Why Your Squats Aren’t Working (and the Real Way to Get a Better Behind)

Perhaps this sounds familiar: You go to the gym, grab a barbell, and get to squatting on leg day. And while you’ve been hoping and praying for shapely glutes for months, it seems like your squats just aren’t doing the trick. You’re just about to ready to give the exercise up completely and choose other methods for developing your legs.

If this holds true for you, you’re not alone. Here’s why your squats aren’t working and what you can do to develop strong, powerful glutes.

Squats not working? Your form is probably off

Man in sportswear doing squats at the gym

Man in sportswear doing squats at the gym | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

When done correctly and through their full range of motion, squats are an excellent exercise that can strengthen a variety of muscles. Nia Shanks notes there are two key reasons as to why your squats may not be “working” — and that’s likely because your stance is wrong and you’re not working through the full range of motion. If your stance is too narrow and you’re not getting deep enough into the move, you won’t be working your glutes — and you’ll also probably feel some aching in your knees.

To think about proper squat form, consider that the glutes are responsible for externally rotating the hips. For this reason, your legs have to be in a slightly wider stance than you may be used to, and the toes should be pointed out. While you’re squatting, the knees also need to stay in line with the feet through the entire motion. If you’re allowing your knees to cave in, you’re asking for an injury (or, at best, you’re just not working the right muscles).

When it comes to depth, you probably need to go lower than you have been, too. Many people will stop just shy of working the glutes, putting undue pressure on their knees and hips. Sinking low into the glutes ensures you can press back through them to get to the top of the movement.

The real way to properly squat

Ready to give a proper squat a try? Follow these steps:

Keep feet shoulder-width apart: As stated before, many folks performing squats are keeping their legs too narrow. While there are squat variations designed to work the quads or hamstrings more so than the glutes, if your backside is what you’re looking to shape, then keep the feet about as wide as your shoulders.

Point your toes slightly outward: You don’t need to assume a full sumo position, but allowing your hips to externally rotate slightly puts you in perfect position to better target those glutes.

Lower down all the way: How do you know when you’ve gone far enough into your squat? A good rule of thumb is to make sure the crease in your hips is slightly lower than the tops of your knees. If you’re stopping short of this, you’ll be working the quads instead of the glutes, which isn’t the goal.

Push through the heels to stand back up: Once you’re at the bottom of the move, use your glutes to assist you back up. If you’re leaning too far forward on the toes, you’ll likely work different muscles.

Squat variations to try

woman doing Jump squats

Jump squats | iStock.com

Think you’ve perfected your squat? You may be ready to try a few variations to feel the burn even more.

Jump squats: No extra weight is required with this move. Get into proper squat position, sink down, and jump high, extending the arms below you at the top of the movement. Land with soft knees and repeat. See how many you can do in one minute with good form.

Squat pulses: When you’re at the bottom of your squat, don’t push back to the top right away. Instead, stay at your lowest point and lightly pulse up and down for 30 seconds. If you’re using extra weight here, remember not to round your back during the move or rise up as you’re pulsing, either.

Curtsy squats: If you want to hit your inner thighs, try curtsy squats. Standing with feet hip-width apart, take your right foot behind your left leg as far as you comfortably can and squat down, keeping all the weight in that left front leg. Stand and switch sides, taking your left foot behind your right leg.

Pistol squats: Want a challenge? Assume a normal squat position and extend your left leg straight out in front of you. With all of your weight just in your right leg, squat all the way down to the ground (you can extend your arms out parallel to the floor for balance). Then, stand back up, keeping that left leg super straight and not allowing any part of you to touch the ground. Switch sides.

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