Nothing gets me more excited in a workout than being instructed to do a move that’s modeled after an animal (hey, I’m an animal lover, what can I say?). Color me thrilled to do a bear crawl, frog pose, or—best of all—some classic donkey kicks.
The thing is, though, the more I try do them myself, the more I resemble the donkey from Shrek than my graceful instructor. My leg gets wobbly as I push my foot up towards the ceiling, I’m pretty sure my hips are falling all over the place, and sometimes I feel the muscles in my legs burning more than in my bum. So to ensure I’m getting the best bang for my butt, I asked a trainer for the most common things people get wrong about donkey kicks—and how to do them the right way.
First of all, you want to be doing the glute-burning move because it works a lot more than just your butt. “Donkey kicks are beneficial in a workout because not only do they enhance the shape of your butt, but they also strengthen your hips and stretch your hip flexors,” says Abena Tolentino, certified Romana Pilates instructor and owner of Abena Pilates. “They work the muscles around your hip flexors, your abs, arms, calf muscle, and Achilles’ tendon—so really the whole body if you really focus on control and balance in movement.”
What makes the beautiful, ballet-esque donkey kick transform into a clumsy donkey, though, is mainly through issues with balance and focus. “The common mistakes I see are lack of concentration and people not being aware of maintaining balance in the supporting joints connected to the floor while moving one leg at a time,” says Tolentino. Proper form is about engaging the right muscles and making sure your alignment is on point.
“Set yourself up in the right stance before movement by lengthening the tip of your head outward, find an extension from the tip of your head, and align the back of your neck to your spine,” says Tolentino, who says to center the midline of your body down to your pelvis. “Also, be aware to not over-tuck your tailbone or arch your lower back. Your balance of weight must be distributed evenly across all fours with your palms flat on the floor.”
The key, according to her, is to resist gravity away as if you’re pushing away from the floor. “You’ll immediately feel expansion in the lane of your front and back, giving you a solid balance to move effectively,” says Tolentino. AKA, you know, to donkey kick it out. If you’re struggling and need to modify, you’ve got options. “You can modify on bended elbows if you have problematic elbows and shoulders,” she recommends. “Keep the range of lifting small and slow in movement, perform less reps, rest, and repeat. The most important factor is to be aware to always engage your abs when moving—it’s your center that connects and supports every part of your body.” With these points in mind, you can better kick your way to a sculpted peach.
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