For as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of having a bouncy, bubble butt. Not the flabby monstrosities resulting from years of fast food and neglect. But the solid, anatomical wonders that have been flouncing off the Kim Kardashians and Jessica Biels of the world.
Ah yes, I dream of having a butt that would make you forget what you were doing at a store if I were to walk by, and might even cause you to slip in a puddle of your own drool.
Reality check: throughout history, we Chinese girls have been noted for our general lack of curves. As with generations of my long, lean predecessors, this writer is not exempt from these biological shortcomings.
Although I am not particularly self-conscious about my body, having a downright skinny behind can be a depressing sight. In comparison with those perfect bubble butts, my rear-view looks decidedly modest. Anaemic. Almost indistinguishable from a little boy's.
But as I am rather fond of the saying - "If there isn't a dance floor, make one!", I am determined to make the best of what Mother Nature gave me and bring out the best of my behind. Which brings me to one of the most fundamental movements that human beings were designed to do - squats!
One exercise to rule them all
For years, I have been a religious disciple of the "hamster-training" cardio routine, believing that the countless hours I put into the elliptical machine and cycling classes would give me a perfect body.
Cardio has its benefits, which includes strengthening the heart and keeping me at a respectable size four, but it never did much to sculpt and tone my body.
Obviously, that pert, juicy behind never came.
Trial and error over the years had in the end, led me to adopt a regular strength-training routine and to arrive at the conclusion that if a bubble butt is what you seek, then you've got to become one with the squat!
Squats are by far the best exercises for the butt, and not without a reason. This powerful movement - often hailed the king of lifts - is one of the only exercises that will work 75 per cent of your muscles in a single rep.
This basic exercise challenges the glutes, hamstrings, quads and core, so incorporating it into your strength-training programme is definitely worth your while, and especially if sculpting a sexy behind is your goal.
There have been considerable hype surrounding the type of exercise machines that are best for working the buttocks, but I'm not a fan in trying to "isolate" muscles. The beauty of the squat is that it is a multi-joint exercise that simulates the natural movement patterns that we do every day. It helps to produce benefits such as better functional mobility, on top of giving your body a better shape and tone.
There are many varieties of the squat that you can perform to keep your workouts interesting and to prevent hitting a plateau. You can do them with several types of resistance, ranging from your body weight or resistance bands, to heavy dumbbells and barbells loaded with hundreds of kilograms.
If you're a fitness novice, the bodyweight squat is a good place to start. The best thing about this is that it is an exercise that you can do without any equipment and can be done almost anywhere, with minimal risk of embarrassment (it can get dodgy if your boss walks into the office and catches you in the middle of it, though).
Begin with this starting position: stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width and your toes turned out slightly.
Next, engage your abdominal muscles and keep your back flat to stabilise your spine. A good tip is to imagine keeping your guts from spilling out, while keeping your chest lifted and your chin parallel to the floor.
Proceed to the downward phase by hinging at the hips, shifting them back and down. As you descend, go bottom-first and shift your weight back into your heels. Hips and knees should bend simultaneously. Also, try to prevent your knees from travelling too far forward past the toes to avoid any injuries.
Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are slightly below parallel to the floor and do your best to make sure that your feet do not move, and your ankles do not collapse in, while doing so.
On your way up, while maintaining the positions of your back, chest and head, exhale and return to the start position by pushing your feet into the floor through your heels. You can start by doing three sets of the bodyweight squat, at 12-15 repetitions each.
For added resistance, grab a kettlebell or a dumbbell and hold it close to your chest, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Maintaining the same principles of the basic squat, squat until your thighs are slightly below parallel to the floor. If that's too challenging, stick to doing a bodyweight squat first.
Goblet squats are excellent for sculpting a toned, perky butt because the movement itself challenges primarily the muscles of the buttocks and thighs. You can start by doing three sets of the goblet squat, at 10-12 repetitions each.
For those who are serious about training their legs and glutes, or honing their athletic abilities, the two most popular squat variations are the traditional barbell back squat and front squat. The logic behind this popularity is simply because you can load up to hundreds of kilos on a barbell.
Often, back squats are performed with light weights for toning and definition (usually at about three sets of 10-12 repetitions). Meanwhile, heavier weights facilitate both mass-building and power-building goals, making them a quintessential exercise for athletes and trainers alike. They can be broken down to five sets of three or five repetitions, depending on one's training schedule.
Essentially, all variations of squats go by these simple and VERY important rules: always keep the core tight and upright, and always keep the weight on the heels. Keeping the midline in position helps to prevent back injuries.
Performing the back squat
With a weight-loaded bar resting across the back of your shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the bar with both hands.
Shift your weight into your heels and squat until your thighs are just below parallel to the ground. Drive your heels into the ground and extend your legs until you are standing in an upright position again.
One should bear in mind to always stay focused and controlled during the downward phase, then stand up strong and quickly on the way up, as to not waste energy or kill the stretch reflex at the bottom. It is important to always keep your core braced and back straight throughout the entire movement.
Back squats work primarily the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and abdominal muscles. While it works the front of the body as well, it particularly focuses more work on the posterior chain and is great for developing gluteal shape.
Now let's take a look at what happens if you move the bar around to the front of your body for the front squat.
Performing the front squat
The front squat variation starts with the bar resting on the anterior deltoids (the front part of your shoulders) and upper pectorals (upper chest). In this position, you will use an overhand grip (palms face-up) on the bar, and your elbows should be parallel to the floor and pointing directly in front of you.
Your lower body position should be the same as the back squat. The forward position of this squat can be tricky to manage, but you need to be careful not to lean forward while performing this exercise.
As one might guess, a back squat focuses more on the posterior chain, while a front squat puts a greater focus on the front of the thighs, and on the quads. For this reason, many athletes who are training for performance perform front squats as an auxiliary exercise to the back squat.
Both are part of a well-rounded lifting programme, but be aware that they are both different and veers towards different techniques and demands. The front squat will likely take more practice to master. Start off with a light or moderate weight if you have never performed these squats before.
While aesthetics are a great motivator to start squatting, it is not all about looking good. Studies have shown that squatting also increases lower body strength and promotes better functional mobility and faster walking speed.
It also promotes greater bone mineral density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, as well as helps to develop a stronger musculature to help prevent lower back pain and injury.
As an added bonus, because your abs and back muscles are also required to do a significant amount of work to maintain good posture when you squat, you are also bound to get some pretty sexy abs to complement that bubble butt, if you stick to doing squats long and hard enough.
That said, while people have been doing squats since the dawn of strength training, squats have been the subject of considerable controversy in recent years.
Some fitness trainers argue that squats can cause injuries in the lumbar spine and knees, while others maintain that they are the best exercises for building muscle and strength.
There has also been an ongoing debate on how low you should squat. Some coaches allege that incomplete squats (those terminating above parallel) are inaffective and are more likely to cause injury than a full squat (terminating below knee level), while others send caution that squatting too low can bust your knees.
Myself, I tend to go slightly below parallel, but I've been told to go deeper to elevate strength and performance.
Either way, if you are unsure about the movement, look up for videos of it online or get someone experienced to monitor your form. And if your knees or back hurt, stop and rest. If the pain persists, get it checked and sorted out first, before resuming your fitness regime.
One may never truly attain that perfect, globe-like derrière, but we can always strive to be the best that we can be. If you need me, I will be working my butt off at the squat rack.
>Fiona Ho is a certified personal trainer and a CrossFit enthusiast who yearns for more flesh in all the right places.