A common complaint I often hear is, “Why Don’t I Feel Squats in My Glutes?”
Firstly, if anyone ever tells you that squats don’t build glutes, ignore them and walk away.
When performed correctly, the squat is probably the greatest lower body exercise.
The glutes happen to be the largest muscle in the lower body (well, in actual fact, the largest muscle in the entire human body).
So, it makes perfect sense that the “greatest lower body exercise” should and will build the “largest muscle in the lower body”.
Check out my following five tips, and it won’t be long before you not only feel your glutes while squatting, but also start to build muscle, strength and endurance.
Why Don’t I Feel Squats in My Glutes
The reasons you don’t feel squats in your glutes vary from having your feet too close together, poor range of motion, or even using the incorrect type of squat for your body type. You can also perform exercises before you squat to activate your glutes, as well as practicing glute activation exercises throughout the day.
1. Incorrect Foot Position
One of the main issues I see when people squat is that they have their feet too close together.
In fact, I would say that many people have their feet in what I would best describe as a deadlift position.
Basically, the feet are approximately hip-width apart and the toes are pointing straight forward.
It’s important to remember that the glutes are responsible for external hip rotation, in fact this is one of their main functions.
So, you can actually help the glutes to accomplish this important task by changing the position of your feet.
The ideal squatting stance will see your feet shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointing slightly out to the sides.
Anywhere between 15-30 degrees is perfect.
If you maintain this foot position while squatting you will definitely activate the glutes far more.
Interestingly, this will also work the inner thighs (adductors) much more too.
So, don’t be surprised if your glutes and adductors are a little sore after squatting with this new technique.
As we’re on the subject of feet, I also want to add that you should push through your heels whenever squatting.
I have a technique that some may consider a little weird, but it works for me.
Whenever I squat, I try to imagine that I’m standing on sand (probably something to do with my dream of living on a tropical island).
As I push from the bottom position of the squat to a standing position, my aim is to push my feet, and especially my heels, as deep into the sand as possible.
Try it, and you’ll soon understand proper glute activation while squatting.
2. Poor Range of Motion
I’ve got to say it’s mainly us guys who typically massacre the squat when it comes to range of motion.
I’m guessing this has a lot to do with the male ego, and aiming to stack the bar with as much weight as possible.
There’s a guy who comes into my gym, who loads the bar with far too much weight, and barely performs a quarter squat.
It pains me to watch.
Whether you perform a squat with a bar, dumbbell, kettlebell, or your own bodyweight, the crease in your hips should be lower than your knees at the bottom of the movement.
Squat depth is a whole other argument in truth, and I could write an entire article around the subject (and I probably will).
However, you will never feel your glutes when you squat if you’re not going low enough.
I suggest that you first practice the squat with your own bodyweight and ensure that you’re going low enough.
Couple that with correct foot position and you’ll open up a whole new world of glute activation just by doing bodyweight squats.
That being said, Alan Thrall has a few things to say about range of motion, squat depth, and whether the crease of your hips should be below your knees.
Your body type will have a say in squat depth.
3. Try a Different Squat
We all know that squats are fantastic, right?
However, we all have slightly different anatomies, so what may be good for one person, may be very bad for another.
And even though squats are great, your body type will have a bearing on the type of squat you would best off performing.
So, the barbell back squat may not be for everyone.
There, I said it.
This is typically why some people complain of sore knees, a sore back, or that they simply feel uncomfortable, even though they appear to be squatting with perfect technique.
However, if you don’t feel your glutes when you squat, then try one of the following options.
The Goblet Squat
I’ve previously spoken of my love for the goblet squat, and it may even be my favourite ever exercise (I’m still undecided, there’s just so much choice).
I honestly think that the goblet squat is the best exercise to learn proper squat technique.
You may wonder why this is important.
Well, the squat happens to be one of the basic movement patterns of the human body, so I feel it’s important that we ALL learn to squat properly.
The goblet squat can be performed with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell, the choice is yours.
