Why Squats Won’t (necessarily) Give You a Butt

In the world of workouts, it’s become redundant…if you want to get glutes, strong, tight powerful glutes, you have to squat.  I don’t disagree. Putting your muscular system under tension by squatting is extraordinarily beneficial, especially for growing your rear; however, haphazard squatting with poor technique diminishes the ability for the glutes to actually do work.  Not only is it possible to squat without really utilizing these muscles it’s possible to increase your squat without ever tapping into your glutes. 

The ability to make a muscle work stems from whether or not a muscle has the ability to activate, and as Americans we have lazy glutes.  Given the sedentary lifestyle our glutes are more frequently used as cushions while we sit at computers for hours on end rather than serving as an extremely powerful muscle in our bodies.  When the glutes become dormant, the body will naturally default to using other muscles during exercises that the glutes should work on and create imbalances around the joint.  During the squat, this imbalance often leads to stress on the lumbar spine, and overly active quads & hip flexors.  While it’s still possible to squat with this form, it will inhibit squats from actually giving you a butt and most likely lead to injury.

Here are 3 simple steps you can use to improve your ability to use your glutes while squatting:

STEP 1: ACTIVATE YOUR CORE

Without a stable base of support, it’s natural for the body to move out of an ideal alignment.  During a squat, the lower back can arch and put tension on the lumbar vertebrae rather than glutes if the muscles of the core are not active.  Not only does this inhibit the glutes ability to do work, it also can be a precursor for nagging lower back injuries.  Prior to squatting, it’s important to get the muscles of your core to fire in order to stabilize the spine and place your trunk is an optimal position.

A warm-up should always include some core activation exercises that translate over into improving your loaded squats. Movements centered on stabilization, anti-extension, anti-rotation and anti-flexion all help create spinal stability and improve glute utilization.  Incorporate deadbug variations, plank variations, dynamic plank movements, and anti-rotation presses early on in your warmup.

 

STEP 2: STRETCH OUT YOUR HIP FLEXORS

Dormant glutes and tight hip flexors go hand-in-hand especially if you’re sitting a majority of the day.  In order to get the glutes to maximally contract, it’s important for the hips to be able to get into full extension.  If the muscles of the hip flexors are shortened on the front side of the body, this task is near impossible. 

Hip flexor mobility should begin with foam rolling or other SMR techniques, which can oftentimes lead to an immediate increase in range of motion.  Following that, dynamic movements encouraging full hip extension should be performed.  Both a half kneeling and runners-lunge position set you up optimally, but as always it’s crucial to ensure the hip is being extended rather than creating an arch through the lower back.   Keep your butt tight and your core engaged to ensure the stretch occurs in the hip flexors.

 

 

STEP 3: ACTIVATE YOUR GLUTES

Like any other muscle in the body, if the glutes aren’t warmed up properly, they won’t function at an optimal capacity during loaded exercises.  It’s easy and quite common to go through the motions of moving the hips without getting glute activation, so it’s important to really apply some focus to these activation exercises.

To get the glutes engaged, it’s important to work through ranges of motion that get to full hip extension without arching the lower back, but since the core is now engaged, this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Right.  Bridging or bird-dogs are a great way to get the glutes engaged and work through an extended hip range of motion and as always create an emphasis on the muscle rather than the joints doing the work.  Another good way to work the outside part of your glutes (the gluteus medius) is with bands.  Lateral steps, squats, or bridging where you’re driving the knees out against resistance can instantly get the outer part of your butt fired up.  

 

APPLY TO YOUR SQUATS

Now it’s time to put this all into play when squatting.  Throughout the duration of a squat focus on maintaining a strong core to keep a long neutral spine and prevent extra movement.  When working though the squat really focus on driving through strong glutes as you ascend to the top of the movement, where the hips are extended.  Don’t think of just squeezing your butt cheeks together once you’re vertical but rather create a resistance, a tension, through the glutes from the bottom of the squat up.

 

 

With the proper movement and muscle activation, squats will undoubtedly lead to the strong glutes that so many lifters strive to attain.