The bot­tom line

Driven by A-lis­ters and so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers, butts are the lat­est body ob­ses­sion. But is it pos­si­ble to change the shape of your rear by spot train­ing, asks Peta Bee

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Cover Story -

WHERE once we all craved a flat stom­ach or a Grand Canyon cleav­age, the most cov­eted body part for women is the one you are quite pos­si­bly sit­ting on. Right now, the bot­tom is the prime fo­cus of our work­out at­ten­tion, the rea­son we pay our gym mem­ber­ship and the pre­oc­cu­py­ing thought when we start to flag in a class or on the tread­mill. Women ev­ery­where want firm and rounded, volup­tuous but­tocks and a tiny waist — the sta­tus sym­bol of the cur­rent gym gen­er­a­tion.

There is no short­age of in­spi­ra­tion. From Kylie Minogue to Kylie Jen­ner and from Bey­oncé and Jenifer Lopez to the Kar­dashi­ans, the most per­fect peachy bot­toms are pa­raded in front of us at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. On so­cial me­dia, it is dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the ever-grow­ing pres­ence of the pos­te­rior with hash­tags for squats num­ber­ing 16.7mil­lion and for glutes 4.7mil­lion at last count, and in­creas­ing by the day. We can buy butt-lift­ing pants and jeans and gyms lure us with the prom­ise that they can tar­get our but­tocks with glute­firm­ing moves and classes fo­cus­ing purely on the body part of the mo­ment. In Hol­ly­wood, A-lis­ters are head­ing to Bunda train­ing, the self-styled ‘home of the bet­ter butt’, where the only goal is to boost your but­tocks.

Mean­while, the rest of us speak of work­outs in the cur­rency of squats and lunges tot­ted up, our minds for­ever on what is hap­pen­ing be­hind. But can we re­ally hope to dra­mat­i­cally change the shape of the der­riere we were born with or do ge­net­ics de­ter­mine our fate?

Ac­cord­ing to the not-for-profit con­sumer watch­dog, the Amer­i­can Coun­cil on Ex­er­cise, end­less spot-train­ing of the gluteal mus­cles “doesn’t work be­cause it usu­ally tar­gets mus­cles that are rel­a­tively small through ex­er­cises that are rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant in terms of en­hanc­ing over­all fit­ness and strength”.

You can change the size and shape of your bot­tom — up to a point. Ul­ti­mately, though, its des­tiny is gov­erned by ge­net­ics and by hor­mones. Younger women store fat in their but­tocks dur­ing which gives them a fuller, rounder ap­pear­ance.

“Hor­monal changes later in life, around the menopause, can change that and shift fat stor­age,” says the trainer Matt Roberts. The re­sult? The flat-bot­tomed look of mid­dle age.

Des­per­a­tion to change their shape has given rise to a darker side of the but­tock ob­ses­sion. In re­cent years there has been an un­prece­dented rise in the num­ber of so-called Brazil­ian butt-lift op­er­a­tions — a pro­ce­dure which in­volves fat be­ing taken from a part of the body and in­jected into the but­tocks.

Billed as a means to chang­ing the size and shape of your but­tocks from flat or droopy to rounded and firm, its pop­u­lar­ity has spi­ralled and it has usurped the trend for breast im­plants that was pre­dom­i­nant in the 1990s.

John Cur­ran, a con­sul­tant plas­tic and re­con­struc­tive sur­geon at Bon Se­cours Hos­pi­tal in Tralee and a spokesper­son for IAPS, says he has seen an in­crease in enquiries for surg­eries such as “fat graft­ing of the but­tocks for but­tock aug­men­ta­tion”.

In 2016, a sur­vey by what- re­vealed a sharp 150% rise in enquiries about butt lift op­er­a­tions — which cost on av­er­age €5,400 — mak­ing it one of the most pop­u­lar pro­ce­dures be­hind brow lifts and mini facelifts.

But this year, the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Aes­thetic Plas­tic Sur­geons (Baaps) ad­vised its mem­bers to stop per­form­ing the cos­metic op­er­a­tion un­til more in­for­ma­tion about its safety is avail­able. And, while it re­mains avail­able, sim­i­lar con­cerns have been raised by the Ir­ish As­so­ci­a­tion of Plas­tic Sur­geons (IAPS). Cur­ran de­scribes it as “a highly tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dure” that car­ries “po­ten­tial risks and com­pli­ca­tions”.

