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Basic isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it comes to working out. Basic bodyweight exercises are a great way to tone—and what could be more basic than squats? Plus, since they don’t require any equipment, you can do them pretty much anywhere, like in a tiny NYC apartment while watching TV. With the addition of some equipment, you can up the intensity to progress your workouts and keep building your glute muscles.
To find out just how well squats really work, we reached out to personal trainers Sarah Rector and Erika Rayman. Keep scrolling for their suggestions on how often to do the exercise, which common mistakes to avoid, and exactly which muscles work when it’s done correctly.
Meet the Expert
- Personal trainer Erika Rayman is a bum-building specialist, offering workouts through her website, The DB Method. Build your butt in the comfort of your own home with her online workout programs.
- Sarah Rector is a personal trainer who offers online fitness classes with dance or low-impact movements in mind. Find her at The SLR Life.
Do Squats Really Help Your Butt?
In a word, yes. “Squats help with strengthening the muscles as well as toning the hamstrings and glutes,” says Rector. “It’s like anything: The more regularly you do squats, the more results you will see.”
Rayman adds, “If done correctly and targeting the right muscle groups, they should tone, tighten, and lift your bum.” The result: your perky shape.
The Best Squats For Building Your Butt
There are several types of squats, each with their own perks. According to our experts, some are better than others for activating and building your glutes. Here are the best:
- Basic Squat: You can perform basic squats with your body weight or hold some dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides. The lower you go, the more you will activate your glutes. Your legs will also benefit from this exercise.
- Plié Squat: Also known as the sumo squat, this wide-stance squat can be performed with your body weight, a dumbbell, or a kettlebell. You'll feel your glutes activate, especially when you drop down low. As a bonus, you'll also build strength in your entire legs, abs, and hip flexors.
- Goblet Squat: For this squat, you'll hold a dumbbell or kettlebell near your chest as you squat. This will work your glutes as well as your quadriceps, hip flexors, and hamstrings.
- Bulgarian Split Squats: This one-legged squat will help you focus on one side of your body at a time, really allowing you to squeeze the glute muscle. You can use your body weight or hold a weight in one or both hands. You'll also feel this movement in your quadriceps, with some additional activation of your core, hamstrings, and calves.
- Overhead Squat: Holding a weight overhead will add a significant challenge to your glutes and core muscles. Keep this movement slow and controlled, pausing at the bottom to activate your glutes. You'll also strengthen your hip flexors, quadriceps, and entire upper body with this exercise.
- Jump Squats: this plyometric movement will recruit all of the muscles in your glutes, legs, and core. It is a great squat to finish off your workout, really exhausting the muscle for better results. Advanced lifters can hold a weight in their hands, but this movement is very effective with just your body weight.
How Often Should You Do Squats?
Rector recommends introducing squats into your daily routine by starting with 20 a day and then gradually increasing. “I’m all about less is more at the beginning,” she says. “Going in too hard (too many) can scare you away. Maybe doing fewer squats but more often works best for you. Everyone is different in terms of our bodies, fitness goals, and our mentality, so find and stick to a squat routine that works best for you.”
When you start adding extra weight to your workouts, try doing between eight to 10 repetitions challenging enough to make you work for the last couple of reps. Once you can easily perform 10 repetitions with your weight of choice, it's time to increase the weight. Continuing to challenge your muscles may be the best way to progress. If you don't have a heavier weight, try slowing down the movement or adding a few more reps instead.
Rest for 24 to 48 hours between squat workouts to allow enough time for your muscles to recover. Rest and recovery are vital for building muscle fibers, which lead to growth—and a bigger butt.
What’s the Correct Way to Do Squats?
“When you think about the actual squat motion, it’s like sitting down on a chair and getting back up off a chair,” explains Rector. She also suggests following these rules:
- Don’t place your knees over your toes as you bend into the squat.
- Don’t just tilt the body forward with minimal knee bend.
- Don’t just stick your butt (glutes) out.
- Don’t arch your back.
- Don’t keep your head down.
What Kind of Equipment Is Great for Squats?
Over time, adding equipment to your squats such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and loop (ankle) bands will increase the resistance and thus the level of squat difficulty. In order to progress your workouts and keep building muscle and strength, you will need to add resistance—also called progressive overload. So be sure to choose the equipment that is best for you.
Kettlebells are fun to add for resistance because they are so versatile and get your core involved. Try using this one for plie squats, goblet squats, or holding in one hand while performing Bulgarian split squats.
These rubber encased hex dumbbells are soft enough not to damage your floors, and the shape prevents them from rolling away. Try them for basic squats, overhead squats, and Bulgarian split squats.
Loop bands are perfect for adding an extra challenge to your squat workout. These pretty bands come in three different resistance levels, so you can keep challenging yourself as you get stronger.
Cleveland Clinic. Strenuous workouts: try these 6 best recovery tips. Updated April 10, 2018.
Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015;3(8):e12472. doi:10.14814/phy2.12472