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Squats for Glutes, Not Quads: Target the Butt Instead of Legs

December 26, 2023

Squats for Glutes, Not Quads By Robor Fitness

The squat, a cornerstone of lower body workouts, is a versatile exercise that can be tailored to meet a variety of goals. It's especially true when it comes to squats for glutes, not quads, where the focus is on building the backside rather than the front of the legs. This powerhouse exercise has been a staple in workout programs for decades, effectively targeting the quads, glutes, calves, core, and back.

But what if you aim to enhance your glutes without further developing your quads? The good news is squats can still be a part of your routine. By adjusting your form or choosing specific variations, you can shift the emphasis from the quads to the glutes.

Today, we will explore how you can perform squats for the glutes, not the quads. Whether you're satisfied with your quad size or just looking to grow your glutes, we've got you covered with strategies and variations tailored to your goals.

Keep reading to discover how to make squats work for you, targeting those glutes for your desired gains.


Muscle Anatomy and Role

Before we start, it's crucial to grasp the distinct roles of the glutes and quads. Understanding their functions, and the muscle mechanics is key to determining why certain exercises are more effective for targeting each muscle group.

Getting to grips with the movements the glutes are responsible for allows us to select exercises that mimic these movements. By doing so, we can incorporate them into our training routines to specifically target and grow the glutes. It's about fine-tuning your workout to focus on your desired outcomes.

Similarly, by learning the movements the quads are responsible for, we can consciously avoid or modify these movements. This approach helps minimize quad activation when our goal is to focus on the glutes. It’s a strategic way to train smarter, not just harder.

So, let's dive into the anatomy and role of each muscle group, setting the stage for a workout that truly targets the glutes, ensuring your efforts align perfectly with your fitness goals.


Glute Anatomy and Role

Glute anatomy diagram


The glutes, a fundamental muscle group in lower body strength, comprise three distinct muscles, each playing a unique role in our movement.

The largest of these is the gluteus maximus. This muscle is the primary architect of the butt's shape and is responsible for hip extension. This means increasing the angle between your thigh and hip, a crucial movement in many lower body exercises.

Next is the gluteus medius, the second largest muscle, situated above and to the side of the glutes. Its main functions are hip abduction (moving the leg away from the body's center line) and controlling both internal and external rotation of the hip (like turning your foot inwards or outwards).

The smallest, yet significant, is the gluteus minimus. Located beneath the medius, it works in concert with the medius to assist in hip abduction and internal/external rotation. These movements are vital for stabilizing the hip and pelvis during activities, especially those involving lifting or rotating the leg.

Together, these muscles contribute to the aesthetics of a well-defined backside and play a crucial role in our overall posture, stability, and lower body strength. Engaging and strengthening these muscles not only improves aesthetics but will improve performance in various physical activities and reduce the risk of lower back and knee injuries.


Quad Anatomy and Role

Quadricep anatomy

Image received from Cleveland Clinic

As the name suggests, the quadriceps, or 'quads,' consist of four distinct muscles. These muscles are key players in lower body strength and movement, making them a focal point in many leg exercises.

Three of these four muscles—vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius—originate at the hip joint and extend across the knee joint. Their primary role is knee extension, which means they are crucial in straightening the leg. This action is fundamental in exercises like squats, lunges, and leg presses.

The fourth muscle, the rectus femoris, is unique in its function. Unlike the other three, it crosses not only the knee joint but also the hip joint. This dual connection enables it to be involved in knee extension and hip flexion. Hip flexion refers to the action of reducing the angle between the thigh and the hip, an essential movement in activities like running and jumping.

The quads are not just about power; they play a pivotal role in stabilizing the knee joint. During exercises that involve bending and straightening the knee, such as squats, the quads keep the knee aligned and protected. Understanding the anatomy and role of the quads is crucial in designing workouts that target specific areas while maintaining balance and preventing injury.


How to Target The Glutes Instead of the Quads

Now that we've learned about the roles of each muscle, it becomes clearer how to squat for better glute growth rather than quad growth. The key lies in adjusting our movement: we aim to reduce knee flexion while maximizing hip flexion. This strategic shift in how we move our body during the squat is what effectively shifts the emphasis from the quads to the glutes.

