Squats for Glutes - Glute Training
About the Author:
Susane Pata is a Life Fitness Global Master Instructor. She designed TRX’s first-ever group fitness program and conducts TRX education courses for fitness pros.
Exercise variety is key when training the glutes, but the squat is definitely a staple. The squat is one of the most effective glute-training exercises. When performed properly it not only targets all of the glute muscles, but also the quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, and calves—as well as the core muscles. You really do get the biggest bang for your buck, and it helps condition all the muscles (when they get stronger) that can help prevent/reduce back and knee pain.
What’s the best squat to start with?
There are many variations to the squat. Start with the most basic squat and work on it until you feel you have nailed the technique before moving to variations. For those new to exercise, or those returning to exercise, start with a body weight squat. It is the smartest and safest starting point and will help in terms of working on execution and on body awareness before adding a load.
How to squat properly
- Start by standing with a tall posture, setting the shoulders down and back, and keeping the feet shoulder width apart. Draw your belly button towards your spine to engage through the core.
- To initiate the squat drop the hips down and back as though you were about to sit in a chair, while keeping your feet flat on the ground and your posture intact.
- Sit back until the hips are about at knee level or the top of the leg is parallel to the floor. This is a good starting depth for the squat. Reduce the range of motion as needed.
- Press your heels into the floor and deliberately squeeze your glutes as you stand back up. At the top of the movement, keep the hips in a neutral position (in other words, do not tuck the pelvis under as this will bring the spine out of alignment). This will be particularly important as you begin to lift a heavier load.
- Knees should stay aligned with the toes (should not buckle in or out) and should not push forward of the toes. If you focus on driving your weight through your heels this will help.
Those last two cues about the heels and the glutes are important in developing glute strength; remember them. Once you have mastered the bodyweight squat, you can add resistance to the movement to challenge yourself some more. Glutes will tend to get stronger, firmer and potentially more shapely—not necessarily bigger. (That’s a whole other discussion and blog series.) But all the while, no matter what the weight, focus on those last two important points.
Smart progression is key
Make sure never to lose technique or form when you add resistance—if you do and can’t quite keep it together, drop the weight to a lesser value. There’s no point in trying to do lots of reps in bad form—you may only be creating more potential for injury rather than preventing or reducing injury. Build slowly and consistently and you will be much happier with the outcome.
Emphasis on the glutes
A popular variation that helps target the glutes a bit more than the quads is when you stand with your feet a bit wider and turn your toes out slightly. In a wider stance squat you will feel more glute activation—even more when you add resistance. In the more narrow stance you will feel a bit more quad activation.
If you’re up for a greater challenge, adding a jump to a squat is an excellent way to target the glutes because of the huge demand placed on them. Start small and build to higher jumps. Later, you can progress to box squat jumps. The Bulgarian Squat (one foot up on a bench behind you) and the Sumo Squat (very, very wide stance with toes turned out to the sides) are also fantastic variations that call on the glute and lower body muscles a little bit differently, ensuring a well-rounded training approach.
Hammer Strength’s Belt Squat
While all of these exercises are great, what happens when certain limitations prevent people from developing true glute and lower body strength that would ultimately help them with injury prevention? For instance, what if someone with low back issues was ready for a greater challenge but cannot load a barbell on their back?
Hammer Strength has created a machine called the Belt Squat. This machine puts all of the load on the hips without putting it onto your spine. It was designed to prevent loading your back with weight, as the weight is tethered to your hips. For an exerciser with an injury or anyone hesitant of loading onto the spine, this machine can help make technically correct and loaded squats possible. It trains you into the proper motion of a squat and has vertical bars for support. It is a great way to progress to a barbell loaded squat or for experienced exercisers to be able to load heavier that what you can achieve due to limitations on what you want to load on a bar on your back. From a performance training perspective, the belt squat offers the ability to achieve significantly higher loads without concern for loading the spine.
As with anything, know your limits and perform the squat version that suits you best. Over time, whatever version you choose will get easier. The trick then is to move out of your comfort zone and onto higher challenges when you are ready. If you can keep progressing with more weight or different versions of the squat, you are well on your way to developing the glute muscles safely and effectively.
Note: This is article two in a four part series on glute training. Article three to follow in the upcoming weeks.