Last updated on January 17th, 2023 at 04:42 pm
We’ve all heard various quotes about squats and a great booty
Basically, if you want a beautiful butt then you gotta squat.
So, what the hell is going on when you squat, but you feel absolutely nothing in your glutes?
The main reason you don’t feel squats in your glutes is due to an incorrect movement pattern. Your aim should be to squat down and back up. However, many people tend to hip-hinge forward when they squat, which takes the stress off the quads and glutes, while placing it more onto the hamstrings. You can also increase glute activation by using a wider stance and ensuring your feet are turned out.
Incorrect Movement Pattern
Truth be told, if you’re not feeling ANY exercise in the target muscles, it’s usually because you’re not performing the movement correctly.
The primary muscle groups you’ll work during squats are your quads and your glutes.
That being said, there are 9 different muscle groups where you should be feeling squats.
However, irrespective of this, when performed correctly you should always feel your butt working during squats.
Something that many trainees do is to turn the squat into some type of hip-hinge movement.
Essentially, rather than actually squatting down and back up again, they tend to bend forward at the hips.
This immediately applies less stress to the glutes and quads.
Plus, if you perform this type of hip-hinge movement you’re more likely to feel squats in your hamstrings.
So, if this sounds like you then it’s time to correct your squat movement pattern.
That being said, when you first start squatting correctly it’s probably going to feel very weird.
In fact, you may even feel as though you’re squatting incorrectly.
But, this is absolutely fine, as long as you’re feeling squats in the target muscles.
You must remember that you’ve potentially been squatting incorrectly for years, so using the correct movement pattern is bound to feel unnatural.
Take the Wall Test
Okay, you should initially practice the correct squatting movement pattern with just your body weight and a wall.
In fact, I would recommend doing this multiple times a day at home, as you’re essentially trying to teach yourself something completely new.
So, it makes sense not to have a heavy load across the back of your shoulders.
Now, when you “hip-hinge squat” (using incorrect form), not only are you taking the stress off your quads and glutes, but it’s likely that you’ll be arching your lower back.
This is extremely dangerous when you squat with heavy loads, and can eventually lead to injury.
So, it’s important to always maintain a neutral lower back throughout the movement.
Pull your hips back slightly, pull your butt in, and squeeze your glutes.
Stand with your back against a wall and ensure there is no gap between the wall and your lower back.
You can now perform a few squats in this position.
You’ll notice that if you’re squatting correctly your butt slides up and down the wall with every single rep.
However, if you’re squatting incorrectly you’ll notice your butt touches the wall as you go down, but comes away from the wall as you come back up.
Your aim is to keep practicing this movement pattern until you can ensure there is no arch in your lower back and your butt stays glued to the wall for every single rep you perform.
3 Tips For Better Squat-Glute Activation
Okay, there are three things you can do immediately to ensure that you feel your butt whenever you squat.
The first thing you need to do is to widen your stance.
There is research which states that glute activation is at its best when your feet are 1.5 to 2 times hip-width.
In fact, as a general rule of thumb, the closer your feet are during squats, the more you activate your quads.
And, of course, the wider your feet are, the more you activate your glutes.
Next, you want to turn your toes out.
You’ll typically hear that your feet should be turned out 10-30 degrees when you squat.
However, the nearer you get to 30 degrees, the more external rotation of the hips you’ll have.
And, guess what?
More external rotation of the hips will activate the glutes to a greater degree.
Finally, you should always be “sitting back” whenever you squat.
Essentially, you’re trying to place your butt into an imaginary chair behind you.
Furthermore, while you sit back ensure your shin angle remains close to vertical.
Basically, the more angled your shins, the more you activate the quads, i.e. greater knee flexion.
But, the more vertical a shin angle you can maintain, the better this is for glute activation.
You’ve no doubt heard of ATG squats (ass-to-grass), which is simply another way of saying, “squat as deep as possible”.
Essentially, you want to get your butt as close to the floor as possible, while maintaining perfect squat movement.
The great thing about really deep squats is that it requires the muscles of the posterior chain to work much harder, i.e. glutes, hamstrings, and even the calves.
So, the fact that you’re not feeling your butt working during squats could simply come down to you not going deep enough.
Therefore, everything else with your squat movement pattern could be perfect, but you’re missing out because you’re not squatting ass-to-grass.
The Best Squat Variation For You Butt
Something else to consider is to use a different variation if you always squat in the same way.
Essentially, if you’re currently not feeling your glutes you need to change things up a little.
Granted, if you follow the tips above this should improve things a great deal.
However, there is a squat variation that is far more effective for hitting the glutes, namely the sumo squat.
Plus, the 3 tips I’ve mentioned above are fairly reminiscent of the sumo squat.
So, you’ll need to employ a wider stance and have your feet turned out more than usual.
In fact, you can turn your feet out to a 45-degree angle.
This immediately increases external rotation of the hips, which of course hits the glutes harder.
Furthermore, you’ll notice that the sumo squat also activates the adductors, abductors, and hamstrings to a greater extent.
Activate Your Glutes Beforehand
The final factor to bring your butt more into play is to activate your glutes before you squat.
Just so you know, your glutes are automatically activated whenever you stand up.
But, herein lies the problem, especially in the modern day and age.
Unfortunately, many of us spend countless hours every single day sitting on our butt.
Whether it’s because you spend all day in front of a computer screen or even driving in your car, we definitely sit more often now than we ever have before.
And unfortunately this can lead to weak and inactive glute muscles.
Essentially, when you really want your glutes to start firing they are still asleep.
This is why you don’t feel your booty working when you squat, and it may eventually lead to injury.
So, it makes a great deal of sense to activate your glutes initially, and then start squatting.
Now, when I talk about “activating your glutes” this is more about the gluteus medius, which is the smaller and less well-known butt muscle.
You can activate the larger gluteus maximus muscle through typical bodyweight glute exercises, e.g. glute bridge, banded lateral side-walk, fire hydrants, etc.
Try a few of these exercises prior to squatting and see if it makes a difference.
However, to really wake up your booty you’ll need to concentrate more on the gluteus medius.
In the following video are 4 exercises, 2 lying down and 2 standing up, which you should realistically perform on a daily basis.
That being said, you only need to perform two of the exercises.
The lying down exercises are more geared towards beginners, whereas the standing variations are for intermediate and advanced lifters.
And the reason to do these exercises daily is to ensure that you fire your glutes up every single day, whether you are squatting or not.
Key Learning Points
- The squat movement pattern should be straight down and back up again.
- Many people lean too far forward when they squat, which takes the stress off the glutes and quads, and places it more onto the hamstrings.
- To increase glute activation employ a wider stance, turn your toes out to the side, and ensure that your shins remain as vertical as possible.
- Squatting “ass-to-grass” will better activate the muscles of the posterior chain.
- The sumo squat is the ideal variation for glute activation.
- You can activate your glutes before you squat with exercises like glute bridges, banded lateral side-walks, fire hydrants, etc.
- You should activate your gluteus medius on a daily basis, especially if you spend much of the day sitting, which leads to weak and inactive glute muscles.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.