also important postural muscles, keeping your pelvis level as you walk. When you do butt clenches in your seat, you are primarily activating the gluteus maximus, a worthwhile muscle to target because when it is weak, the muscles along the lower spine – as well as the hamstrings – will often overcompensate, which can result in back tension and spinal misalignment.
What the Gluteal Muscle Do
Muscles can create force through concentric, eccentric or isometric action. Concentric action occurs when the force produced is enough to overcome the external load and shorten the muscle, such as when you lift an object. Eccentric action, on the other hand, occurs when the muscle lengthens to create force, such as when you set down an object. Isometric action occurs when the muscle creates force but its length doesn't change. An example of this is when you carry an object in front of you – or when you simply hold a muscle tense, such as during the butt clench. The most effective training programs seem to use concentric-eccentric repetitions, according to the American College of Sports Medicine's "Resources for the Personal Trainer."
Performing the Butt Clenching Exercise
The movement of a butt clench is quite small, essentially shrinking the size of your buttocks inward from the sides. While sitting in your seat, tense and squeeze your butt, aiming to raise yourself slightly while remaining seated. The slight lift should be the result of the tensed gluteal muscles and not of leaning forward or pressing down on your feet. Do not inadvertently tense your thigh muscles or hamstrings. Keep your legs relaxed, and tense only your butt. Hold the clench for five seconds, then relax the muscles for five seconds. Each squeeze and release is considered one repetition. Perform two sets of 30 repetitions each day. As muscle strength improves, increase the length of time you hold each clench, aiming for 10 seconds or more.
What Does (and Doesn't) Happen When You Clench Your Butt
Whether butt clenches are right for you depends on what you hope to achieve. Repetitions of bottom clenches will indeed strengthen your gluteus maximus, but only so far. If you're hoping for a shapely, defined and lifted posterior, however, or even a truly fit gluteal region that effectively assists in daily movements, you must get out of your chair and perform exercises that use compound movements – those that involve more than just one muscle group. Squats and lunges, for example, use not only the glutes, but also the hamstrings and quadriceps.
More Effective Glute Exercises
When the American Council on Exercise asked ACE-certified personal trainers what exercise provided the fastest route to strong and developed glutes, the overwhelming consensus was squats. This answer, though, was merely opinion. So ACE funded a study, conducted by Blake Ristvedt and John P. Porcari at the La Crosse Exercise and Health Program of the University of Wisconsin, to conclusively determine exactly which exercise is most effective at toning the glutes. During the investigation, subjects performed a variety of gluteal exercises as the researchers compared activity in three different muscles – the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the hamstrings. The results showed that the traditional squat is, in fact, especially effective, but so too are five additional exercises: single-leg squats, quadruped hip extensions, step-ups, lunges and four-way hip extensions. Of these, Porcari named the quadruped hip extension and squat as "possibly having the greatest butt-beautifying potential."
Read more: 2-Week Butt-Enhancing Exercises