Which Type of Squat Maximizes Glute Activation?

Which type of squat maximizes glute activation? I get asked this question from time to time, and the answer might surprise you. The kneeling squat actually maximizes glute activation.

I’ve never shown a video of this variation on my blog, so I decided to hit the gym today and bust out a few sets. I also decided to throw in some American deadlifts and dynamic effort back extensions (another variation I’ve never shown). Here’s the video:

Kneeling Squat

As you can see, the kneeling squat elicits the highest glute EMG activity out of all squat variations. See the chart below.

Squat Chart

Notice the superior mean and peak activation in the kneeling squat compared to the other variations. I presume that this is due primarily to the greater loading and secondarily to the greater bent knee position which places the hammies under active insufficiency, causing the glutes to do more.

Do I recommend that lifters employ the kneeling squat? No, I don’t. If you’re trying to maximize glute activation, do hip thrusts. See the chart below – notice that all bilateral hip thrust variations elicit greater mean and peak activity than all bilateral squat variations. Now, band hip thrusts aren’t easy to set up, but even straight bar weight blows away the kneeling squat.

Hip Thrust Chart

In other words, don’t choose an awkward (and potentially dangerous) squat variation  just because it elicits higher glute EMG activity. Instead, perform a standing squat variation, which will build your squat better than the kneeling squat and also lead to greater quadriceps activation, along with a hip thrust variation.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that coaches and lifters should possess a large tool-box. Most of the time a coach or lifter sticks to the basic variations that he or she likes best. But from time to time, he or she needs to reach into that toolbox and pull something else out for the job at hand. Is there a place for the kneeling squat? I suppose that it could help retain squat strength during times of rehabbing an ankle injury, but in general I don’t feel like it’s that worthwhile of an exercise. However, it’s worth mentioning that Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell Club had some of his lifters performing these to develop their hip strength.

Perhaps the barbell kneeling squat could be combined with bands sort of like in the video below to elicit even greater levels of glute activation:

American Deadlift

In the video above, you’ll also notice some American deadlifts. The point of this exercise is to practice simultaneous hip extension and posterior pelvic tilt – both of which are actions of the glutes. Think of the American deadlift as a “glute deadlift,” exhibited by a short ROM and the hips pushing forward. In fact, you’ll notice that the bar path actually shifts laterally up top as the hips push the bar forward. This exercise greatly outperforms the traditional RDL in glute activation.

Dynamic Effort Back Extension

I’ve gotten very strong at back extensions over the years, and sometimes I just don’t feel like repping out to failure. I might be able to do 50 pound back extensions for 35 reps and 100 pound back extensions for 25 reps if I really wanted, but the mere thought makes me cringe. Therefore, I started doing them explosively, thinking of getting a big stretch in the hammies down low and a huge glute contraction up top. Notice that the lumbar spine does not hyperextend since the giant glute contraction finishes off hip extension and prevents anterior pelvic tilt (which influences lumbar mechanics). Think of pushing the glutes into the pad and posterior titling slightly at the top of the movement. If you do these right, it’ll feel like a rapid glute contraction that raises the torso. These require some serious glute power!

I typically just take a load that I can do for 20-30 repetitions and do it for 6-10 repetitions as explosively as possible on these.

Hope you enjoyed the article!

jamie-eason

27 Comments

  • andrew says:

    hey Bret,

    Just wondering if you ever tested your broad jump or vertical jump??

    I know you probably don’t train specifically for it, but I’m sure your really strong posterior chain would give you some good scores..

    Andrew

    • will says:

      I would be interested to know Brett’s 40 yard dash time, vertical jump and broad jump. He has such strong glutes you would think he would test pretty well.

    • Bret says:

      Guys, my VJ sucks. Right now it’s probably 25″. However, one time I did jumps for 6 weeks and brought it up to 30″. I’m sure I could get it to 32″ with 6 months of dedicated training, but it’s just not a priority. Can’t remember exactly what my broad jump is…I know it’s better than my VJ. And I haven’t tested my 40 yd or 100 m sprint in ages. Some folks retain their power when training only for strength – I don’t. I have to combine strength and power training in order to be powerful (actually I could probably cut my strength training out completely and just do plyos and sprints and see the most rapid progress in power as the force is there, just not the velocity). Cheers! BC

      • Gregory jimenez says:

        after one training period full of heavy lower body, 20 rep squats, hill sprints, flat sprints, 1000m/1km bodyweight sled drags etc. about 5 years ago stopped training completely except for 1 tinkering/experimental workout per week and went rogue party animal for about 18months, one day I was semi intoxicated with a friend, he jumped something and injured himself, I said ok I looked around and up a slope there was a shopping trolley, I said “watch this” ran up the hill and jumped the shopping trolley. boom , no warm up no preparation.I was shocked after I did it but, when you lay off the heavy stuff the body can convert it to explosive power or something.
        meh anyhow im sure there is scientific explanation.

