For many people, squats are a staple exercise for building strong glutes. Squats are a great functional movement, which means they can make everyday movements like bending over and lifting easier. Plus, they’re a great way to build lower-body muscle and strength. That being said, many people find that squats target the quadriceps (front of the thighs) more than the glutes. To remedy this, it’s important to understand form and range of motion, as well as variations that can help you target your glutes more effectively. This article tells you everything you need to know about squats for glute strengthening and offers you four exercises you can try.
What muscles do traditional squats work?
Squats are a great all-around lower body exercise because of the variety of muscles used. The main muscles used during a squat are the quadriceps, gluteals (primarily gluteus maximus), hamstrings, calves, abdominal muscles, and spinal erectors. The degree to which the quadriceps are used compared to the glutes is highly dependent on position, anatomy, movement pattern, and range of motion. For example, if you bring your knees forward during a squat, the movement is dominated by your quads. On the other hand, rocking the hips back during a deep squat makes the movement more glute-dominated.
How to promote gluteal muscle activation
As we mentioned earlier, glute activation during a squat is highly dependent on your posture, movement pattern, range of motion, and anatomy. Although a traditional squat activates your glutes to a certain degree, you can make small changes to target them even more.
Each person will have a slightly different squat depending on their anatomy and what is comfortable for them. Getting into a standard stance (feet just shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly out) rotates your hips outward and allows you to squat deeper for better glute activation. You may also benefit from a wider stance (commonly known as the “sumo” stance), which keeps your hips in external rotation and allows you to lift heavier loads. The position of the feet can also vary, but generally they should be between the two extremes of facing forward and facing out at around 45 degrees. Ideally, your feet should be symmetrical.
The depth of your squats largely depends on your body’s range of motion (flexibility, previous injuries, etc.) and your anatomy (length of your legs in relation to your torso). For better glute activation, try squatting until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. If you can go deep without compromising your form or feeling discomfort, then you can achieve even greater glute activation.
When you squat, you want to rock your hips back instead of pushing your knees forward, which works your quads instead of your glutes. To do this, push your butt back as you lower yourself, as if you were sitting in a chair, making sure your hip crease is lower than your knees at the bottom of the squat. This will allow you to get a greater range of motion and activate your glutes.
Also pay attention to the position of your knees. As you descend and ascend, be careful that your knees do not sink inward (known as knee valgus). Instead, try to push your knees out slightly, which targets your glutes and reduces the chance of knee pain.
Contract your glutes
If you’re still having trouble feeling your glutes, try squeezing them when you rise from a squat, which can help increase glute activation. However, be careful not to push your pelvis forward or overextend your hips at the top of the squat, which would compromise your form.
4 glute squats
If you’re looking to add some variety to your squat routine, here are four great squat variations to try.
1. The standing squat
To get familiar with the squat and get into good form, you can start by perfecting the standing squat to sit down, also known as the bench press.
What you need: A box or chair that is knee-high or slightly lower.
1 Stand with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart and with your back to the box or chair. Point your toes out at 45 degrees or less.
2 Slowly move your hips, push your butt back, and bend your knees to lower yourself until your butt touches the box (avoid sitting down completely).
3 Push through your heels and squeeze your buttocks to return to a standing position. This corresponds to one repetition.
4 Perform 2 or 3 series of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Focus on slow movements to learn proper form. Once you can perform this movement with ease, move on to more advanced squats.
Tip: If you don’t have a chair but have access to a low bench (lower than knee height), straddle the bench and perform the same movement.
2. Resistance band squat
Using a resistance band can help you externally rotate your hips to further activate your glutes and prevent your knees from sinking. If you find this too difficult, remove the resistance band until you can easily perform a bodyweight squat.
What you need: a loop-shaped resistance band.
1 Place a loop resistance band above your knees. Stand with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out, and hands on hips or in front of you.
2 Rotate your hips and bring your butt back into a sitting position by bending your knees.
3 Continue lowering until your thighs are parallel to the floor or lower. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds.
4 Slowly come back up to the starting position by pushing through your heels and squeezing your buttocks together. This corresponds to one repetition.
5 Perform 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
3. Sumo squats
The sumo squat is excellent for working the glutes. A wider stance keeps the hips in external rotation to promote more glute activation.
1 Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, and hands outstretched in front of you.
2 Push your butt back, rock your hips, and bend your knees as you squat down. Your knees should move out to the sides with control.
3 Continue descending as low as you can without feeling uncomfortable.
4 Return to standing position by pushing heels in and squeezing buttocks to extend knees and hips with control. Continue to push your knees out through the entire movement until you return to the starting position. This represents 1 repetition.
5 Perform 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Tip: Once you’ve perfected your form, you can introduce more load/resistance with a loop resistance band, dumbbell, or barbell.
4. Cup Leg Curl
The goblet squat is a fun and effective move that can help keep your knees from collapsing.
What you need: a dumbbell.
1 Stand with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart. Hold the head of a dumbbell with both hands at chest level, keeping your elbows tucked in.
2 Squat down by rotating your hips, pushing your butt back, and pushing your knees out. During this movement, keep the dumbbell tight against your chest and keep your elbows between your knees as you lower. This will prevent your knees from sinking.
3 Return to standing position by drawing your knees out, pushing through your heels, and squeezing your buttocks. This corresponds to one repetition.
4 Perform 2 or 3 series of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Tip: Keep the weight close to your body and your elbows tucked in throughout the movement.
Tips for doing squats for the glutes
Here are some general tips to help you perfect your squat, activate your glutes more, and avoid injury.
1 Push through your heels. This helps you maintain good balance and put more stress on your glutes.
2 Pay attention to your buttocks. The mind-body connection can help you focus on using your glutes to better control the movement of the squat.
3 Keep your torso straight. Avoid leaning forward, slouching, or arching your back. Instead, maintain a neutral spine by working your core.
4 Maintain a neutral pelvic tilt. Avoid contracting your pelvis during the lowering of a squat, which can cause lower back injury.
5 Align your knees with your toes. When you bend your knees, keep them in line with your toes instead of pushing them in.
6 Look ahead. Avoid looking down, which can put undue pressure on your neck.
7 Prioritize good form. Before introducing a higher load/volume, make sure you can safely perform a correct squat. If your form is compromised, decrease the weight you use.
8 Start with a warm-up. Doing light glute activation exercises before doing squats can help to “wake up” your glutes.
For best results, take your time and focus on proper form before moving on to more difficult squat variations.
Squats are a great lower body exercise that can help build strong glutes and legs. To maximize your glute gains during a squat, make sure your feet are at least shoulder-width apart, toes are pointed out, and you squat as low as possible out of the way. By practicing proper form, you can ensure that you effectively target your glutes and avoid injury. Once you’re comfortable with your squat, try adding weight or variations.
If you haven’t already added squats to your exercise routine, you’ll definitely want to give them a try.
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