Butt Exercises That Won't Hurt Your Knees

It may not surprise you that the gluteus maximus is your biggest muscle.
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You're determined to tighten your butt, but the exercises you've tried so far -- squats, lunges and leg presses -- leave you with sore knees. How can you look good in those slim jeans without hobbling around like a 90-year-old? There are plenty of exercises you can do that will work the butt muscles without damaging your knees or even exacerbating an existing problem. However, you may want to check with your physician before getting started.

Your Butt Muscles

    Your butt has three muscles: the gluteus minimus, the gluteus medius and the better-known gluteus maximus. That last happens to be the biggest muscle in your body, which may not surprise you if you've taken a glance at your rear view in a dressing room mirror. Everyday movements the gluteus maximus is involved in are sitting in and rising from a seated position and bringing your leg out from your body and back in again -- as when you walk or run -- which is why exercises such as squats and lunges work so well. The smaller butt muscles are responsible for abduction -- moving your leg out to the side -- and hip rotation. For a good, tight butt, you should really exercise all these muscles.

Squats and Leg Presses

    Squats, lunges and leg presses are common exercises for the gluteus maximus. While lunges are not recommended for someone with knee pain or injury, squats may have gotten a bad rap. As noted by the American College of Sports Medicine and others, a 1960s study connecting squats to knee injury may have been flawed. Generally, doing a squat properly, that is, not letting your knees extend past your toes, will not injure your healthy knees. If you already have a knee injury, you can still do squats -- and their equivalent, leg presses on a machine -- but you'll need to limit your range of motion. So, on the leg press, bend your knees less than 90 degrees -- maybe about 45 degrees -- on the return, and with the squat, stop before your thighs are parallel to the ground.

Other GM Exercises

    Squats and leg presses are among the best-known gym exercises, but there are plenty of others that work that big gluteus maximus without using your knees at all. A simple one you can do at home is a standing leg extension. Supporting yourself against a wall or chair back, lift your extended leg behind you by squeezing your butt muscles. You can do this lying down as well, or in a bird dog position, and you can add ankle weights or exercise bands for greater resistance. For a more intense gym workout, lie face down over a Roman chair and lift your upper body, or do the reverse by lying over a stability ball and lifting your lower body.

Gluteus Medius and Minimus

    Hitting your other glute muscles requires totally different exercises that don't involve your knees. You are probably familiar with the hip abductor machine at your gym where you press your legs out against resistance. If yours allows you to incline the back, you can work your gluteus maximus as well. Another option is side-lying abductions with your legs stacked or one leg extended in front of you, either straight or slightly bent. For more challenge, add ankle weights, use a band around your thighs or, for a really tough one, lie on your side with a stability ball between your knees and try to raise both legs off the ground at one time.

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