Do More than “Just Squat”

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and some meathead on Facebook advising a lifter to “just squat” when he sees a picture or video of a woman performing a glute exercise he isn’t familiar with. I refer to these meatheads as “just squat” bros. Is their advice sound? Should women discontinue all of their other glute exercises and focus solely on the squat? In this article, I’m going to explain why the “just squat” mantra is horrendous advice for those who are trying to maximize glute development.

Squats are great. But does anyone really "just squat"?

Squats are great. But does anyone really “just squat”?

Before I get started, let me quickly address the squat. Does the squat build the glutes? Absolutely. Should you squat, assuming you can do so comfortably without consistently injuring yourself? Of course. Is “just squatting” the optimal way to maximize glute development? Hell no.

In this article, I’m going to ignore the fact that some bodies aren’t well-suited for squatting. I’m going to ignore the fact that muscles contain functional subdivisions which are preferentially activated via different movements, and I won’t focus on the fact that squats don’t fully activate all the motor units – especially in the upper glute region. I’m not going to focus on the fact that there are three primary mechanisms to muscle growth, whereby some exercises are better-suited for stimulating one mechanism over another. Instead, I’m going to highlight a recent research paper, then I’m going to explore the training methods of the athletes, physique competitors, and fitness models with the best gluteal muscle development.

squats versus hip thrusts

Some exercises produce more tension than others, some more metabolic stress than others, and some more damage than others. Some exercises target different subdivisions than other exercises. One exercise alone cannot maximize the hypertrophic response for any muscle.

Is One Exercise Ever Sufficient for Maximizing Muscle Growth?

Sounds very appealing, right? Quit blasting away on multiple exercises and just focus on a single one. Unfortunately, if something sounds to good to be true, it usually is. Though the “just do one exercise per muscle group” mantra has been championed by dozens of pseudoexperts over the past twenty years in strength & conditioning, there was never a good study that examined this question, so they were free to speculate. That is, until now.

Check out THIS paper, which was just recently published ahead of print in the JSCR. This is a well-conducted study, and the researchers had one group “just squat,” while the other group did a volume matched protocol that included squats, deadlifts, leg press, and lunges. Let me reiterate – volume was matched between groups, so they did the same total number of sets and reps. What did they find?

The variety group experienced better hypertrophic gains than the “just squat” group. This study used the quadriceps for analysis, which always elicit peak activation of over 100% of MVIC (maximum voluntary isometric contraction) during the squat. For hamstring and glute development, I surmise that “just squatting” would be much more lackluster in terms of the hypertrophic adaptations elicited compared to a variety group, since the activation relative to MVC is lower than it is for the quadriceps (see HERE for a report on glute activation in a variety of movements). At any rate, these findings imply that those individuals who advise people to just do one exercise for maximizing the hypertrophy of any muscle are muscle group are erroneous.

Screenshot

Finally, we have a study showing that variety is superior for muscle hypertrophy

If maximum quad growth is the goal, do squats and also do exercises such as front squats, leg press, lunges, and leg extensions. If maximum hammie growth is the goal, do squats and also do exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, back extensions, glute ham raises, Nordic ham curls, kneeling leg curls, lying leg curls, and seated leg curls. If maximum glute growth is the goal, do squats and also do exercises such as hip thrusts, deadlifts, back extensions, lunges, standing cable abduction, and machine seated hip abduction.

Do Real-World Ladies Who Have Transformed Their Glutes “Just Squat”?

I sure don’t know of any. I can tell you that none of my clients or followers who experienced great results just squatted – not Kellie, not Marianne, not Sammie, not Erin, not Nathalia, not Brittany, not Alli, not Casey, not Sasha, not Megan, not Colleen, not Rachel, not Joy, not Sam, not Karli, not Diana, not Angie, not Lizzy, not Katie, not Chelsea, not Anne, not Alicia, not Molly, not Kate, not Kelli, and not any of the numerous other testimonials and before/after pics that you can see ON THIS PAGE.

Now, the squat happens to be the exercise that I perform most in my own training. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been a squatting fiend. However, my personal training methodology isn’t about me – it’s about my clients and their goals. All of my clients do some form of squatting, but squats aren’t usually the centerpiece of the program (keep in mind I train mostly physique clients, not pro athletes or powerlifters). My favorite exercises for female physique clients happen to include the barbell hip thrust, band hip thrust, goblet squat, kettlebell deadlift, back extension, and walking lunge.

