Can’t Feel Your Glutes While Squatting? Try These 9 Tips

9 tips to feel your glutes while squatting

The glutes have an important role in the squat but oftentimes lifters struggle to feel their glutes working throughout the movement. 

Although the glutes can be working without us feeling them, there are ways to increase the demand on the glutes by changing our technique and/or trying new squat variations to emphasize the glutes over the quads.

Here are my 9 tips to feel your glutes while squatting:

  1. Activate The Glutes Prior To Squatting
  2. Maintain A Tripod Foot Throughout The Squat
  3. Turn The Toes Outwards 
  4. Maintain A Neutral Pelvis
  5. Maintain Tension In The Bottom Position
  6. Switch To A Low Bar Style Squat
  7. Take A Wider Stance
  8. Drive The Hips Forward Out Of The Hole
  9. Return The Hips To A Stacked Position After Each Rep

In order to make changes and feel the glutes more while squatting, it’s important to understand what the roles of the glutes are in the squat so that we can alter the squat in ways that will challenge them.

In this article I’ll discuss what the glutes do in a squat, provide 9 tips to implement to feel them more, and suggest exercise variations that are more glute-focused.

Struggling to feel your glutes in the hip thrust? Check out our 9 Tips To Help Feel Your Glutes While Hip Thrusting.

Role Of The Glutes In The Squat

During the squat, the glutes are responsible for:

  • Hip Extension
  • Hip Abduction
  • Hip External Rotation

Let’s break down what each of these means.

1. Hip Extension

The primary role of the glutes during the squat is to extend the hips as we come out of the bottom position. 

The hip extensors engage the most at approximately halfway up during the ascent, but are still active at lockout to bring the hips back to a stacked position – in line with the ribs and shoulders.

2. Hip Abduction

The glutes are also involved in hip abduction (the movement of the legs away from the midline), and therefore are more active when we take a wider stance

The hip abductors work to prevent the knees from caving in (i.e. knee valgus) during the squat, which is crucial for maintaining proper movement patterns and maximum force output.

3. Hip External Rotation

The glutes are also responsible for external rotation at the hip (outward rotation of the legs from the hip socket), which is why the glutes are more active when the toes are slightly pointed outwards

Having the toes angled outwards will cause external rotation at the hips, which engages the glutes and makes it easier to feel them while squatting.

To learn more about the muscles used in the squat, check out our Ultimate Guide For The Muscles Used In The Squat.

9 Tips To Feel Your Glutes While Squatting

1. Activate The Glutes Prior To Squatting

we can activate glutes prior to squatting using glute-isolation movements

To help feel the glutes during a squat we can activate them prior to squatting using glute-isolation movements, which will remind us to keep the glutes active and result in better glute engagement during the squat.

Because of their role in stabilizing the pelvis during a squat, it is beneficial to activate the glutes prior to squattin to ensure they are primed to perform. This is best accomplished by using exercises that mimic the squat or are similar in nature. 

For the squat, the best glute activation exercises would involve hip abduction, hip external rotation, and hip extension. 

Examples of movements that would address these motions would be a banded squat (hip abduction), a standing banded clamshell (hip external rotation), and warm up sets to our working weight (hip extension).

To learn more about glute activation for squatting and how to incorporate them in a warm up, check out our article on How To Warm Up For Squats (Stretching, Mobility, Activation).

2. Maintain A Tripod Foot Throughout The Squat

to feel the glutes in a squat make sure that the weight is evenly distributed across the entire foot

To feel the glutes in a squat, we need to make sure that the weight is evenly distributed across the entire foot; if our weight is shifted onto the toes, we will not be in an optimal position to push through the floor and engage the glutes properly.

The tripod foot (even pressure through the big toe, pinky toe, and heel) is an important foundational skill that we must learn to squat the most efficiently, because it teaches us to distribute the weight evenly to properly recruit the muscles of the legs and hips.

If we are not maintaining a tripod foot throughout the squat and our weight is shifting towards our toes, then our heel is likely popping off the ground which severely limits the contribution of the posterior chain (which includes the glutes) from doing their job in the squat.

To feel the glutes as much as possible during the squat, we need to be sure to maintain a tripod foot throughout the squat.

3. Turn The Toes Outwards

turning the toes outwards will help us feel the glutes more in a squat

Turning the toes outwards will help us feel the glutes more in a squat, because the gluteus medius (the side glute muscle) is more active when our legs are externally rotated.

To feel the glutes more in the squat, we should turn our toes out to externally rotate at the hip. This allows us to recruit the glutes more easily, because the primary role for the gluteus medius is external rotation of the hip.

When we rotate our toes outwards, our hips will naturally go into an externally rotated position, but it is important to ensure that the knees are following suit by actively maintaining their position in-line with the toes. 

Once we start to struggle it is common for the knees to want to cave in towards each other which we refer to as “knee valgus”; but it is important to keep the knees out and in-line with the toes throughout the whole movement to ensure that the glutes are staying active, and to avoid injury that could occur from the knees caving in.

