Pancake Butt and The Postpartum Mama

Let’s talk about those glutes this week -shall we??  (BTW…the picture above is from one of the greatest movies ever…Uncle Buck…I know I just aged myself.)  Some ladies are simply blessed with a little more filling back there, and others of us -well -we have to work for it a little more (myself included)!  Regardless of that, it’s so important for all of us gals to have a strong and perky backside because that means a more optimally functioning pelvic floor, and more support for our pelvis and spine.  This is huge for eliminating any back, hip, and knee pain (especially during pregnancy and postpartum), as well as enabling us to move and function well throughout our everyday lives.  And let’s not forget -who doesn’t want to be able to fill out a nice pair of jeans!!

Since the birth of my daughter last January (as with the birth of my other two children), I have been placing a bit more emphasis on my glutes with my exercise programming to build them back up again.  If you’ve been pregnant, you may have noticed your glutes jumping ship and they’re not as round and perky as you remember them pre-pregnancy -and now you’re left with the dreaded “pancake butt” phenomenon!  Ugh!  And yes it carries over into the postpartum period as well.

What the heck causes “pancake butt” you ask?  Generally it’s caused by the postural shifting that your body goes through to accommodate your growing belly.  As your belly gets bigger, your pelvis tends to shift/tilt forward more than usual and this can cause your hip flexors to become very tight, which then causes your glutes to shut off and become lazy -and your booty to become droopy and soft.

Well -know that there is hope and it can be remedied!  You will want to keep up with your glute training as much as possible both during your pregnancy and afterwards (once you have healed your core and pelvic floor, and are ready to start working out again).  Remember to take your time working up to the weight training.  It will also require you to do some soft tissue work like stretching and releasing the hip flexors and other hip musculature with some trigger point therapy.

I’m also going to share with you a list of some of the best glute building exercises that I program for both my clients and myself, as well as some programming framework to help you build workouts for better glute recruitment:

 

A.  Exercises

 

1 & 2. Squats and Deadlifts

Hands down, squats and deadlifts are two of the best exercises that you can do for your glutes!  Why?  Because they are two of the big main lifts for building muscle and getting stronger.  They are multi-joint exercises that recruit more muscles overall -thus getting you stronger through your lower body as a whole and give you more bang for your buck.

If you’re pregnant -just monitor how deadlifts make you feel through the core and pelvic floor.  If you feel unsupported or see coning, doming, bulging along the midline of your belly, then omit these from your program.  They can also place a lot of downward pressure on the pelvic floor, so you may need to eliminate them for this reason as your pregnancy progresses.  Monitor how your pelvic floor feels after doing them.  If it feels heavy or fatigued, then that’s also a sign for you that it’s time to take them out.

3. Split Squats

The split squat is a squat using a staggered stance. It is also called a Bulgarian split squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS). It is also called a single-leg exercise, though it still uses both legs.
The split squat can be performed with the rear foot on the ground, or with the rear foot on a bench. The difference between this exercise (both with the rear foot elevated or not) and a lunge is that your bodyweight is shifted more onto the front leg with a split squat and evenly between both feet during a lunge.  This shifting of the weight more onto your front foot allows for greater glute recruitment.

Just be careful of split squat exercises if you are experiencing pubic symphysis diastasis as this can aggravate pain and discomfort.

4. Step Ups

I’m a huge fan of unilateral work for hitting the glutes because the glutes need to work even more to stabilize your pelvis, hips, and legs in a single leg stance.  Single leg work also helps to even out any strength differences between legs as well.  Russian step ups recruit the glutes even more because all of the load is constantly held on your working leg through the entire movement.

5 & 6. Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts

Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts are a great way to get in some great glute isolation exercises.  While multi-joint exercises are king (or queen for the purpose of this newsletter) for building more strength and muscle overall, it also takes some focused, isolated and concentrated work on a particular muscle group as well. When performed with proper technique (i.e. not arching your back to achieve hip extension), they’re fantastic for glute activation.

7. Lateral Band Walks

In order for well-rounded glute development, we need to train the glutes not only through hip extension, but also through hip abduction (moving the leg away from the midline of the body) as well.  This helps to recruit the glute muscles on the outside of our hips.   This can be done with exercises like lateral band walks.  Just remember not to step out to the side too wide.  Keep your step stance about hip width apart and your weight back in your hips.

 

B.  Programming

 

How you program is ultimately up to you.  There are so many ways to do it, and you have to find one that works for you.  However, I do think there are some general guidelines you should keep in mind:

1. Prioritize squats and deadlifts: Perform them first in your strength workouts before any other lower body strength exercises.

2.  Do at least 1 heavy session and 1 moderate to lighter session per week:  For your heavier session, you will want to use more weight, less reps, and more sets.  For your moderate to lighter session, you will want to use less weight, more reps, and fewer sets.  Now remember: during pregnancy and postpartum, heavier is very relative to your current level of fitness -not your fitness level before you became pregnant.

3.  Incorporate some glute activation drills as part of your warm-up:  Wake up your glutes with some drills like band walks, bodyweight bridges (double or single leg), frog pumps, and clamshells.

4.   Alternate between single leg and split stance exercises for each workout:  Make sure to include one single leg exercise in one workout and then for your next workout include 1 split stance exercise for that session.

5.  Include 1 or 2 single joint exercises in each workout:  This means including at least one exercise that produces only motion at the hip joint (hip thrusts, bridges, etc.).

There you have it!  This should help you on your journey towards fighting back against the dreaded “pancake butt”, building the derriere of your dreams, and helping you feel stronger in your body!

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