Now, you might think this exercise list is absurd if you’re a “just squat” bro. But there’s one glaring problem here – the “just squat” bros never have any evidence of their success in transforming client’s backsides. I take great pride in my testimonials, and I feel that they’re the best in the world for glute transformations.

Guess what? Most of the ladies on my testimonials page credit hip thrusts for the majority of their glute gains, not squats. As a matter of fact, there are a few of them rarely squatted. Blasphemy, you say? The fact of the matter is, there are many great glute exercises out there, and many roads can lead to Rome. As long as you’re hammering a handful of glute exercises , including some that target the flexed-range hip extension ROM, some that target the extended-range hip extension ROM, and at least one that targets hip abduction/external rotation, you’re probably going to experience good results. But you won’t maximize your results by doing just one exercise for glutes. One consistent theme in the numerous testimonials I receive from women is that once they started incorporating more variety, their glute-building rate of progress soared.

P1010195

Do your squats, but make sure to hip thrust too!

I wrote my thoughts on hip thrusts versus squats in a guest post for Eric Cressey, and my verdict is that both should be performed for optimal results. At any rate, variety will always trump a single exercise for hypertrophic gains, and you have plenty of time throughout the week to squat and do other glute exercises. For example, after the client finishes their squats, they can easily throw in a couple of sets of one or more of the following exercises for even better results: American deadlifts, heavy kettlebell swings, band hip thrusts, barbell hip thrusts, cable pull-throughs, single leg hip thrusts, or pendulum quadruped hip extensions. I can’t see how any intelligent human being could argue against this.

Kel

Kellie Davis built her butt with hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts, barbell glute bridges, single leg hip thrusts, back extensions, Bulgarian split squats, reverse hypers, band hip rotations, RKC planks, kettlebell swings…you get the point.

Do Pro Bikini Competitors and Fitness Models “Just Squat” for Glute Development?

No, they don’t. I’ve never heard of one bikini, figure competitor, or fitness model who just squatted – literally never. Every single one of them performs a variety of glute exercises. This is true for Jamie Eason, Vida Guerra, Nathalia Melo, Ashley Kaltwasser, and Michelle Lewin. Each of them employ a variety of gluteal exercises, including squats, RDL’s, hip thrusts, reverse hypers, back extensions, lunges, cable donkey kicks, cable standing hip abduction, and more.

jamie eason glutes

Jamie Eason doesn’t “just squat”

vida guerra glutes

Vida Guerra doesn’t “just squat”

nathalia melo glutes

Nathalia Melo doesn’t “just squat”

ashley kaltwasser glutes

Ashley Kaltwasser doesn’t “just squat”

Michelle Lewin glutes

Michelle Lewin doesn’t “just squat”

You know who else doesn’t “just squat”? The Victoria Secret models. They enjoy their specialized glute workouts consisting of a variety of movements. If the “just squat bros” started training Victoria Secret models, they’d quickly be fired for throwing off their proportions.

Victoria Secret models do dedicated glute workouts with variety

Victoria Secret models do dedicated glute workouts with variety

Do Pro Bodybuilders “Just Squat” for Glute Development? 

No, they don’t. For example, HERE and HERE are videos of Kai Greene training glutes, and HERE is a video of Johnnie Jackson training his posterior chain. You’ll note the Jefferson deadlifts, pendulum quadruped donkey kicks, seated abduction machine, Dimel deadlifts, deadlifts, hip thrusts, back extensions, and glute ham raises.

Kai & Phil don't "just squat"

Kai & Phil don’t “just squat”

Do Elite Powerlifters “Just Squat” for Glute Development?

No, they don’t – and hypertrophy isn’t their primary goal, strength is. Nevertheless, they also deadlift (in concordance with their sport), and the vast majority also perform lower body assistance lifts, such as back extensions, reverse hypers, pull-throughs, Dimel deadlifts, leg presses, and/or swings. HERE and HERE are videos of Pete Rubish doing some accessory glute work for his deadlift. Note the hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, Bulgarian split squats, and heavy back extensions.

