Your body is built to move in three ways: forward and backward, in and out, and rotationally. But we spend most of our lives just moving forward and backward—think walking, squatting, lunging, sitting down, and standing up. Because of this, many of us end up with a strong gluteus maximus (aka centre of the rear) but weak gluteus medius and minimus (or outsides of the rear).
The takeaway from this is that the weakness in the sides of your butt can cause pain in your lower back. It can also weaken your hips, which get stuck in that rut of forward-backward motion.
To tone the outsides of the rear and give a little TLC to your smaller gluteal muscles, you need to do some in-and-out and rotational work. That's where clamshells, an external hip rotation exercise, come in. They're a favourite of physical therapists and personal trainers because they're simple to do, and they fight the hip immobility that tends to come with ageing.
How to do clamshells:
Simply lie on one side in fetal position. Keep your feet stacked, one on top of the other, but lift your top knee up and out to form a diamond shape. Hold momentarily, then very slowly lower to starting position. You should take about 3 times as long lowering as you do lifting. Do 20 repetitions on this side before rolling to your other side for another 20.
Try to include this move in your daily routine at least three days a week to increase your hip mobility and strengthen those glutes.
Photograph courtesy of Angela Turner.