Missed Part 1, which addresses leg raises? [Read it here!]
The only way to add shape and tone to a muscle is to exercise it, stress it out and stimulate it. If you don't use it, you will lose it, in theory! We all know that squats, lunges and leg presses will give us that shape and tone we want for our backside, but wouldn't it be great to get those same benefits when you do your aerobic workout - especially when we know so many of our clients, both male and female, are looking to add shape and tone to their rear ends?
Treadmills, stair steppers, elliptical machines and stationary bikes are great for aerobic conditioning and are highly recommended, but those machines don't activate or stimulate our hamstrings and glutes enough to add shape and tone to our butt muscles. Almost everyone wants a nice, shapely, toned bottom, and strength training will definitely address that when properly performed. But did you know that all your hours on those indoor aerobic machines add nothing to your glutes?
When you walk, jog or climb stairs, you stimulate all the muscles of the lower body. The continual contraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus is what moves us down the road or track. The various exercise machines that are designed to simulate running, climbing and biking are great for the aerobic part of the workout. Unfortunately, they end up doing all the work we want our hamstrings and gluteus to do. This is why they are not great for adding tone and shape to our bottoms.
Let's first look at the basic walking or jogging movement to better understand why those machines don't help tighten up our glutes. When you step forward with your lead leg, it is the hip flexor and quadricep muscle that contracts and extends your leg forward. As your front foot hits the ground, what pulls you forward is the contraction of your hamstrings and gluteus muscles. The continual contraction of all the muscles around the thigh makes walking a complete workout for the lower body.
As we compare the same movement with the treadmill, you will see that the contraction of the quadriceps to extend the leg forward are the same. The problem or weakness of this exercise for toning is the simple fact that as your foot hits the ground, instead of having to contract the hamstrings and glutes to propel the body forward, the machine will automatically throw your lead leg back. Because of the mechanical action of the machine, the hamstrings and glutes don't get stimulated. And if you don't use it or stress it, you don't tone it!
The shortcomings for the treadmill and all other aerobic machines are a result of the very nature of the apparatus. When you look at a stair stepper, you will see that instead of having to contract your hams and glutes to propel your body up the stairs, it is the weight of your leg that causes the foot pedal to descend. Even though it feels like you are going up a flight of stairs - it's not the same thing. Like the treadmill, you are not stimulating the glutes anywhere close to the level that they need to be in order to stress them. It's like doing the proverbial "12 ounce" curls - we can do those all day, and they won't add any shape to our biceps.
The elliptical machine and stationary bike have the same inherent problems. Step forward on the elliptical machine or press down on your bike pedal. Without having to contract the hams and glutes, the other leg is ready to activate the quadriceps again. Again, you are basically omitting the need of the hamstrings and gluteus muscles to perform these exercises. I know some cyclists do activate their hamstrings when they pedal by pulling the pedal around, but it is only the well-trained, elite cyclist who does that. They are still not activating or stressing their gluteus muscles.
Look at the physique of a runner, sprinter and that of a cyclist. You will see that those runners who actually train on "mother earth" have well-developed quads, hams and gluteus. Cyclists, on the other hand, have much larger quadriceps in proportion to their hamstrings because the primary stroking motion is done with the quads.
Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of these machines for training, but I always try to encourage my patients/clients to get their aerobic training on "mother earth." When you do that, you can kill two birds with one stone: the aerobic benefits along with the toning benefits of our gluteus maximus.
Dr. Len Lopez (www.drlenlopez.com) is a nutrition and fitness expert and author of To Burn or Not to Burn - Fat is the Question, and the inventor of The Work Horse Fitness Trainer. He is the host of Action Steps for Health and a frequent guest on radio and television. His approach to health and fitness is based on TEE-times: Time, Energy and Effort. You can contact him by calling 972.458.0099.