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Fitness | KATHY SMITH

Time to Put Your Best Efforts Behind You

May 31, 1999|KATHY SMITH

The 18-inch rule is officially dead. For more than half a century, the people who design seats for sporting stadiums, restaurants, buses, church pews, movie theaters, etc., considered 18 inches more than adequate to accommodate the average American's rear end. But no longer. According to a recent newspaper story that caught my eye, seating engineers are now busily widening public seating wherever possible. Obviously, our butts are getting bigger.

I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, least of all me. Year by year, Americans continue to grow bigger and wider. By some estimates, half the population is overweight, with up to a third deemed obese. Where the stomach leads, the butt will surely follow.

Reducing the size of your rear end requires a multi-pronged approach. Since there's no such thing as targeting fat on a particular part of the body, your first steps must be identical to any fitness program aimed at decreasing fat everywhere. In addition to eating right, you also have to do cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week. But what exercise?

I can answer that question only by telling you that the super-expensive, fat-burning vacation ranches invariably take their guests on a three-hour hike in the mountains. It's beautiful up there, and it's a fun activity, so the guests don't realize that they're doing a heavy calorie-burning workout. The moral? Do something you enjoy doing. That way, you won't think of it as work, so you won't resist having to work out.

Then, too, remember that at least two 20-minute weight-training sessions a week will not only make you stronger, but also improve your metabolism; even at rest, you'll burn more calories.

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Now let's talk about how to tone and shape your butt as the fat begins to drop off. Three major muscle groups are what give your butt its shape: the gluteus maximus, which forms the main body of the buttocks by extending from the crest of the pelvis and attaching to the thigh; the gluteus medius, which is that broad, thick muscle on the outer surface of the pelvis; and the gluteus minimus, located on the sides of your hips.

The most effective exercise for working the gluteus maximus is the squat. You start your squat by sitting in a chair. Now stand, keeping your feet in place. As you go to sit back down, keep your back straight and just sort of skim the top of the seat with your butt before standing slowly again. Repeat at least 20 times daily, always keeping your back straight and your weight on your heels. What you're after here is that good 90-degree angle between your thighs and your back, because unlike most resistance exercises that engage the muscle at the top of the movement, the maximus engages at the bottom. Eventually, when you've achieved sufficient muscle memory, you'll be able to do squats properly without the chair.

To work the gluteus medius and minimus, do side leg lifts. Using the back of a chair for balance, slowly bring your leg out to the side as high as possible, keeping your knee and toes pointing forward; don't rotate your leg out. Now slowly lower your leg. Repeat at least 20 times on each leg. In time you'll want to add some ankle weights for additional resistance as a way of continuing to build muscle. Stronger muscle is what's going to give you the nice sweeping shape that you want. (This applies also to those people with "disappearing butt," who seem to have lost theirs altogether.)

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At this point, I should insert a reality check. The skin on your butt, like every other part of your anatomy, is attached to muscle by connective fibers. As we age, these fibers break down and lose their once-youthful elasticity. Just as the skin on your face drops, so too does the skin on your rear end. So while you can tone and build muscle to fill out much of that area, some skin is still going to hang--especially if you've been a yo-yo dieter. That's why my best advice is to avoid sizable weight gains and losses.

Last week, having just finished reading the article about wider seating, I couldn't help focusing on people's butts as they passed on the street. One thing became clear: Firmer is better. But undeniably, they can be attractive in all shapes and sizes.

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Copyright 1999 by Kathy Smith

Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her new video, "Kickboxing Workout." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number.

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