The Body-Toning, Glute-Focused Workout You Can Stream from Home
If there’s one thing that seems to be the crux of any rational fitness philosophy, it’s this: It’s a good idea to challenge your body in new ways. Which is one of several reasons we eagerly signed up for a session with Stephen Pasterino, the trainer behind p.volve, a method of building lean muscle and toning the body.
The workout itself was remarkably…reasonable. No one is shouting at you for twenty more reps. It doesn’t push you to the brink of exhaustion. And at no point do you swear you’ll never do it again. That’s not to suggest it’s easy—you really feel your muscles being challenged in the best possible way. It’s exactly the type of thing you could commit to doing regularly and over a long period of time. It’s fun, it goes by quickly, and you don’t need a lot of space to do it.
As for practicality, if you can’t make it to Pasterino’s studio in New York, you can stream the workout—no props required. (Although he has developed his own bands and a ball that’s unusually firm. The ball, which you wedge high up between your thighs, feels kind of strange at first, but then you get used to it; it’s designed to dig into the superficial layers of the fascia and help you work your glutes and feel your core.) So that’s exactly what we did. Afterward, Pasterino, who goes by P, filled us in on exactly how—and why—it works. But, of course, the best way to understand it is to break a sweat yourself.
A Q&A with Stephen Pasterino
I created p.volve with functional movements in mind, meaning the motions I teach replicate everyday motions: walking, running, reaching, rotating, stepping.
The main objective is to activate every muscle in your body and create motion in the skeletal system, always thinking first of your joints and how they’re designed to move.
It’s pretty different from, say, barre or Pilates, where the focus is on the burn, and there’s a lot of repetition to build muscle. Those moves aren’t designed to enhance movement that you’re using in life—if they’re designed to be done on a Reformer, for example, they’re actually pretty hard to replicate in an everyday environment. I try to make sure we’re not overdeveloping the muscles, that we’re not just sticking to one motion and doing thirty reps. Instead I’ll try to hit fifty different exercises in one workout, which ends up being around eight reps per exercise.
My biggest focus is activating the muscles and making them function as they would in real life. Take your abductor muscles, for example—those are all the muscles in your inner thigh that run into your groin. When you go to Pilates or you go to barre, what do you do? You lie on your side and you do that abductor leg lift. Or you get on the Reformer and you repeatedly slide out and slide in. That creates the burning sensation in your muscle, and you feel it. But how does it translate when you walk out the door? It doesn’t. That muscle just turns right back off because you’re not actively using it day-to-day.
I try to understand how the muscle works. What is its everyday function? What motion do I have to create in the joints those muscles attach to, to turn the muscle on—and make it work not only in class but also when you walk out the door?
If it’s the first time you’re working out or the first time you’re trying something, you’re going to be sore because you’re activating new muscles. Soreness comes from breaking down the muscle tissue, which is basically creating small wounds in your muscle.
The whole concept of soreness as sign of achievement comes from the bodybuilding world, which is something I did for a couple years. The idea is if you break down your muscle repeatedly and you take in a ton of calories in food, your muscles will build and become bigger. It’s great if you want to bulk up. But when we’re talking about longevity and feeling good, soreness isn’t important.
Instead I focus on conditioning muscles to be balanced and strong. With p.volve, you might be sore occasionally, but typically what you’ll feel in your muscles is simple fatigue. It’ll feel like your muscles have just been worked.
Because most of us sit all day, it’s really common to be quad dominant. What that means is your butt has become weak from inactivity, and your legs are now taking on added pressure and resistance because your butt isn’t doing any of the work. So when you sit all day and then you go to your workout, the motion of squatting doesn’t counteract that glute inactivity, as you might hope: Because your glutes don’t have the strength, you end up using your quads to power you through the motion.
There can be a time and place for it, but I find my clientele doesn’t need it, and it creates results they don’t want. I used to do tons of squats when I played football. It made sense for that, because I’d go down into a squat motion and explode out of that every single play. So if I’m training someone who plays football, we are squatting three, four days a week because that’s what you need when you play football. Also in bodybuilding, we squat because we’re trying to create size and get our legs jacked up. If that’s my goal, guess what? We’re going to start squatting, and we’re going to start lunging—that’s the name of the game. But when I train people who want to build lean muscles and tighten their bodies, squatting is the exact opposite of what we want to do. You don’t have to squat to create strength in your legs or your butt.