Pete Rubish doesn't "just squat"

Pete Rubish doesn’t “just squat”

This tendancy is true for all strength and power athletes. Olympic lifters do squats and front squats, along with clean and snatch variations, and many also do back extensions. Hip thrusts are gaining popularity in the Olympic lifting world, which is difficult considering it’s a sport dictated largely by tradition. Strongmen do squats, along with deadlifts, stone lifts, yoke walks, farmer’s carries, Zercher and good morning movements, sledwork, and more. Some strongmen are adding hip thrusts into their training as well.

Do Brazilian Women “Just Squat” for Glute Development?

The Brazilian women prioritize glute development in their training. If just squatting was the best way to go about building glutes, they’d go down this route. But they don’t just squat – they’ve found that variety expedites results.

HERE is former Ms. Bikini Olympia Nathalia Melo discussing glute training in Brazil. As you’ll see, the squat is just one of the many glute exercises they employ, and they have a very large arsenal of free weight, ankle weight, band, cable, and machine exercises to hit their glutes. In fact, their gyms tend to have separate portions of the gym dedicated to glute training.

If you check out Nathalia’s Instagram, or Gracyanne Barbosa’s Instagram, you’ll note a ton of variety for glute training.

Do NFL Players “Just Squat” for Glute Development? 

No, they don’t. In fact, I don’t know of a single pro strength coach who has his athletes just squat. Every high-level strength coach I know employs a variety of hip and leg strengthening exercises. For example, Arizona Cardinals strength coach Buddy Morris, Carolina Panthers strength coach Joe Kenn, and Cincinnati Bengals strength coach Chip Morton all have their guys do a ton of bilateral and unilateral squat, deadlift, hip thrust, reverse hyper, and back extension variations.

Bert Sorin and I hanging out with legendary strength coach Buddy Morris

Hanging out with legendary strength coach Buddy Morris and Sorinex President Bert Sorin – neither of these guys “just squat”

Conclusion

As you can see, the “just squat” bro is advising you to do something that no bikini competitor, no fitness model, no pro bodybuilder, no elite powerlifter, and no pro athlete actually does. He’s advising you to do something that is refuted by the literature, and he’s recommending something that doesn’t make logical sense.

Moreover, the “just squat” bro typically doesn’t train any clients. If he did, he’d quickly expand his arsenal, as I’ve never seen a successful personal trainer who has his clients just squat for lower body development.

If the “just squat” bro feels that you should prioritize the squat and focus on progressive overload, then this could be very good advice depending on the person. But if this were the case, it would be ideal for him to rephrase his statement as, “that looks like a cool exercise – I recommend that you also do your squats and try to put some more weight on the bar or do another rep or two every couple of weeks.” Unfortunately, the “just squat” bro usually isn’t considerate enough to word his statements tactfully.

Something tells me that if the “just squat” bro were told that he’d be given a million dollars if he added two inches of glute mass to his hips in a month, he’d do more than just squat. Something also tells me that if the “just squat” bro spent a few days reading the literature on metabolic stress in relation to muscle hypertrophy, or if he spent some time studying the regimens of those who successfully achieved glute transformations, he’d recommend to do more than just squat. Finally, something tells me that if the “just squat” bro spent a few months attaining mastery of the various glute exercises he shuns, he’d end up liking them, he’d keep them in his programming, and he’d recommend them to others.

Speaking from personal experience, my glute workouts feel much more complete if when I follow squats or deadlifts up with hip thrusts or high rep back extensions. Squats can get my glutes very sore, and deadlifts can make my glutes feel like they’re going to rip off of the femur, but for a complete workout, you also want to achieve a deep burn in the glutes and attain a glute pump (HERE are some ideas on this topic). The latter goal is best achieved through targeted movements that keep more constant tension on the glutes. If you want your glutes to thrive, do more than just squat. In addition, if you want your hammies to thrive, do more than just squat.

1

Definitely squat! And hip thrust. And deadlift. And lunge. And back extension. And lateral band walk. Hammer the glutes from multiple angles for best results.

32 Comments

  • Danielle says:

    Once again, you nailed it. Thanks Bret!

  • kat says:

    I’ve been lazy with my workouts…. I confess the only exercise I perform regularly it’s the hip thrust (about 3-4 times a week). About once a week, I’ll do one other weighted exercise. Other than that, it’s resistance band exercises (hip thrust, clams, etc). My butt and legs look fit and toned and my hip/butt measurement have increased an inch. I can only imagine how much my butt could grow with a dedicated workout regime with a variety of exercises! But…..I only do hip thrusts and it’s done more for glute development than any other exercise. My favorite exercise 🙂 thank you!

