Is your aerobic training helping to firm your butt? The benefits of jogging in your neighborhood, through the woods or on the beach are two-fold. You get the aerobic conditioning along with added shape and tone to your legs and butt muscles. Unfortunately you don’t get the same benefits when you use many of the indoor aerobic machines such as treadmills, stationary bikes, stair-steppers or elliptical machines.
The aerobic training machines are great for aerobic conditioning, but they don’t do much for adding shape and tone to the backside of your body. The simple reason for that is inherent in their design. These machines don’t allow you to activate or stimulate all the muscles of your leg, specifically your hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thigh) or gluteus maximus (butt muscles).
I can’t tell you the number of times I have had people, mostly women say, “I’ve been using this aerobic machine for the past several weeks or months and haven’t noticed any noticeable tightening of my butt, what gives?” To which I usually say if you want to tone-up your butt while at the same time get your aerobic conditioning it, you need to get outside on Mother Earth and walk, jog or run.
Machines Don’t Target Those Butt Muscles
If you look at the different muscles involved in walking or jogging, you see the three main muscles involved in that motion are your quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings and gluteus maximus.
When you take a step or climb a flight of stairs, it is the quadriceps or thigh muscles that extend your leg out in front of you. What propels you forward after your foot hits the ground, is the contraction of your hamstrings and butt muscles. Every step you take requires the contraction of these three major muscles. One set of muscles (quadriceps) throws your leg in front of you and the other set of muscles contract and propel your body forward by pulling your leg back through the step.
Every step you take on Mother Earth or on a flight of stairs activates all three of those major muscles of your lower body. Unfortunately, most of the indoor aerobic machines don’t allow you to activate your hamstrings and glutes (butt muscles).
Look at most of the treadmills and how they operate. When you step forward you stimulate your thigh muscles, but for the most part the machine or belt you are running on will throw or pull your leg back for you. Basically, you do not have to contract those muscles to propel yourself forward. Instead, the machine is throwing your leg back for you, which means you never truly stimulate those butt muscles on a treadmill the same way you do when you walk or jog outside.
This is also another reason why your heart rate is lower when you run on a treadmill in comparison to running outside. The fact that your hamstrings and gluteus muscles aren’t working as hard as when you jog outside, your heart doesn’t have to work so hard, thus your heart rate is lower.
The same is true for bikes, stair-steppers and elliptical machines. When you push down on the right leg of your bike pedal, your left leg is automatically pulled up to the same starting position without having to do any work. If your muscles don’t have to contract, how can you expect them to become tone and fit? The whole motion basically only activates your thigh muscles. Your hamstrings and gluteus did very little in pulling your leg back up. Yes, foot clips and biking shoes help some what, but still a majority of the work is being performed by the quadriceps.
The stair-stepper has the same problem. When you step down on one step, the other step automatically pulls up to the starting position. It is the weight of your body that pushed the step down and brings the other leg up, not the contraction of your hamstrings and gluteus.
As far as elliptical machines, they work on the same principles of the bike and stair-steppers. One half of your lower body is doing most of the work, because the machines are designed in this “closed-chain” system. The fact that you are in a stationary position doesn’t allow for the muscles that are responsible for propelling your body forward to contract as it does when you step or run on Mother Earth.
Aerobic machines are great for indoor aerobic training. I like them and use them myself, but the machines are designed in this “closed-chain” system that typically doesn’t allow all the muscles of your lower body to contract. Usually the pressure or contraction of one leg (thigh muscles) automatically pulls the other leg to the starting position, without the need or the contraction of the opposing muscles (hamstrings and gluts). They basically negates the stimulation and contraction of half your lower body, which is why they are not the first choice if you are looking to add shape and tone to your back side.
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 glutes. 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 patients and clients to get their aerobic training on Mother Earth. When you do that you can kill two birds with one stone. You get the aerobic benefits along with the toning benefits of our gluteus maximus (butt muscles). If you want to add shape and tone to your butt, try interval running, sprint work or doing some real stair running.