4. Maintain A Neutral Pelvis

to feel the glutes while squatting we need to maintain a neutral pelvis, and avoid arching or rounding the lower back

To feel the glutes while squatting we need to maintain a neutral pelvis, and avoid arching or rounding the lower back – if the pelvis is not neutral, then we won’t be able to engage the glutes safely.

If our back is arched, our pelvis will be tilted anteriorly which prevents the glutes from activating. Therefore as we descend into the bottom of the squat and as we lockout at the top of the squat, we want to ensure that the pelvis is in a neutral position so that we can engage the glutes properly.

If our lower back is rounded, our pelvis will be tilted posteriorly – which does allow the glutes to engage, but can be a more dangerous position to be in while we’re loading the spine. 

When we round the lower back under load we’re increasing shear forces on the spine, which can cause injury to surrounding structures of the spine or disc herniations.

To feel the glutes more in the squat, it is best to maintain a neutral pelvis so that we can engage the glutes and be in a strong stable position that reduces the risk of injury.

5. Maintain Tension In The Bottom Position

maintain tension in the bottom position of the squat in order to feel the glutes

It’s important to maintain tension in the bottom position of the squat in order to feel the glutes; if we do not maintain tension, then we will not be in the optimal position to feel the glutes throughout the movement.

If we’re not keeping an adequate amount of tension in the bottom position of a squat, typically we shift our weight forward and the hip flexors can actually pull us into a deeper squat than we want – when this occurs, we are no longer in an optimal position to engage the glutes, and are likely not coming back up out of the squat (if we do, it’s not going to be pretty).

By not keeping the glutes engaged in the bottom position, we will end up in a position where the quads and lower back will try to extend the hips in order to stand back up out of the hole. We do not want this to happen because they are not built for this role, and by allowing these muscles to take over – we increase risk of injury.

Struggling to maintain tension in the bottom of a squat? Check out these 8 Tips To Fix Losing Tension At The Bottom Of A Squat.

6. Switch To A Low Bar Style Squat

switching to a low bar style of squatting will help us feel the glutes more while squatting

Switching to a low bar style of squatting will help us feel the glutes more while squatting because low bar is a squatting style that emphasizes the posterior chain, and therefore will place more emphasis on the glutes compared to the high bar squat.

The low bar squat places more emphasis on the glutes because it requires more effort from the hips due to the lower position of the bar on the back, which results in a more inclined torso and a reduction in knee flexion – compared to the high bar squat.

We can place even more emphasis on the glutes in a low bar style squat, by restricting how far the knees travel forward. If we limit the amount of knee travel that occurs during a squat, we will have to compensate with more range of motion from the hips in order to reach the desired squat depth. In doing so, we place the hips further away from the barbell which will require more effort from the glutes to extend the hips back to a stacked position under the bar.

7. Take A Wider Stance

taking a wider stance can help us to feel the glutes more while squatting

Taking a wider stance can help us to feel the glutes more while squatting, because the glutes are more engaged when the legs are further from the midline due to their role in abduction at the hip.

By widening our stance in the squat we can engage the glutes more than we typically would if we were squatting with a narrower stance, because it is the glute’s responsibility to abduct the legs (bring/keep the legs away from the midline). 

When the legs are further apart, we rely more on our gluteus medius and gluteus minimus to keep the legs in this position under load, and to prevent the knees from caving in – especially as we’re coming up out of the bottom position.

8. Drive The Hips Forward Out Of The Hole

To feel the glutes more in a squat focus on driving the hips forward and up as we extend out of the bottom position

To feel the glutes more in a squat, we can focus on driving the hips forward and up as we extend out of the bottom position, because this places the glutes in a stronger position to extend the hips – rather than letting the lower back take over.

By focusing on driving the hips towards the midline, we can begin extending the hips as soon as possible once the quads have begun their job of extending the knees. This allows the glutes to engage sooner and more forcefully, rather than allowing the lower back to take over and potentially throwing us off balance. 

It can be helpful when we’re coming out of the hole to visualize wedging the hips towards the bar as we start to stand, to ensure that they are extending as soon as possible. 

This will help puts the hips in the strongest position to extend, rather than leaving them too far behind the line of force as we stand – which puts them at a disadvantage and will likely lead to a failed squat or other musculature (that is not designed for the job) to take over to try and finish the squat.

To learn other effective cues for the squat, check out our article on 9 Squat Cues To Improve Technique (And 1 You Should Not Do).

9. Return The Hips To A Stacked Position After Each Rep

return the hips to a stacked position before and after every repetition

To ensure we are in an optimal position to feel the glutes in a squat, we should return the hips to a stacked position before and after every repetition by squeezing the glutes and keeping the core tight.

To fulfill the glutes’ role in the squat, we should finish each repetition by extending the hips back to a neutral position (but not further). This places us in the best position to break at the knees and hips together for the following repetition, which is important to ensure we are balanced throughout the squat and placing ourselves in the best bottom position to utilize the glutes for the rest of the movement.

Squat Variations To Target Your Glutes More

To help us feel our glutes more while squatting, we can try other squat variations that differ from our traditional squatting style to focus on developing strength and power in the posterior chain.

