I was 15 when my best friend first described my pancake butt as an "extended thigh" - and she was right on. Even now that I’m 26, and I work out four or five times a week, I’ve never been able to sustain any noticeable booty gains.
And although I love my body, I’ve always wondered if I could build more of a bum that would prove my friend wrong.
This May, I challenged myself to a complete lifestyle overhaul to see just how much I could boost my butt in two dedicated weeks. For guidance, I turned to registered dietitian Robin Barrie Kaiden and Don Saladino, owner of Drive Health Clubs and personal trainer to celebs like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds.
Tweaking my diet
When I first met with Kaiden, I outlined what I ate on the regular before she assessed my resting metabolic rate with special tool called a MedGem, which you breathe into:
For significant glute gains, she told me, I’d need to consume more calories than I'd been eating. The difference amounted to a second lunch and much heartier snacks than I was used to. Here are Kaiden's guidelines. (Consult your own doctor or dietitian before following suit.)
- Stick to whole foods. “If you want to succeed in two weeks, you need the best fuel for your engine,” she told me, advising against processed foods, including quick fixes that sound healthy, like protein bars and shakes. She also steered me away from gluten, since it’s found in so many packaged goods.
- Amp up the protein. Protein is the building block of muscle growth, Kaiden told me. Although I’d been consuming enough protein to sustain my current figure, I’d need to increase my intake of lean animal proteins like chicken, steak, and fish to sustain my workouts and to increase my lean muscle mass.
- Eat all the carbs. "Our muscles can’t use the protein we eat to grow if they don’t have the proper fuel," Kaiden says. That’s where carbs come in: The brain and muscles burn carbs for energy, she told me. To fill this quota, Kaiden advised me to eat gluten-free carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice.
- Avoid dairy and nuts. Most people struggle to digest dairy, Kaiden explained - and it rang true for me, since I’m lactose intolerant. “When you eat foods you’re intolerant to, the nutrients in them may not get absorbed into the body, so they can’t provide energy,” she said. In light of the short challenge, which left little time for trial and error, she also advised me to cut out nuts, since they're so easy to overeat.
- Avoid refined sugars. Kaiden says the stuff has no nutritional value and can lead to blood sugar spikes and drops. All of which have negative effects on my performance in the gym, causing shakiness and dizziness. In other words, it would only hold me back.
- Cut back on sodium. It causes fluid retention, Kaiden told me - not ideal when you set out to gain muscle, not water weight.
- Avoid alcohol. It’s the ultimate source of empty calories, she told me. Plus, hangovers zap your energy and can seriously affect the quality of morning workouts.
I eased into my new diet the weekend before the challenge officially began by increasing my food intake little by little. Although I usually meal prep for an hour on Sundays, I spent roughly three hours roasting sweet potatoes, boiling rice and eggs, making courgette boats, and sautéeing minced turkey.
Here’s what I ate in a typical day before and after seeing Kaiden:
Tweaking my workouts
Before the challenge, I’d run two to three miles outside before work or take a 45-minute group fitness class like boxing or treadmill bootcamp. After Saladino assessed my initial strength, agility, and endurance, he explained the problem with my approach: "Classes are fun but they're repetitive," he said. "They condition you to train at one basic level of intensity."
To amp it up, Saladino structured increasingly intense 60-minute strength-training workouts six times a week at 7 a.m., with one day to rest on the weekends. You can see exactly what I was up against, and try it for yourself, on the Playbook fitness app: Saladino logged all my workouts under Bubble Butt Challenge. (Here’s a link to a free 7-day trial.)
On my first day, it felt really weird to eat an entire meal at 6 a.m. - I usually eat just a small snack before I work out. I began with a hearty quinoa breakfast bowl with eggs, tomatoes, and avocado, which helped me feel focused, alert, and ready to charge into my workout.
