For many people, squats are a go-to exercise to build a strong butt.
Squats are an excellent functional movement, meaning they can help make day-to-day movements like bending and lifting easier. What’s more, they’re a great way to build muscle and strength in your lower body.
That said, many people find that squats target their quadriceps (front thighs) more than their glutes. To fix this, it’s important to understand proper form and range of motion, as well as variations that can help you target your glutes more effectively.
This article tells you all you need to know about squats for strong glutes and four exercises you can try.
Squats are an excellent, well-rounded lower body exercise due to the variety of muscles used. The main muscles used during a squat are your quadriceps, glutes (mostly gluteus maximus), hamstrings, calves, abdominal muscles, and spinal erectors (
The degree to which your quads versus your glutes are used largely depends on your stance, anatomy, movement pattern, and range of motion (
For example, driving your knees forward during a squat makes the movement quad-dominated. On the other hand, hinging your hips back into a deep squat makes the movement more glute-dominated (
Squatting is a great lower body exercise that targets your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core muscles.
As mentioned above, glute activation in a squat largely depends on your stance, movement pattern, range of motion, and anatomy. While a traditional squat will activate your glutes to some degree, you can make slight changes to target your glutes even more.
Everyone will have a slightly different squat stance based on their anatomy and what feels comfortable for them.
Adopting a standard stance (feet just outside shoulder width with toes slightly pointed out) externally rotates your hips and allows you to enter a deeper squat for greater glute activation (
You may also benefit from a wider stance (commonly called “sumo” stance), which keeps your hips externally rotated and allows you to lift heavier (
Your foot position will also vary but generally should be somewhere between the extremes of pointing straight forward and pointing out about 45 degrees. Ideally, your feet should be symmetrical (
How deep you can squat is largely based on your body’s range of motion (flexibility, previous injury, etc.) and anatomy (leg vs. torso length) (
For the best glute activation, try to squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. If you can go farther without compromising your form or experiencing discomfort, then you may be able to achieve even greater glute activation (
As you lower into a squat, you want to hinge your hips backward rather than drive your knees forward, which “turns on” your quads instead of your glutes.
To do this, push your butt back as you lower — as if sitting in a chair — and ensure the crease of your hips is lower than your knees at the lowest part of the squat. This will allow you to achieve greater range of motion and activation of your glutes (
Also pay attention to your knee positioning. As you lower and raise, ensure your knees are not driving inward (known as knee valgus). Instead, focus on pushing your knees slightly out, which will target your glutes and reduce the likelihood of knee pain (
Squeezing your glutes
If you’re still having difficulty feeling your glutes, focus on squeezing your glutes as you rise from a squat, which can help increase glute activation (
However, be careful not to thrust your pelvis forward or overextend your hips at the top of your squat, which will compromise your form.
Making small changes in your stance, your foot angle, and the depth of your squat can help promote greater glute activation.
If you’re looking to add some variety to your squat routine, here are four great squat variations to try.
1. Sit-to-stand squat
To get comfortable with squatting and establish good form, you may want to start by perfecting the sit-to-stand squat, also known as a bench or box squat.
What you’ll need: a box or chair at knee height or slightly lower
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your back to a box or chair. Point your toes outward at 45 degrees or less.
- Slowly hinge at your hips, push your butt back, and bend your knees to lower yourself until your butt touches the box (but avoid sitting down completely).
- Push into your heels and squeeze your glutes to return to a standing position. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps.
Focus on slow movement to learn proper form. Once you can perform this move with ease, progress to more advanced squats.
Tip: If you don’t have a box but have access to a low bench (lower than knee height), straddle the bench and complete 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 driving in. If you find it too difficult, remove the resistance band until you can easily perform a bodyweight squat.
What you’ll need: a loop resistance band
- Place a loop resistance band above your knees. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed slightly out, and your hands on your hips or in front of you.
- Hinge at your hips and push your butt back into a sitting position while bending your knees.
- Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor or lower. Hold the position for 1–2 seconds.
- Slowly lift back up into the starting position by pushing into your heels and squeezing your glutes. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
3. Sumo squat
A sumo squat is excellent for targeting your glutes. A wider stance keeps your hips externally rotated to promote greater glute activation.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width, your toes pointed slightly outward, and your hands out in front of you.
- Push your butt back, hinge at your hips, and bend your knees as you lower into a squat. Your knees should drive out to the sides with control.
- Continue to lower yourself as low as you can go without discomfort.
- Return to a standing position by driving into your heels and squeezing your glutes to extend your knees and hips with control. Keep driving your knees outward throughout the movement until you’re back in the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps.
Tip: Once you perfect your form, you can introduce more load/resistance with a loop resistance band, dumbbell, or barbell.
4. Goblet squat
The goblet squat is a fun, effective movement and can help prevent your knees from caving in.
What you’ll need: one dumbbell
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the head of a dumbbell with both hands at your chest, keeping your elbows tucked in.
- Lower into a squat position by hinging at your hips, pushing your butt back, and driving your knees outward. During this movement, keep the dumbbell tucked in tight to your chest and keep your elbows between your knees as you lower. This will help prevent your knees from caving in.
- Return to a standing position by driving your knees out, pushing into your heels, and squeezing your glutes. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
Tip: Keep the weight close to your body and your elbows tucked in for the entire movement.
Incorporating squat variations into your routine can help target your glutes and yield greater results.
Here are some general tips to help you perfect your squat, achieve greater glute activation, and prevent injury (
- Push into your heels. This helps you maintain proper balance and puts greater tension on your glutes.
- Pay attention to your glutes. Mind-body connection can help you focus on using your glutes for better control of the squat movement.
- Keep a straight torso. Avoid bending forward, hunching, or arching your back. Instead, keep a neutral spine by engaging your core.
- Maintain a neutral pelvic tilt. Avoid tucking your pelvis in during the descent of a squat, which can cause lower back injury.
- Align your knees with your toes. As you bend your knees, keep them in line with your toes rather than letting them drive inward.
- Look forward. Avoid looking down, which can put excess strain on your neck.
- Prioritize good form. Before introducing greater load/volume, make sure you can safely perform a proper squat. If your form is compromised, decrease the weight you’re using.
- Start with a warmup. Doing light glute activation exercises before squatting can help “wake up” your glutes.
For the best results, be sure to take your time and focus on proper form before advancing to more difficult squat variations.
Perfecting your squat with proper form will take time but will lead to the greatest results and prevent injury.
Squats are a great lower body exercise that can help build a strong butt and legs.
To maximize your glute gains during a squat, ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart or greater, your toes are pointed outward, and you’re squatting as low as you can without discomfort.
By practicing proper form, you can ensure you’re targeting your glutes effectively and preventing injury. Once you feel comfortable with your squat, try adding more weight or performing variations.
If you haven’t added squats to your workout routine yet, you’ll definitely want to give them a try.