There is a risk that fat in­jected into large veins trav­els to the heart or brain, caus­ing se­ri­ous prob­lems. One-in-3,000 op­er­a­tions per­formed world­wide is said to end in with death, with many more cases of ill­ness and in­jury. In Au­gust, Leah Cam­bridge, a 29-year-old mum from Leeds is said to have died after un­der­go­ing a butt lift pro­ce­dure in Tur­key.

Cur­ran stresses the need for cau­tion when pur­su­ing surgery. “It is very im­por­tant that pa­tients en­sure their plas­tic sur­geon is ad­e­quately trained by look­ing for the FRCS (Plast) qual­i­fi­ca­tion or for mem­ber­ship of the IAPS,” he says.

Re­sort­ing to such ex­tremes is far from nec­es­sary, says Dal­ton Wong, an A-lis­ter per­sonal trainer has worked with Kit Har­ring­ton, Amanda Seyfried and, most re­cently, Robin Hood ac­tor Eve Hew­son, the daugh­ter of U2 front­man Bono.

Wong says that ex­er­cis­ing in the right way can do much to strengthen and shape our be­hinds.

“The glutes are the pow­er­house mus­cles of the body,”he says. “And the ad­van­tage is that the mus­cles used to tar­get them — squats and lunges — are com­pound move­ments mean­ing they en­gage other mus­cle groups, in­clud­ing the core and legs.”

There are three main mus­cles of the glutes — the glute min­imus, medius and max­imus — that need to be worked in a va­ri­ety of direc­tions. A va­ri­ety of squats lunges and other butt-firm­ing moves will en­gage the en­tire lower half of the body, in­clud­ing the hips and calves, gluteal mus­cles, the quadri­ceps and ham­strings and calves, hit­ting the core, shoul­ders and back. This ex­tra high meta­bolic de­mand gob­bles more calo­ries than most other rou­tines you will do at the gym. In 10 min­utes, you can burn around 180 calo­ries through squat­ting and lung­ing, more if you add weights. “They can have a dra­matic ef­fect on your body shape,” Wong says.

There are func­tional gains from stronger glutes, too. The glu­teus max­imus’ pri­mary role is to ex­tend and ex­ter­nally ro­tate the hip — it is the main mus­cle that pushes your leg back when you walk, ex­plains the phys­io­ther­a­pist Kim Saha. But the other gluteal mus­cles also play im­por­tant roles in pos­ture and gen­eral health.

Your pelvic floor is sup­ported by the glutes (along with the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles and hip flex­ors), so en­sur­ing they are well con­di­tioned will help to re­tain pelvic floor health. “A lot of peo­ple who slouch do so be­cause they have weak but­tock mus­cles,” Saha says. “Long­who term weak­ened gluteals can re­sult in all sorts of prob­lems in the lower back and hips, where the load is taken through the joints, in­stead of the mus­cles de­signed to ab­sorb the pres­sure of stand­ing. Peo­ple tend to lock their knees in this po­si­tion, which can cause knee pain.”

Cer­tainly, the gains of work­ing your butt off are not purely aes­thetic. Squats have been shown to keep your brain healthy. Sci­en­tists mon­i­tored 324 twins for a decade and found that those with the strong­est legs at the start of the study even­tu­ally dis­played the low­est de­cline in cog­ni­tive abil­ity.

The rea­son, the ex­perts sug­gest, could be that work­ing these mus­cles re­leases bio­chem­i­cals that af­fect the cel­lu­lar health of the brain.

In 2017, re­sults of a decade-long study of 80,000 adults, re­searchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney found that peo­ple who per­formed sim­ple, home-based work­outs, in­clud­ing but­tock-firm­ing favourites squats and lunges, twice a week for 50 min­utes had a 23% re­duc­tion in their risk of pre­ma­ture death by any means, and a 31% re­duc­tion in can­cer-re­lated death.

“There is far more to work­ing your but­tock mus­cles than just get­ting a shapely butt,” Wong says. “By main­tain­ing your glutes, you will be­come a health­ier and stronger ver­sion of your­self.”

Pic­ture: An­gela Weiss/AFP/ Getty Im­ages

HEAD TURNER: Kylie Jen­ner ar­rives for the Cos­tume In­sti­tute Ben­e­fit, at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York in 2017.

Pic­ture: iStock

MULTI-TASK­ING : Ex­er­cis­ing your glutes can help to strengthen your pelvic floor, lower back and hips

Matt Roberts: “Hor­monal changes later in life can shift fat stor­age.”

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