Let's look at other ways to give the glutes the preferential treatment. It's about tweaking our squat technique and incorporating specific variations to ensure our glutes receive the bulk of the workload. With these methods, we can optimize our workouts for targeted glute development, ensuring we're working hard and working smart towards our fitness goals.


Opt for a Wide Stance

Wide stance illustration for squatting

As discussed in the previous anatomy section, the gluteus medius is critical in hip abduction. One effective strategy to leverage this during squats is to opt for a wide stance. This stance variation naturally increases hip abduction, engaging the gluteus medius more intensely throughout the squat movement.

Research supports this approach. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a wide stance in squats elicited a higher degree of glute activation than a shoulder-width stance (1). This finding is particularly valuable for those focusing on glute development. By simply widening your stance, you can significantly enhance the engagement of your glute muscles, making your squats more effective in targeting the desired area.


Point the Toes Outwards

Pointing toes outwards illustration to target glutes when squatting

Similarly, the gluteus medius and minimus, known for their role in the external rotation of the hip, are activated when we point our toes outwards. This positioning is key to engaging these muscles more effectively during squats.

Pointing the toes outwards during the squat ensures that the upper glutes are more involved in the exercise. This subtle adjustment in foot positioning can lead to a noticeable increase in upper glute activation, making the squat more effective for targeting and developing the gluteal muscles.


Squeeze the Glutes at the Top

Squeezing the glutes at the top of the squat movement is more than just a good exercise cue; it signals that you've completed the full range of motion. Recall from earlier that hip extension is the primary role of the gluteus maximus, the largest glute muscle. Therefore, our goal should be to maximize this hip extension.

Maximizing hip extension means returning to a fully upright position after the squat rather than stopping short. It's not about overextending the hips but ensuring that each squat is complete and thorough. This practice engages the glutes effectively and contributes to better overall form.

Think about your squat routine: Are you fully extending at the top of each squat to engage your glutes maximally? This simple check-in can significantly affect the effectiveness of your squats for glute development.


Parallel Is Enough

Parallel squats example

Some fitness gurus advocate for "ass to grass" squats, suggesting that deeper is always better. While this approach can be effective for certain goals, it's important to remember that fitness strategies depend on specific objectives. In our case, where the aim is to prioritize the glutes over the quads, there are better strategies than going too deep in the squat.

Going "ass to grass" puts the knee joint into maximum flexion, heavily engaging the quads to extend the knee joint. Since our goal is to reduce knee flexion to focus on the glutes, limiting the squat depth to parallel is more beneficial. Stopping at parallel allows the glutes to work intensively through hip extension while reducing the emphasis on knee extension.

This approach is supported by a 2017 study (2), which found that partial back squats elicited higher EMG activity in the glutes than full squats. While higher glute activation doesn’t automatically translate to more growth, studies (3) have shown a link between the two, suggesting it's beneficial to maximize glute engagement where possible. So, when squatting for glutes, not quads, parallel is enough.


Sit Back

A helpful exercise cue for targeting the glutes during squats is to imagine you're sitting back in a chair. This mental image encourages bending at the knees and driving the hips backward.

Thinking in this way helps shift the focus of the movement. Instead of primarily bending the knees, you're encouraged to hinge at the hips. This adjustment in your squat technique is crucial for reducing knee flexion while increasing hip flexion.

As a result, you'll find yourself engaging the glutes more effectively, as this movement pattern aligns perfectly with their primary role of hip extension. Emphasizing hip bend over knee bend creates the ideal scenario for targeting the glutes rather than the quads. This simple mental cue can significantly transform the effectiveness of your squats in developing the glutes.


Use Glute Activation Exercises

In our modern lifestyle, many of us have jobs that involve sitting down for prolonged periods. This constant state of sitting places the glutes in a lengthened position for hours, which can lead to them becoming weak and inactive. This condition is often called "gluteal amnesia," where the glutes don't activate as efficiently as they should.

When we jump straight into a workout without properly activating and preparing the glutes, there's a high chance that other muscles will compensate. This compensation means that muscles other than the glutes end up doing the work intended for them during exercises like squats.

To counteract this, performing a proper warm-up that specifically targets glute activation is crucial. This warm-up can include exercises like glute bridges, clamshells, resistance band walks, or 5 minutes on the Stairmaster. These exercises get the blood flowing to the glute area, ensuring that when it's time for more demanding exercises, the glutes are primed to engage and handle the workload effectively.