Then I was off to meet Saladino. During our first session, I foam-rolled my legs, glutes, and back to loosen my muscles before diving into a circuit of dynamic moves like bodyweight squats and bear crawls. From there, we transitioned into a cardio-strength circuit with medicine-ball slams and kettlebell carries across the gym floor.
Finally, Saladino led me through weighted bobsled pushes - hello, glutes! - and 100 (yes, 100) kettlebell swings.
I didn’t just go through the motions - I slayed them. Saladino's a stickler when it comes to form: Rather than forcing me to do, say, 20 deadlifts on the first try, he’d tell me to do eight and make all of them perfect. We wrapped most of our sessions with high-intensity interval training, like a set of five sprints on the stationary assault bike - the one where you one simultaneously pedal and pump your arms like you’re on an elliptical - for 10 seconds each with 30 seconds of rest in between bursts. He said the technique would prolong the metabolism-boosting effects of my workout.
Afterward, Saladino gave my workout an "8 out of 10" on the hard scale. It felt like an 11, in part because I kept burping up my larger-than-usual pre-workout snack throughout the session. I worried pushing myself so hard so early in the morning would render me useless by the time I got to work.
When I got to my office, I felt self-conscious hogging our office mini fridge with the second breakfast, lunch, and snacks I’d packed. After my second breakfast, I was so full that I didn’t know how I’d finish all the food.
Breaking to eat lunch, a snack, and dinner during my workday felt like a chore, while gorging on hearty meals around the clock made me feel bloated rather than satisfied.
And although I usually alternate between sitting in my desk chair and standing at my adjustable desk, I stood for as long as I could to avoid the muscle stiffness that kicked in after sitting. By the end of the day, my body was exhausted. I was barely able to stay awake past 10:30 p.m.
The next morning, my butt was exceptionally sore. Even stepping up and into my bathtub to take a shower was a major challenge.
Luckily, after a few days, my appetite caught up to my eating, and I had no trouble consuming each planned meal. Still, I missed the finer things in life, like a wine-and-cheese happy hour at the office, where I stuck to Kaiden-approved items like quinoa, hummus, and other whole foods.
But by the end of the first week of my challenge, I began waking up feeling recharged, ravenous, and, for the first time in my life, strong. I was thriving at the gym, pushing 180 pounds on a bobsled versus the 90 pounds I was pushing at the beginning of the week, and sprinting through deadmills (a powered-off treadmill set at the highest incline) faster than I'd ever run on the ground. I felt like a new person with a confidence boost.
I also began to feel more alert throughout the day without craving caffeine and even started skipping my afternoon Starbucks runs. Eating a steady stream of whole foods, Kaiden explained, kept my blood sugar steady, which explained why my energy levels were up. Although I’ve been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, I didn't experience the dizziness, shakiness, or irregular heart beating I sometimes feel when too much time passes between meals.
Besides muscle soreness, my only setback was a three-day stomach virus I picked up on the last weekend of the challenge, but both Kaiden and Saladino encouraged me to listen to my body by eating what I craved - simple carbs, lean proteins, and cold fruit - and skipping workouts, NBD. I tacked on three extra days to make up for the time I’d missed.
SO, DID I BUILD THE BOOTY OF MY DREAMS?
I’ll let my before-and-after photos speak for themselves:
While you can’t exactly measure gains in confidence, my bum grew by two inches(!). My body fat also went down by 2.6 percent, and I gained 4 pounds of lean muscle mass - big enough changes to make my clothes fit just a little bit differently: My skinny jeans hug my curves, and I really fill out my leggings:
In hindsight, boosting my booty took serious commitment - I spent a majority of my free time during the past two weeks working out and preparing food.
That said, it was so fun to throw myself into training that I’m inspired to keep it up: Now that I've learned to see food as fuel, I’m inclined to prepare more wholesome meals. And I'm planning to continue using the Playbook app on my own, or squeezing into Saladino's training schedule with a new goal: Accepting my "extended thigh" and lifting weights to feel even stronger all over.
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