Apart from playing football and baseball, I was a swimmer, and I swam from the time I was six up until I was about twenty. Nothing has ever leaned my stomach out more than swimming. Nothing’s made my waist tighter or given me more definition. So for me, it’s about figuring out how to re-create that at the gym.
If you think it about it, swimming is all about the extension of your stomach and torso, some resistance, activation from both the arms and the torso needing to rotate and reach, plus the legs kicking from behind. There are no crunches or planks or pikes involved. So the way I work the abs is all about extending or lengthening. We put your spine and torso into different rotations—combined with that extension—and steps with the lower body. It makes your muscles constantly lengthen and engage to create stabilization through your torso and makes your abs work to stabilize your back. I’ve found that creates strength and sick definition without building bulk.
The butt is such a huge, dynamic, and interconnected muscle: It attaches to your spine—whatever your spine does, your butt reacts. It wraps around your pelvis, so it reacts to anything your pelvis does. It attaches to your iliotibial (IT) band, which attaches to your tibia at the bottom of your leg, which is attached to your ankle and your ankle to your foot. That’s the function of it.
One thing that I’ve learned in my career is how to rehab someone from hip replacement. When someone gets a hip replacement, recovery is all about your butt. That’s the muscle that’s going to get that person walking again and stabilize that joint. The program usually involves different stepping motions and creating movement in their foot and their hip and the back to make their glutes work properly.
I use those same functional exercises from physical therapy and tweak them a bit and change the angles up. I’m focused on those bone motions and how they react to the glute. Once you start looking at it like that, there are hundreds of different ways that you can make your butt work, versus the traditional five to ten different exercises.
My favorite staple move—there’s not a single workout that I do that doesn’t involve these—is just a step back. You take one leg, you step it back, and with that leg you plant the ball of your foot to the floor and flex your big toe. Flexing your big toe is the first thing, when you’re moving, that turns on your butt. You get the extension of your ankle because your heel is all the way up. Your knee is fully extended and your hip is fully extended. Your spine is flexed. You’re using four or five joints that all activate the butt. That’s all it is, and then we repeat and change the angle. Changing the angle changes the part of your glute you’re working.
That motion of stepping back is literally what you do every time you run or walk. I’ve found it incredibly effective in lifting the butt more than anything I’ve tried, and I know that because I do it every day with my clients.
A typical class has low- to medium-intensity in cardio, just from constant movement. There are generally no breaks between exercises, so your heart rate is elevated and you are breathing heavily. In my opinion, that’s all you need.
I do a little bit of kickboxing, and running feels great, so I run once in a while. I tell everyone: If you want to do cardio, go out and do some kind of activity or play a sport. Try not to make it too repetitive…tennis, hiking, or even walking is great cardio.
It’s going to be different for everyone, but I always tell my clients to have a goal in mind. Your mind rules everything. You can change everything with your mind. Everyone has different goals. Like me, personally, I want to be incredibly strong and look a certain way.
So I create that vision for myself, and I have for more than a decade. I ask my clients how they want to feel, and what results they want to see both in and outside of the gym. Use it to keep you going, to find your perfect time to work out, whether it’s at night or in the morning or on your lunch break. It’s about finding those perfect conditions where you’re going to go all in for thirty to sixty minutes and crush this workout.
You get what you give. This workout is all about the mind-body connection and understanding what you’re doing when you’re moving. Ultimately, what the workout does is build the connection between your muscles and your brain. And in doing that, we create mobility in the joints and strength in the muscles, so you can take the work into whatever it is you love to do.
Trainer and p.volve founder Stephen Pasterino works to incorporate physical therapy and rehabilitation movements into exercise to help clients develop long, lean muscle tone and eliminate bulk. His proprietary exercises and fitness equipment are the foundation of his NYC-based personal training practice and studio, which he’s been building since 2012. And now, you can stream p.volve workouts anywhere.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies. They are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop. This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.