Glute activation exercises article

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Opt For More Glute Focused Variations

The last point to consider in our quest for glute development is the vast array of options beyond the traditional barbell squat. While the classic squat is effective, it's not the only path to building strong glutes. There are countless exercises specifically tailored for glute building, and we've explored these in depth in previous articles.

Moreover, numerous squat variations can help shift the focus from the quads to the glutes. As this article is centered on the theme of squatting, we'll discuss these variations in the next section. These variations are not just alternatives to the traditional squat; they are some of the best squats for glutes, designed to maximize glute engagement and growth while reducing quad dominance.

Stay tuned to discover how these variations can transform your workout and help you achieve the glute development you aim for.


Squat Variations for Glutes

Here are our favorite squat variations specifically designed to target the glutes. Each of these variations modifies the traditional squat in a way that shifts the focus more towards glute activation and development, ensuring that your efforts in the gym translate into the results you desire for your glutes. Let's explore these effective and glute-focused squat variations.


Sumo Squat

The Sumo Squat is a highly effective variation for targeting the glutes, as it emphasizes less knee flexion and more hip flexion compared to the traditional squat. This stance and movement pattern shifts the workload more towards the glutes, making it an ideal exercise for those looking to enhance their glute strength and size.

How to Perform a Sumo Squat:

  1. Begin by standing with your feet wider than hip-width apart, positioning your toes outward at approximately a 45-degree angle. Ensure your hips are also rotated outward, establishing your starting stance.
  2. Initiate the movement by inhaling and pushing your hips backward, bending into a squat. As you lower, maintain a tight core, a straight back, and ensure your knees are aligned with your toes without caving in.
  3. Exhale as you push through your heels and midfoot to return to the starting position. Focus on distributing your weight evenly across your feet to maintain balance and stability.

A sumo squat can be enhanced with resistance for those looking to increase the challenge. Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell while performing the movement adds an extra layer of intensity, further engaging the glutes and contributing to their development.


V Squat

V squat exercise on machine

The V Squat, typically performed on a specialized machine, is a unique variation that utilizes an arced movement pattern. This pattern, resembling the letter 'C' shape, pulls your hips backward as you descend deeper into the squat, much like sitting back into a chair.

This movement pattern encourages greater hip hinging, which leads to more hip flexion and, consequently, increased glute activation — a win for glute-focused training.

How to Perform a V Squat:

  1. Position yourself on the V Squat machine, aligning your feet on the platform with a comfortable stance. The exact position may vary slightly depending on your body proportions and flexibility.
  2. As you begin the squat, focus on moving your hips back like you are about to sit in a chair. This motion will naturally engage your glutes more effectively.
  3. As you reach the bottom of the squat, ensure you're adequately hinging at the hips. This hip hinge is key to maximizing glute activation in this exercise.
  4. Push through your heels to return to the starting position, keeping the movement smooth and controlled.

The V Squat machine is particularly effective for those who struggle with hip hinge movement in traditional squats, as it guides the body through the optimal path for glute engagement.

Note the V Squat is different from the hack squat. We won't side-track you now, but the linked article can help explain the differences. 


Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat Exercise Example


The Bulgarian Split Squat is a unilateral exercise (meaning it focuses on one leg at a time). This aspect of the exercise not only challenges your strength but also significantly recruits the gluteus medius and minimus for balance and stability at the hip joint.

As you lower into the squat, the gluteus maximus is crucial in extending the hip and propelling you back to the starting position.

How to Perform a Bulgarian Split Squat:

  1. Begin by standing a few feet in front of a bench or a sturdy, elevated surface. Extend one foot back and place it on the bench.
  2. Ensure your standing foot is positioned far enough forward so that your knee doesn't extend beyond your toes when you descend.
  3. Lower your body by bending at the hips and knee of the front leg, descending until the thigh is parallel to the floor or as deep as your flexibility allows.
  4. Drive through the front foot's heel to return to the starting position, focusing on using your glutes and thighs.

Bonus Tip: To further activate the glutes, emphasize bending more at the hips throughout the entire range of motion. This adjustment emphasizes the glutes rather than the quads, making the Bulgarian Split Squat an even more effective exercise for building the butt, especially the lower portion.


