Scientists reveal the uncomfortable truth behind the Desk Derriere (and how to beat it)
22:45 GMT, 22 September 2012
With more than 15 million Britons working behind desks, our bottoms are
getting bigger – a problem that has been dubbed ‘desk derriere’.
recent study that scanned the buttocks of inactive people found muscle
was shrinking and breaking down due to lack of exercise.
The research at
Tel Aviv University also showed that fat cells thrive in the buttocks
of those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, causing thick layers of fat to
develop deep inside muscle tissue.
Here we explain why your backside is expanding – and the simple steps you can take to combat desk derriere . . .
A recent study that scanned the buttocks of inactive people found muscle was shrinking and breaking down due to lack of exercise
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN
Insufficient activity and a poor diet are the main causes of desk derriere but other factors also play a role.
‘The hip flexor muscles, found at the
front of the hip, become overactive and tight if an individual spends
all day sitting,’ explains Chris Jones, professional head of physiology
at Nuffield Health.
‘In response, the three key muscles
that give the buttocks their shape – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius
and gluteus minimus – become less responsive and generally underactive,
leading to poor muscle tone.’
The gluteal muscles are necessary for stabilising and controlling movement of the pelvis, legs and lower back.
‘When the bottom and stomach muscles
become weak and the hip flexor muscles become tight, Lower Crossed
Syndrome can develop,’ says Anne Elliott, lecturer at the London Sport
Institute, Middlesex University.
‘Symptoms include lower back, knee or ankle pain and in some cases limited movement.’
The flat width of an office bottom may also be attributed to the length of time spent sitting.
The Tel Aviv study showed that
preadipocyte cells – the precursor to fat cells – that were exposed to
sustained mechanical loading, such as being sat on, developed into fat
cells and accumulated fat twice as quickly as normal fat cells.
‘The results suggest that if you sit
down for a long time, you are more likely to store fat in your bottom,’
says Professor Amit Gefen, who oversaw the 2011 study. ‘They also imply
that the width of a bottom may be increased by sitting down.
‘When our work was published, many experts contacted me to say that they had seen this phenomenon in obese patients.’
Of course, many overweight people simply have a tendency to store fat in specific places.
Women especially are prone to store
fat on the bottom, says Chris Jones. ‘This is due to an enzyme called
lipoprotein lipase, which dictates where fat settles in the body.
Females store more fat around the hips, while males tend to retain more
around the waist.’
LESS SUGAR, MORE WATER
‘Unfortunately, you cannot spot-reduce
fat,’ says dietician Anna Raymond, who is spokeswoman for the British
‘Luckily, the fat on the buttocks
isn’t as metabolically active as that on the stomach – fat that deposits
around the waist releases enzymes that contribute to the development of
diabetes and cardiovascular disease.’
However, it is crucial to cut down on
sugar, says nutritional therapist Dr Elisabeth Philipps: ‘Simple
carbohydrates lead to the secretion of insulin, which increases the
body’s ability to store fat. They also sap energy, so you feel less like
Drinking lots of water will also help
with fluid retention. ‘Those sitting at desks all day often forget to
drink enough,’ says Anna Raymond. ‘Dehydration may cause you to reach
for sugary snacks.’
Finally it is important to get enough
of the right types of fat: ‘You can improve skin elasticity on your
bottom with two portions of oily fish a week or an omega-3 supplement,’
CHECK IF YOU ARE AT RISK
It is possible to determine
whether your gluteal muscles are functioning properly or if you are at
risk of developing desk derriere with a simple exercise.
‘Lie flat on your tummy and bend one
knee to 90 degrees so that the sole of the foot is facing the ceiling,’
says Chris Jones.
‘Keeping the foot facing the ceiling,
slowly lift the leg five inches off the ground by squeezing your buttock
on that side and then hold it motionless in the air for 30 seconds.’
‘You should be able to hold the leg perfectly still, with any sensation of tension being limited to the buttock itself.
‘If the lifted leg shakes a lot with
the effort or you feel tension in your hamstrings or lower back, the
gluteal muscles are not correctly switching on and engaging.’
RUBBING IT IN
To release the hip flexor muscles and reactivate the gluteal muscles, give yourself a sports massage.
‘Take a tennis ball and slowly roll over the hip flexor muscles where you feel it to be tight,’ recommends Chris Jones.
‘If it feels tender, hold the ball
and apply gentle pressure to the area for about a minute or until the
tenderness has diminished.’
Do this between five and ten minutes a day, repeating five days a week until there is no tension.
‘Dry skin-brushing stimulates
circulation and helps relieve water retention in the area,’ says Dr
‘Using a long-handled brush, always work towards
the heart, concentrating on the backs of thighs and buttocks for two
minutes every day before showering.’
GET EXERCISE IN YOUR SEAT
Exercise is crucial because it
involves dynamic loading (carrying weight while moving) of the muscle
cells, which inhibits fat accumulation and burns stored fat.
Cornel Chin, a personal trainer who
has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, suggests incorporating simple
exercises into your daily routine.
‘Climbing the stairs, but walking two steps at a time, really engages the gluteal muscles,’ he says.
‘Work out at your desk a couple of
times a day too: do ten slow buttock squeezes followed by ten squeezes
that you hold for two seconds, and then ten pulses (very quick
‘Any exercise with explosive movement
that abruptly clenches the muscles – basketball, netball, squash, tennis
and even cricket – is excellent. This uses the entire muscle and
therefore works the deeper fibres.’
David Cameron’s personal trainer, Matt Roberts, recommends the following three daily exercises:
1 Stand straight in front of a bench or elevated surface.
2 Step up with one leg and follow with the other. Return to the starting position.
3 Repeat 12 times to see some benefit, and each set three times for optimal results.
Straight Leg, Donkey Kick
1 With your knees and forearms supporting the body go on all fours. Face the floor and ensure you maintain a straight back.
2 Straighten the right leg outwards and behind you whilst keeping the left leg in a bent position at 90 degrees.
3 Keeping the right leg straight,
lift it up and toward the ceiling as far as is comfortably possible.
Return to start position and repeat with your left leg.
Standing Abductor Raise
1 Holding on to a chair for balance, start with your feet a hip-width apart.
2 Without bending sideways at the
waist, lift your leg out to the side – no higher than 45 degrees – using
a slow and controlled movement. Hold for one second and return to