  • Scott says:

    Well Lyle, take your own advice. It seems if you were as confident as you claim, you wouldn’t be posting on Brett’s blog either.

  • Becky says:

    Nice article. I get sick of seeing all the Instagram posts about “just squat” or “do you even squat?” or “she must squat.” If only these people knew about barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts!

    There was a period of time earlier this year where for about 6 weeks I didn’t have access to barbells, so I couldn’t do heavy BB GBs or HTs. I did all kinds of variations of lunges, squats, and step-ups with as heavy a weight as possible and a variety of rep ranges, but I actually LOST 1/2 inch off my glutes! I gained muscle everywhere else. Obviously I’m pretty quad dominant. With access to barbells again, I was able to get back that 1/2 inch with the GBs and HTs.

  • KT says:

    Really fantastic article Bret. I train my clients mostly for rehab and general fitness. I fully agree that variety is essential for good glute development. I would die of boredom if all I did was squats and all I taught my clients was squats! Looking forward to reading more of your stuff! 🙂

  • Chris says:

    Squatting is one of the best movements out there. But there is no end all be all movement.

  • Good stuff, but I think it’s worth making 2 caveats here on the study you reference.

    1. The ‘squats’ were partial box squats, not explosive full squats. This could be the reason the squats didn’t develop the RF and the VM as well, since the RF can be activated better at greater depth and the VM may be better activated with more instability (debatable).

    2. More importantly, there was no significant difference between the groups for total thigh size. The hypertrophy in the varied exercise groups was more uniform, but it wasn’t greater overall as you suggest.

    That said, I completely agree with your conclusion that just squatting isn’t optimal.

    Thoughts?

    • Bret says:

      Menno, wasn’t the partial smith machine box squat just for purposes of testing 1RM? I don’t think that was the squat they used in training. Could be wrong though. Good point about total hypertrophy rather than “more thorough” hypertrophy. I believe that greater results would have been achieved if they used more varying exercises. Squat and lunge are fairly similar in terms of torque-angle curves, and the deadlift isn’t the best quad exercise IMO. I would have liked to have seen high rep leg extensions thrown into the mix, and leg press kept in all the way through (squat versus squat/leg press/leg ext). However, I think that a squat versus squat/hip thrust/back extension would have seen even more marked results if they examined glutes and hammies. At any rate, I’m glad we agree that just squatting isn’t optimal for hypertrophic gains. I suppose we could email Jacob Wilson to find out what squat was used in the study. Good thoughts as usual!

      • Since there was no description of any other squat, I assume this was the only squat used, but I emailed Jacob, because it wasn’t very clear. I’ll keep you posted. For the glutes the result would surely be that squatting only is not optimal either. For the hams there’s no question in my mind. The squat is a good glute exercise, just not a perfect one, but it’s a downright lousy hamstring exercise. That’s exactly what the study on squat EMG activity that I’m publishing now and you saw showed.

        • Bret says:

          Yes, please keep me posted Menno. I agree with your assessment.

          • Ruby says:

            Actually, the conclusion of the study was the complete opposite of what you state. To quote the authors: “b) as long as the training intensity reaches an alleged threshold, muscle hypertrophy is similar REGARDLESS OF THE TRAINING INTENSITY AND EXERCISE VARIATION.” In other words, just squatting resulted in a similar amount of hypertrophy as doing varied exercises. Your thesis may or may not have application to glutes, but this particular study (which isn’t about glutes) does not appear to materially support it.

          • Bret says:

            Ruby, did you look at the full paper and analyze the data? Different region were more thoroughly developed with the variety (though total hypertrophy was similar). I would surmise that if volume wasn’t equated and variety was additive, then it would lead to greater hypertrophy (which is my point…you can handle additional volume in excess of what you get from just squatting).

  • Anna Hurtig says:

    I TOTALLY AGREE, Bret! It’s so important to hit the glutes from different angles. After I started doing that I saw huge improvements in my glutes:) In form and size:))

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Anna, judging from your Instagram pics, it’s pretty obvious that the variety approach is working very well for you! Keep it up.

  • Jan says:

    Great article Bret! I’m one of those people who has a body that isn’t well-suited to squatting. It’s just not an effective exercise for me. The glute bridge and hip thrust, however, work fantastic for me. I’m primarily a runner, and strong glutes are so important in running. If I had to rely on squats, my glutes would be in sorry shape.

