Squats are one of the best movements you can do to build strength in your lower body, and it’s a movement you do almost every day. Think about how many times each day you squat down to pick something up. Without a strong and powerful lower body, thrusting yourself back up is harder and the risk of injury is higher, especially if you’re lifting a heavy object. That’s why squats are such a functional exercise and one that belongs in every strength training routine.
Squats are also a popular exercise people do to strengthen and define their glutes. When you squat, you engage your gluteal muscles to varying degrees, depending on the form you use, how deep you go, and the type of squat you do. If you’re not getting the definition you’d like from doing squats, make these subtle tweaks to the exercise for more glute worthy results. By doing so, you’ll be rewarded with stronger, rounder, and more defined glutes.
If you’re trying to build your booty, partial squats won’t cut it. By increasing the depth of your squats, you recruit your glute muscles more than if you go only part of the way down. A small study found that glute activation increases when you squat below 90 degrees, the point at which your thighs are parallel to the floor. However, one study also found that you don’t activate your glutes that much more when you squat to 40 degrees as opposed to 90 degrees. It’s when you get past the 90-degree mark that you supercharge glute activation. Once you can do a deeper squat safely, with good form, going deeper will help you build a stronger, more defined booty.
As frustrating as it is, studies sometimes contradict one another. A 2017 study compared muscle activation with varying squat depths and didn’t find significant differences in gluteus maximus activation with different depths. So, you may not get more glute activation by taking squats lower. Yet, most experts believe that using a greater range-of-motion, which you do when you squat deeper, is favorable for muscle hypertrophy. Muscle activation, as measured by EMG, doesn’t always tell the full story. If you’re trying to hypertrophy your gluteus maximus, include some full depth and deep squats in your routine.
Widen Your Stance
When you do a squat, the standard practice is to place your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart. However, you can target your glutes more by widening your stance. In one study, researchers tested three squat widths: shoulder-width foot placement, 150% of shoulder-width, and 200% of shoulder-width. Participants performed the squats using a resistance of 70% of their one-rep max.
The results? The wider squat stances activated the gluteus maximus muscle more than shoulder-width placement. When you do narrow-width squats, it activates your vastus lateralis muscle in your outer thigh more, but if you want more glute action, widen your foot placement, and feel those glutes burn.
Do One-Legged Squats
Unilateral squats, squatting with one leg is more challenging since it requires greater balance skills, but doing this squat variation, even if you lighten up on the weights, activates your glutes and hamstrings more than the more stable positioning of a standard squat.
One study found that females who did single-leg squats activated their gluteus medius muscles more than when they did a standard squat. The gluteus medius is a smaller glute muscle that helps stabilize your hips, so you maintain balance. Few exercises target these muscles, and when they’re strong, it improves your biomechanics by stabilizing your torso.
However, don’t depend only on one-legged squats to work your glutes, as you can’t use as much resistance when you’re squatting on one leg. When you do standard squats, you can handle more weight and that helps maximize strength gains. But you can jump start glute growth by including some one-legged squats in your routine. Don’t forget to work both sides!
Try Sumo Squats
We talked about how a wider stance targets the glutes more. Sumo squats are a variation where you place your feet wider than a standard squat and turn your toes outward. When you squat from this stance, it activates your glutes and the muscles in your inner thighs more. This is also the variation to do if your inner thighs need more work since it’s superior for targeting the inner thigh muscles.
When you do sumo squats, keep your heels firmly on the floor, and don’t let your knees turn inward. Start with a lighter weight to master the form before going heavier. If your knees are falling in when you a sumo squat, it’s a sign that you may have tight hips or a sign that your glutes are too weak and need some work. Include other glute-strengthening exercises in your routine too, such as hip thrusts and glute bridges that isolate the glutes.
Do a Variety of Squat Variations
Wide stance and deeper squats may emphasize your bottom line more, but you’ll make the biggest gains if you vary the type of squats you do. It’s helpful to challenge your glutes with various types of squats because each place a slightly different stimulus on your gluteus maximus and the two smaller muscles that make up your backside. So, don’t get into a squat rut; shake things up with variety. You can even include squat jumps in your routine to boost your heart rate more.
Don’t ONLY Do Squats
Squats are an excellent movement for building functional strength in the lower body and for building muscle, but unless you do these variations, they’re a more quad-focused exercise. Even if you do these variations, don’t depend only on squats to give you powerful glute definition. Include exercises like clams, glute bridges, hip thrusts, and lunges to round out your workout. All these exercises activate your glutes and do it in a manner that’s different from squats.
The Bottom Line
Keep working your glutes with exercises like squats and be sure to include these glute-focused variations in your workouts for more booty gains. Keep at it and be patient too. It takes time to build a stronger, rounder backside.
- J Appl Biomech. 2016 Feb;32(1):16-22. doi: 10.1123/jab.2015-0113. Epub 2015 Aug 6.
- Fitness RX. “A Better Butt Squat” June 2014.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S85-S94. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002617.
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