When you think of Pilates workouts, it’s all about the core — from your lower abs to the transverse abdominis to your obliques. But what you may not realize is that your core also includes your hips and glutes.
“In Pilates, we refer to your powerhouse, and that actually includes your hips, glutes and pelvic floor,” says Andrea Speir, lead instructor for the Daily Burn Pilates Phase 1 and 2 programs. “Since the core and glutes are a connected part of the powerhouse of your body, by engaging your core, you’re halfway there.”
All About That Base: Pilates for Your Backside
What makes Pilates a great workout for a rock solid booty is it targets not only your glutes, but also the muscles that support your hips, like your hamstrings, quads and outer and inner thighs. “The glute medius, for example, wraps around the hips and connects under the body. This helps support the lower back, which is usually pretty weak in people,” Speir says. “Hamstrings are also targeted, and these are the base that the glutes rest on, so having that strong lift will help hold everything up properly,” she adds.
Even better, the different ranges of motion and subtle postural changes in Pilates workouts help engage all muscle groups without adding external weight. “Small movements in Pilates are challenging because they focus on form and control. They get smaller muscles to work harder than they might if the bigger muscles have the chance to take over,” Speir explains.
Keep reading for Speir’s five favorite Pilates butt exercises — and how to put them all together.
5 Butt Exercises for a Booty-Sculpting Pilates Workout
Hate squats? You’re in luck! This Pilates workout from Speir includes variations of leg lifts to deliver booty-boosting benefits to your thighs, outer hips and glutes. “By working with your own bodyweight, you’re able to lengthen and strengthen safely,” Speir says. Watch carefully, then do 12-15 reps of each exercise for two sets.
1. Lying Butt Kicks
This exercise might look easy, but if you imagine you’re moving your foot through something sticky and thick, you’ll be able to activate your glutes and hamstrings. “Think about active energy between your inner thighs, like you’re hugging an imaginary ball. Finally, activate your booty. That means go ahead and squeeze those muscles to engage them,” Speir says.
How to: Lying on your stomach, lift your torso off the floor and press your tailbone down, keeping your butt and abdominals firm. Make sure your shoulder blades are also down and your forearms parallel to each other on the mat (a). Pointing your toes, kick your right foot towards your butt for two counts, then alternate with your left foot (b).
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2. Single-Leg Lift and Kick
You’ll want to keep your hips square throughout this entire exercise, so if your top heel is inching up, engage your core. “The more your abdominals are engaged, the less those hips will go Beyoncé on you,” she says. Speir also likes to imagine that there’s a wall behind her back. “Don’t let your back leave that wall, and that will help keep your body lined up,” she notes.
How to: Lie on your right side and prop yourself up so your head rests on your right hand (a). Keep your left leg stacked on top of your right in a diagonal line and use your left hand to help stabilize you on the mat. Flex both feet (b). Pointing your left foot, lift your leg to hip height. Kick it twice towards the front, and then lengthen and kick it once behind you (c). Switch sides.
3. Hip Abduction
Similar to the single-leg kick, your spine should be aligned with your hips and legs to elongate your waist. Lower your leg slowly down to truly feel the resistance. For a visual, Speir likes to imagine moving her leg through chunky peanut butter. “Any time you do abduction or adduction, it’s targeting your inner thighs. But this will lengthen and strengthen the hip extensors as well,” Speir says.
How to: Lie on your right side and prop yourself up so your head rests on your right hand (a). Keep your left leg stacked on top of your right in a diagonal line and use your left hand to help stabilize you on the mat. Flex both feet (b). Lift your leg to hip height and then lower it back down for three counts, so you feel resistance and engage your glutes and inner thighs (c). Switch sides.
4. Leg Circles
In addition to strengthening your glutes, these leg circles also work your quads and hamstrings. The key is to keep your pelvis stable during the exercise, which means engaging your abs and pelvic floor. “The adduction, abduction and focus on pelvic strength is hugely important because these muscles help to create that true balance between the strong outer hips, glutes and core,” Speir says.
How to: From the same position as the hip abduction exercise, point on your left foot and lift it to hip height (a). Circle your leg past your bottom right leg slowly, working with resistance to activate your glutes and abductors (b). Repeat for six reps before circling in the other direction for six more reps (c). Switch legs.
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The small movements of this butt exercise will help you move with more control and create greater resistance. Slow and steady wins the race! “This is a very focused exercise, and because of the position of your body, your glutes have to do all the work,” Speir says. “The bonus is that your hamstrings also get majorly strengthened.”
How to: Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you, and your forehead resting your hands (a). Keeping your abdominals tight and your shoulders down, lift your feet up off the mat (b). Pointing your toes, lift your right leg higher, pause, and then switch and lift your left leg higher (c).
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