For many people, squats are a go-to exercise for building strong buttocks. Squats are a great functional movement, which means they can make everyday movements like bending and lifting easier. Plus, they’re a great way to build lower body muscle and strength. That said, many people find that squats target their quadriceps (front of the thighs) more than their glutes. To remedy this, it’s important to understand the shape 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 strong glutes and offers four exercises you can try.
What muscles do traditional squats work?
Squats are a great all-around exercise for the lower body because of the variety of muscles used. The main muscles used during a squat are the quadriceps, the glutes (mainly the gluteus maximus), the hamstrings, the calves, the abdominal muscles and the erectors of the spine. The degree to which the quadriceps are used versus the glutes depends largely 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 the quadriceps. On the other hand, rocking the hips back during a deep squat makes the movement more dominated by the glutes.
How to promote the activation of the gluteal muscles
As we mentioned above, glute activation during a squat largely depends on your stance, movement pattern, range of motion, and anatomy. Although a traditional squat activates your glutes to some extent, you can make slight changes to target your glutes even more.
Each person will have a slightly different squat position depending on their anatomy and what feels comfortable for them. Adopting a standard stance (feet barely shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward) causes the hips to rotate externally and allow 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 externally rotated and allows you to lift heavier loads. The position of your feet can also vary, but it should generally fall between the two extremes of forward facing and outward facing at around 45 degrees. Ideally, your feet should be symmetrical.
The depth of squats largely depends on your body’s range of motion (flexibility, previous injuries, etc.) and your anatomy (length of legs relative to torso). For best glute activation, try squatting until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. If you can go deeper without compromising your form or feeling discomfort, then you can achieve even greater glute activation.
Diagram of the movement
When you lower into a squat, you should swing your hips back rather than pushing your knees forward, which works your quadriceps instead of your glutes. To do this, push your butt back as you lower yourself, as if you were sitting in a chair, and make sure your hip crease is lower than your knees at the lowest point of the squat. This will allow you to get a greater range of motion and activate your glutes.
Also pay attention to the positioning of your knees. When descending and ascending, be careful that your knees do not sink inward (known as knee valgus). Instead, try pushing your knees slightly outward, which targets your glutes and reduces the chance of knee pain.
Contract your glutes
If you still have trouble feeling your glutes, try squeezing them when rising 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 your squat, which will compromise your form.
4 squats for the glutes
If you’re looking to add some variety to your squat routine, here are four great squat variations to try.
1. The sit-to-stand squat
To get familiar with squats and gain good form, you can start by perfecting the sit-to-stand squat, also known as the bench press.
What you need: A box or chair at knee height or slightly lower.
1 Stand with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart with your back to the box or chair. Point your toes outward at 45 degrees or less.
2 Slowly rock 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 contract your glutes to return to a standing position. This corresponds to a repetition.
4 Perform 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Focus on slow movements to learn proper form. Once you can perform this move 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 motion.
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 looped resistance band above your knees. Stand with your feet slightly shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward, and hands on your hips or in front of you.
2 Rotate your hips and bring your butt back to a seated position by bending your knees.
3 Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds.
4 Slowly rise back to starting position pushing through heels and squeezing buttocks together. This corresponds to a repetition.
5 Perform 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
3. Sumo squats
The sumo squat is great for targeting your glutes. A wider stance keeps your hips externally rotated to promote more glute activation.
1 Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward, and hands stretched out in front of you.
2 Push your butt back, rock your hips and bend your knees as you squat. Your knees should move to the sides with control.
3 Continue to lower yourself as low as you can without feeling uncomfortable.
4 Return to a standing position by driving your heels in and squeezing your buttocks to extend your knees and hips with control. Continue pushing your knees outward throughout the 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 looped resistance band, dumbbell, or barbell.
4. Goblet 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 Get into a squat position 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 yourself. This will prevent your knees from sinking.
3 Return to a standing position by bringing your knees out, pushing through your heels and squeezing your glutes. This corresponds to a repetition.
4 Perform 2 or 3 sets 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 tension on your glutes.
2 Pay attention to your glutes. The mind-body connection can help you focus on using your glutes to better control the squat movement.
3 Keep your torso upright. Avoid leaning forward, hunching, or arching your back. Instead, keep a neutral spine by working your core.
4 Maintain a neutral pelvic tilt. Avoid pulling your pelvis in during the descent of a squat, which can cause lower back injury.
5 Align your knees with your toes. When you bend your knees, keep them aligned with your toes rather than pushing them inward.
6 Look forward. Avoid looking down, which can put undue pressure on your neck.
7 Prioritize good form. Before introducing a greater load/volume, make sure you can perform a correct squat safely. 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 “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 buttocks and legs. To maximize your glute gains during a squat, make sure your feet are at least shoulder-width apart, your toes are pointed outward, and you squat as low as possible without getting in the way. By practicing proper form, you can ensure that you effectively target your glutes and avoid injury. Once you feel comfortable with your squat, try adding weight or variations.
If you haven’t yet added squats to your workout routine, you’ll definitely want to give them a try.