We’ve discussed using the low bar squat as a more glute-focused squat variation, but here are some others that are worth implementing as well.

Partial Squat

the partial squat performs with a high bar or low bar position, but is only a partial range of motion

The partial squat is a squat variation that can be performed with a high bar or low bar position, but is only a partial range of motion – rather than squatting down to full depth. The partial depth helps to activate the glutes more than a traditional squat.

How-To:

  • Set the barbell at shoulder height on the pins of a squat rack
  • Place hands evenly on the bar and walk under to place the bar on the upper or lower traps
  • With the hips stacked under the bar, extend the knees to take the bar off the pins
  • Walk the bar out to clear the pins and take a hip width stance or slightly wider
  • Break at the knees and hips to squat down
  • Descend to a depth that is about halfway between standing and parallel
  • Once the desired depth is achieved, push through the legs to stand back up to a stacked position

The partial squat recruits the glutes more than a traditional squat because we are in a range of motion that relies on hip extension more than knee extension, and therefore the glutes are more active than the quads. This variation can also be loaded heavier than a traditional squat because of the decreased range of motion, which can challenge the glutes more as well.

The partial squat is a great variation to include for those who want to overload their squat and/or lose who struggle with proper hip and ankle mobility. However, it’s important to note that it will not replace traditional squats in a program because partial squatting should not be our movement goal; however, they are a great tool to emphasize the glutes.

High Box Squat

the high box squat involves squatting to a box that is the correct height to allow us to squat parallel or slightly above

The high box squat is a squat variation that involves squatting to a box that is the correct height to allow us to squat parallel or slightly above. By squatting to a higher box we can focus on ranges at which sticking points may occur, and emphasize the use of the posterior chain to extend the hips.

How-To:

  • Set the barbell at shoulder height on the pins of a squat rack
  • Place a box about 2 to 3 paces behind the bar, leaving room to walk out the bar from the pins
  • Place hands evenly on the bar and walk under to place the bar on the upper or lower traps
  • With the hips stacked under the bar, extend the knees to take the bar off the pins
  • Walk the bar out to clear the pins and take a hip width stance or slightly wider roughly 2 to 3 inches in front of the box
  • Break at the hips first to squat down to emphasize pushing the hips backwards towards the box, while keeping the weight balanced throughout the feet
  • The knees should bent slightly but they should be mostly vertical throughout the movement
  • Once the thighs make contact with the box, pause for 1 to 2 seconds, but keep tension in the legs and back (do not relax)
  • Push through the legs to stand and drive the hips forwards to a stacked position under the ribs at lockout
  • On the way up ensure that the hips and shoulders are rising at the same rate
  • Finish every repetition in a stacked position before beginning the next repetition

The high box squat helps to target the glutes more effectively than a traditional squat because the box is placed at a height where the glutes are most active during a squat, and because we are pausing while on the box – we eliminate any bouncing that could occur so that we have to use the posterior chain to stand back up. 

In addition, by keeping the shins more vertical we are loading the hips more than we typically would and therefore require the glutes to extend the hips more forcefully to return to a stacked position.

The high box squat is a great option for those who have a weak posterior chain that causes them to have a prominent sticking point on the way up, that limits their ability to squat heavier weights. This variation is also a great option for those who have knee issues that prevent them from going into a higher amount of knee flexion.

Wide Stance Squats

Wide stance squats involves standing with legs further apart than we typically would while squatting

Wide stance squats are a squat variation that involves standing with legs further apart than we typically would while squatting. A wider stance squat is commonly used for those competing in powerlifting, in order to shorten the range of motion that we need to travel to hit competition depth.

How-To:

  • Set the barbell at shoulder height on the pins of a squat rack
  • Place hands evenly on the bar and walk under to place the bar on the upper or lower traps
  • With the hips stacked under the bar, extend the knees to take the bar off the pins
  • Walk the bar out to clear the pins and take a stance wider than hip width with the toes turned out
  • Break at the knees and hips to squat down
  • Descend to a depth where the hip crease is even with or slightly below the knees
  • Once depth is achieved, push through the legs to stand back up to a stacked position
  • Keep the knees pushed out and in-line with the toes throughout the entire movement
  • Return to a stacked position before and after each repetition

The wide stance squat places more demand on the glutes because when the legs are further apart and the toes are turned out, we are challenging the abductors (gluteus medius/minimus) and the external rotators of the hip (gluteus maximus). Having the legs further apart and the toes turned out will help us to feel the glutes more throughout the squat, but especially on the ascent.

The wide stance squat is a great variation for those who primarily squat with a narrower stance, because it allows them to strengthen the glutes in a way that they would not normally address with their regular squats. This is important because of the glutes’ role in stabilizing the pelvis, which is required when squatting heavier weights.

Wanting to feel the quads more while squatting? Check out my other article for 8 Tips To Feel The Quads While Squatting.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that even if we don’t feel them, the glutes are working while we’re squatting as long as we’re maintaining a neutral pelvis. However, with these technical tweaks and glute-focused variations we can ensure that the glutes are activated to a larger extent while we’re squatting.


About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.