Low Bar Squat

The Low Bar Squat is a traditional squat variation requiring a different bar placement and body positioning.

In this version, the barbell is positioned lower on the back, just below the shoulder blades, necessitating a more forward lean in the torso to maintain balance. This forward lean ensures that the center of gravity remains over the middle of the foot; otherwise, there's a risk of toppling backward

How to Perform a Low Bar Squat:

  1. Position the barbell lower on your back, just below the shoulder blades. Secure the bar firmly in place with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Unrack the barbell from the squat rack and take a step backward.
  3. As you descend into the squat, lean your torso forward more than you would in a traditional squat. This forward lean is crucial to maintain balance and keep the center of gravity in the right place.
  4. The forward lean places the hips in a deeply flexed position, thereby increasing the workload on the glutes as they work to extend the hips back to the starting position.

This increased glute engagement is exactly what we're aiming for in glute-focused training. The Low Bar Squat effectively shifts some of the focus from the quads to the glutes, making it an excellent choice for those looking to enhance their glute strength and development.


Box Squat

The Box Squat is a straightforward yet highly effective variation for promoting glute growth while minimizing quad development. By incorporating a box or platform, you create a physical guide that ensures consistent squat depth and technique.

How to Perform a Box Squat:

  1. Place a box or platform behind you, at a height that aligns with your thighs being parallel to the floor when in the squat position.
  2. Stand in front of the box with feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out. The box should be close enough that you can sit back on it comfortably at the bottom of your squat.
  3. As you squat down, aim to gently touch the box with your glutes, ensuring you're not dropping down too quickly or with too much force. This controlled movement encourages you to sit back and down rather than just bending at the knees, effectively engaging the glutes.
  4. Upon touching the box, push through your heels to return to the starting position, maintaining a focus on engaging your glutes throughout the movement.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine (4) indicates that glute activation reduces when squatting past parallel, likely due to the decreasing moment arm. Therefore, squatting to parallel – as naturally dictated by the box squat – not only limits quad involvement but also maximizes glute involvement. This makes the Box Squat an ideal exercise for those looking to grow glutes, not legs, as it aligns perfectly with the goal of enhancing glute development while keeping quad growth in check.

Performing the suggested exercises with the correct form is key to maximizing glute growth. If you're unsure of how to perform any of the exercises, we'd suggest hiring a personal trainer who will be able to take you through each exercise step by step. 


The Final Say

With these targeted squat variations, you're well on your way to enhancing your glutes over your quads. Each variation we've discussed offers a unique approach to shift the focus towards glute growth, ensuring your workout aligns with your specific fitness aspirations.

As you integrate these techniques into your routine, remember to explore other equipment and exercises to aid your journey further. For more insights on this, check out our article on the best glute machines at the gym. Combining these squat variations with other effective exercises can create a well-rounded, glute-focused workout regimen.

Embrace the journey of fitness and let these squat variations be a cornerstone of your glute-building strategy. Happy squatting!



  1. Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., & Petrone, N. (2009c). The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 246–250.
  2. Da Silva, J. J., Schöenfeld, B. J., Marchetti, P. N., Pecoraro, S. L., Greve, J. M. D., & Marchetti, P. H. (2017). Muscle activation differs between partial and full back squat exercise with external load equated. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(6), 1688–1693.
  3. Wakahara, T., Fukutani, A., Kawakami, Y., & Yanai, T. (2013). Nonuniform muscle hypertrophy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(11), 2158–2165.
  4. Marchetti, P. H., Da Silva, J. J., Schöenfeld, B. J., Nardi, P. S. M., Pecoraro, S. L., Greve, J. M. D., & Hartigan, E. H. (2016). Muscle Activation Differs between Three Different Knee Joint-Angle Positions during a Maximal Isometric Back Squat Exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016, 1–6.

Thomas D
Thomas D


Thomas is a dedicated fitness enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the gym. As a level 2 qualified gym instructor, he combines his passion for working out and nutrition to help others achieve their fitness goals. Thomas stays up to date with the latest fitness research and follows the work of top experts in the field. With a balance of textbook knowledge and real-life experience, he provides practical guidance to help others reach their full potential.

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