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This article was originally published in Positive Health issue 38 – March 1999
Last month, I introduced you to three highbrow terms (callipygian, cacopygian and steatopygia) which, translated in plain English, could read: the beautiful, the ugly and the huge rear ends. According to your culture or your fashion trend, you can choose the style of buttocks you long for.
The odds are that all the readers of Positive Health want to be, if they are not already, callipygian. This is a wise choice since beauty is the external sign of health and efficient functioning. I am going to tell you how to keep or regain fit and good-looking buttocks.
To recap, the buttocks are made of three muscles, among which the gluteus maximus is the most important. I. A. Kapandji (an authority in anatomy), in The Physiology of the Joints, describes it as ‘the most powerful muscle of the body… and is also the biggest… and naturally, the strongest…’ These anatomical facts about the rear end might surprise some of my readers. Our sitting addiction rarely gives us a chance to fully enjoy the potential of this muscle which, invariably, ends up disused and misused.
An important role of the gluteus maximus, rarely mentioned in fitness magazines, is to turn the thighbones outwards, in other words it is an external rotator of the leg. To understand how crucial this function is, have a look at a lizard or a crocodile (from a safe distance of course). These charming animals do not possess external rotator muscles in their limbs so that they cannot walk backwards. Without the gluteus maximus, we humans would be walking with our feet turned inwards.
Because muscles which rotate limbs inwards came first in the evolutionary scene, they, as a rule, outnumber the more recent ones which rotate limbs outwards. This is why misuse of the body always results in weakened, overpowered external rotators. This condition is aggravated by our modern lifestyle (little walking, lots of sitting). The result of this imbalance between external and internal rotator muscles can be seen in our thighs which usually turn inwards – the knees look cross-eyed. To be able to see this condition it is sometimes necessary to put your feet together or to put the knee flexors under tension (stretching your hamstrings, for example).
The effect of this muscle imbalance does not stop at the knees, though; it can also affect the feet. It is worth noting that feet have something in common with buttocks: they are typically human. Prof. F. Wood Jones, in Arboreal Man, writes that ‘If Man should wish to point with pride to any organ the structure of which definitely severs him from all other existing Primates, it is to the foot that he should point.’ Only humans have feet and buttocks as we know them, and it’s a pity we don’t respect more these hallmarks of humankind.
When the thighs are chronically turned inwards, the lower leg and the feet have to compromise in order to adapt to this unnatural situation; and distortions soon make their appearance. One such distortion is what is commonly called flat-foot or fallen arches, a pathological condition where the internal longitudinal arch is too low or completely depressed. According to the orthodox school of thought, flat-feet are the result of weakness of the muscles that are supposed to support this arch. The experts who see us as poor weaklings, forever in need of artificial supports, got it wrong. The exact opposite is true: excess of strength causes the feet to become flat.
When the powerful inwards rotators have set the thighs abnormally, the feet are compelled to produce a movement called eversion (the turning of the sole outwards), which in turn causes the arches to keel over. You can easily test the validity of this theory on yourself.
If you have flat-feet, turn your thighs outwards and see how the arches of your feet are raised. If you have normal arches, turn your thighs inwards and see how easy it is to produce flat-feet. Fallen arches is the favourite response of the feet to the challenge of inwards thighs, but not the only one. Sometimes the arches are too high (hollow-feet) and this is caused by the same mechanism that can produce flat-feet, but in the opposite direction. The same cause can create two opposite shapes, due to the behaviour of the lower-leg.
But let us return to the buttocks. When you were turning your thighs outwards during the little exercise I’ve just invited you to do, you certainly were able to feel a contraction in your buttocks.
Remember, they are external rotator muscles. It is because they are usually inhibited by the dominant internal rotators that we get flat-feet, knock-knees, saddlebag thighs – and bulging bottoms.
When you stop the domination of the internal rotators, when you do not let the buttocks play the role of the underdog, a series of positive changes will take place in your body. Your legs and feet will become shapely and you will also start to lose the fat and cellulite that like so much to cling around the hip area (this shows that the theory which says that you cannot spot reduce should not be totally trusted). So, whenever you are sitting, standing, walking, climbing stairs, squatting, don’t let your knees turn inwards but direct them outwards instead. When you walk, make sure to fully extend the hip of the back leg (to open’ the groin) and to keep your body erect (don’t lean forward). You cannot do these things correctly without squeezing your gluteus maximus. Using yourself that way will allow you to discover the usually untapped muscular potential of the buttocks.
So, if I may suggest, don’t just sit there, get your feet moving and your rear into gear.