Gluteus maximus may sound like an ancient Roman gladiator, but it's really the name for the large muscle that covers most of your butt. Your other butt muscles are the gluteus medius and the tiny little gluteus minimus. Working your butt muscles so that they appear tighter will require a combination of exercises. Keep in mind that as muscles develop, an ordinarily flat butt can appear rounder. That's no reason to skip the exercise. Strong glutes take pressure off your lower back and are essential to standard leg movements like walking and climbing stairs.
Everyone needs some cardio activity -- at least 150 minutes of moderate work per week to be exact. Just about any cardio exercise using your legs will also work your glutes to a greater or lesser extent. Walking or running -- on a treadmill, track or pavement -- doing step aerobics or using the stair-stepper, elliptical or stationary bike at your gym will improve your cardio health, burn fat and at the same time, work your glute muscles. You can't beat that for efficiency. As you gain strength, increase the resistance or incline to strengthen your muscles more.
Squats and Lunges
Pushing exercises, like squats and lunges, work your gluteus maximus along with your quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. You can progress from using just your body weight to adding weight with dumbbells held at your sides or at your shoulders. Squats can also be done with a weighted bar in a Smith machine or with a barbell across your shoulders for free squats when you get really good. Remember to engage your glutes by squeezing during the return.
The leg press machine simulates the movement of a squat, but sitting in a machine makes it easier to maintain form and avoid injury, particularly in the lower back and knees. Machines also control the weight throughout the move. These two elements make them safer for beginners than using free weights, but they also provide variation for the more experienced. Lower placement of your feet on the plate emphasizes your quads, while higher placement challenges your butt muscles. To get even more out of it, squeeze your butt on the press movement and then pause for a few beats before the return.
To really get your butt looking tight, you'll have to work the gluteus medius and minimus, too. You do this through abduction exercises, either sitting or lying in an abduction machine and pressing out against the pads or lying on your side and lifting the top leg toward the ceiling. If you're just starting out, you may feel enough of a burn from lifting just your own leg weight, but eventually you'll want to hold a dumbbell against your outer thigh, add ankle weights, rest a weighted bar on the outside of the foot or use resistance bands to challenge your muscles.
You don't have to confine your butt exercises to the gym. This is one set of muscles you can work anywhere, anytime, including sitting at your desk or even standing around at a party. Just squeeze your cheeks, hold it for a count of 10 and slowly release. For an extra lift, try doing unilateral squeezes. Unless you are wearing very tight jeans, people won't even know you're doing it.
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).