One of the greatest things about the goblet squat is in the bottom position you have the opportunity to place your elbows inside your knees.
So, in effect, you can actually push your knees out so they’re pointing in the same direction as your toes – perfect!
Plus, if you follow everything I have mentioned so far, as you push up from the goblet squat you will definitely feel your glutes.
The goblet squat could soon become your new “best friend”.
The Low Bar Squat
Believe it or not, the position of the bar on your back makes a HUGE difference to whether you feel your glutes when you squat,
Most of us typically squat in the high bar position where the barbell rests on our traps.
The low bar squat requires you to rest the bar on your upper deltoids.
Now I know this is only a matter of a few inches, but the difference in where you feel the squat is literally astronomical.
Whenever you squat with a bar on your back the aim is to always have the bar in line with the middle of your feet in the bottom position.
With the high bar squat this will involve your knees going far further forward and maintaining a more upright torso.
This means that the high bar squat tends to neglect the posterior chain, but is a superb quad builder.
However, the low bar squat will require you to push your hips back further and the torso to lean much further forward.
This will activate the posterior chain to a far greater level.
Basically, watch out hams and glutes, the low bar squat is coming to get you.
Check out this awesome video by Alan Thrall which explains in far more detail the difference between high bar and low bar squats.
4. Activate Your Glutes Beforehand
We’ve all heard of pre-exhausting a muscle first.
A prime example of this would be to perform flyes before you bench press.
This way you can really feel the muscles working, as they are somewhat already fatigued.
You can use the same principle with your glutes when squatting, although there’s no need to actually fatigue the muscle.
The aim here is to simply activate the glutes before you actually squat.
Try some unweighted glute bridges, hip thrusts, or glute kickbacks prior to squatting.
By activating the glutes first you tend to really “feel” the muscle as you squat.
Something that I often do is to contract the glutes (just tense your butt muscles) at the top of the squat.
This simply reminds me to concentrate on using the glutes throughout the movement.
5. Activate Your Glutes Throughout the Day
Okay, this may just be another of my weird habits (remember squatting on sand), but once again, it works for me.
I perform butt clenches throughout the day.
Both cheeks at the same time, and left butt cheek then right butt cheek.
I went through many years of never really feeling squats in my glutes.
It wasn’t until I suffered a couple of herniated discs in my lower spine that I realised that I had a huge weakness in my lower posterior chain.
My hamstrings and glutes were as weak as hell.
So, this typically meant that I didn’t feel my glutes firing up during squats as I knew they should.
My glutes were under-active, so I set about fixing this over a period of years.
However, this is still an issue I worry about to this day, and therefore I am constantly activating my glutes throughout the day.
Don’t forget the glutes are the largest muscle in the human body, so in reality they should be getting just as much, if not more, work as the other muscles.
I can now pretty much feel my glutes with all lower body exercises, even the ones that you wouldn’t typically expect to.
I would hazard a guess that a high percentage of us have weak or under active glutes, so try to stimulate them as often as possible.
So, as you can see, there are many reasons why you don’t feel squats in your glutes.
In truth, a few minor changes, such as feet or bar position, or squatting through the full range of motion could make all the difference.
Then again, just concentrating on activating the glutes, whether just before you squat or throughout the day, could be the answer.
Something that I haven’t mentioned is that it may even be that your glutes are far stronger than your quads.
Therefore, the weight that you’re squatting feels quite easy on the glutes, but difficult for the quads.
However, in the vast majority of cases this isn’t true, and our glutes simply haven’t quite caught up with our quads yet.
If you want to take your glute activation and development to the next level, then I have the perfect thing for you.
One of my favourite online coaches, Brian Klepacki, has produced a program based solely around the glutes.
He promises that his workouts will give you a rounder, firmer, stronger butt.
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, the glutes are the key to looking and feeling more athletic, and generally being in great shape.
Discover exactly what I thought of Brian’s program in my Unlock Your Glutes Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.