  • Jackie says:

    If i were to care about hypertrophy (which I used to) I would do a lot more just squat. However, right now I am at a point where I don’t give a damn about aesthetics, looks or glute hypertrophy. I don’t care about having a nice ass, sexy body etc My goal is to only add weight to the bar because it makes me feel good and feeds my ego and getting stronger gives me more fulfillment than having a nice ass. If I were to train for glute size only (aesthetics and all) I would make the hip thrust my #1 movement. I just don’t give a damn about physique or looks anymore; just want to be as strong as humanly possible and outlift skinny bros at my gym.

  • Gino giles says:

    How do you manage not to drown in your own shallowness?

  • Leo says:

    Bret two questions, How inferior would you consider the barbell glute bridge to be compared to the hip thrust?: How strong should the glute bridge and hip thrust be compared to the deadlift and squat respectively?

    • Bret says:

      With the bb glute bridge, you can often use more load, but the hip thrust involves more ROM. I think the hip thrust is superior for this reason, but how much? The same applies to rack pulls versus deadlifts, and half squats versus full squats. I think you’d get 90% of the hypertrophic gains from the partials than you would their full ROM counterparts. Many would have you believe that the differences would be insanely different, but I don’t agree. Would make for a great study! Most people can glute bridge slightly more than they can hip thrust (not always), hip thrust slightly more than they can deadlift (not always), and deadlift more than they can squat (not always). Good questions!

  • Michael says:

    It took me so long to read this as the pictures are so distracting, valid info though. I have actually recently started to just squat and front squat myself (psuedo-Broz olympic lifting programme, I say programme, I like to squat and olympic lift and do it a lot) as my lower body movements which are likely to fall in more hypertrophic ranges. Snatches and C&J tend not to go above doubles.While I do do some swiss ball leg curls, glute marches and hip thrusts with BW during my warm up (following a bastardised version of Meadows’ advice for smoothing out squats) my glutes have grown hugely in the last 2 months. It may just be the increased volume of work, or my personal leverages, but either way in my experience decreasing variety has resulted in a decent gain in size, more than any other more set programme I have been on.

    • Bret says:

      Michael, there is no doubt that the approach you mentioned can work well, especially for an intensive 2-month period. Even for a full year it can work very well. But in my opinion, if you’re not getting in some high reps, then you’re missing out on some growth stimulus, and if you’re not utilizing variety, you’re missing out on the activation of certain motor motor units. Over the long haul, this makes a big difference. Thanks for the input though, and congrats on your success.

  • Leo says:

    Thanks Bret! So a guy aiming for a 500+lbs dead (current 420) should try to also hp-thrust/dlute bridge over 500 right??

  • Mohamed Fouz says:

    Excellent sir.

  • Adrian diems says:

    Bret, congratulation and thanks for an excellent and extraordinary article, please do not pay attention to the meatheads dispensing advice without any training in the anatomy and the structure of the ‘GLUTEI MUSCLE GROUP” These beautiful muscles must be stimulated from all angles in order to get the hypertrophic response..the meatheads from a plain lie tried to get free all you research and expertise articles in how to develop the glutei muscles…..Bret,,,,bear in mind, you are the Glutei Man….Adrian PD. Glutei is the plural for gluteus.

  • Deborah says:

    Hello Bret, I have just completed my first week of your Gluteal Goddess workout and I feel overjoyed at the activation I am feeling in my glutes- for the first time in years my powerful quads are taking a back seat. I am not a member at a gym and at present I only have a set of variable dumbbells and no barbell. My question is whether in the early stages of training you recommend I need a barbell and weights for the GB and HT exercises? Also I an not sure of what weight ranges I should be beginning at, are there any articles you can please direct me to, to learn about the weight loads? I am so glad I found your book, thank you.

  • Chloe says:

    The basic movement pattern in any power based movement in gymnastics is a hip thruster…we rarely ever squat…

  • Asli says:

    I could even do light squats and my quads would still grow…. so if i mostly did hipthrusts and left the squatting to maybe twice a week (im using your exercises from the book) instead of three of four (Workouts A,B,C)..would that be better for less quad developement and more booty? I dont want my quads to grow any more….i gain muscle quickly and have hypertrophy from my 17 years of training…. (hard for me to lose the muscle as well)…

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