  • Good stuff here Bret!

    Thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge and experience!

  • Gregory jimenez says:

    Hello Bret ive been thinking about adding two mini bands, one around each leg cinched right up at the groin, and anchored low behind me similar to a pull through, to add to my deadlifts and atlas stone lifts to get more glute activation.
    I can adjust the band tension by moving forward or backward just to add more anteroposterior forces to mainly axial movements, not under max loads but under light, medium loads like when working up to heavy.similar to your kneeling hip thrust video kinda. whats your opinion. thank you!

    • Bret says:

      Greg, give it a try and see if you like it. Many times I come up with great ideas only to find that they don’t pan out in the gym. I know that Louie has some lifters deadlifting with the bands out in front so they have to pull it inwards while raising the bar. Some of the powerlifters at my gym do this too. I’ve tried it and it feels a bit awkward and unnatural.

      Jim Laird did these when rehabbing his back from a car accident, they look badass:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPmCsu0Q3Zg

      • gregoryj says:

        Cool bret I will mention I bought and read, printed out and re-read few times your glute ebook when it came out, really enjoyed it man, printed out its massive like arnolds encyclopedia, I wondered about kneeling squats tried them too, I remember john grimek wrote that sometimes they did Olympic lifts from kneeling position, man the whole strength/conditioning subject is so cool, so many interesting things to experiment with, I will eventually purchase all your scresearch ebooks also,i got hip torque so far really enjoyed it man, anyway cheers dude!

      • chivas says:

        Brett, i was just trying something like this in my room. Do you have emg test on these? Could you do it? Also have you tested emg on a belt squat device like the pit shark?

  • Will Arias says:

    Nothing wrong with offering tributes to different to a given great Nation. However, as human movement doesn’t know about nationalities, i reckon it could be more appropriate to describe exercises by nominating those characteristics that make them not just unique but, also, universally useful.. For instance, how about referring to the last stage of the concentric phase of the DL as “Partial Rack Deadlift” (PRD) to describe the starting strength phase from a tailored cage height rather than “American deadlifts”? in the same way, isn’t “Posterior Tilt Partial Hip Thrust”, or “PTP-Hip-Thrust” probably a more comprehensive name than “American Hip Thrust”… Anyway, its probably a simple semantic opinion but, i can’t help but thinking that , even if it doesn’t sounds to fancy, informative terminology facilitates the communication process and, consequently, it might become more inviting, inclusive and/or integrative any great given idea. Cheers. Will

    • Bret says:

      Hey Will, I actually wrote about this in my glute eBook three years ago and I completely agree. But I didn’t know what to call it – an “RDLWPPTAERHE?” A Romanian deadlift with posterior pelvic tilt at end range hip extension” haha? But I definitely see your point and was kind of trying to be funny when I named it.

  • Jeff says:

    Hey Bret, why are they called American Deadlifts?

    Also I think it is cool that exercises can have country origins as it lets you know who and where it was developed and it gives credit to where credit is do.

  • Jim Nonnemacher says:

    Bret,

    In the chart showing EMG for different squat variations, how would EMG activations change if all variations used the same weight? Would the kneeling squat still elicit the greatest activation?

    • Bret says:

      Jim – great question. They’d change. The kneeling would probably not elicit the greatest activation. However, I tried to be consistent and do 5RM’s for each variation.

  • Marcy says:

    These look a lot friendlier to my aging knees! I may try subbing the American DL for RDLs. Thanks!

  • Missy says:

    I enjoyed the article until I got to the end pic. I suppose you chose the pic at the end because you think that your readers are all men. Maybe consider a more tasteful pic for your entire audience.

    • Bret says:

      Missy – I’ve been blogging since 2009 and I’ve always posted pictures of women in bikinis. I also post pictures of muscular men. Magazines do this as well, as they motivate many people to be more committed to their fitness goals. I don’t intend to offend anyone, but this is just my style. I also swear in my blogposts from time to time. Again, just my style, and hopefully you can get past it. Regards, BC

      • Hillary Coates says:

        Hey Bret,
        I just wanted to say that your information is extremely motivating for me. The photos you post are just an added measure of motivation on top of that. My goal is sexy not athletic or dry text book like musculature so these pictures are just what I need. My butt has never looked this good and my husband can’t keep his hands off of it. Thank you!

  • Colin says:

    Bret

    Are American Deadlifts best done as partials?

    Regards

  • Brandon S. says:

    Would love to see an EMG of Bulgarian SS. Every time I do them my glutes are useless for the next 2-3 days. Great article again Bret!

  • Levanen Aeres says:

    Hello Bret,
    Thanks to you and after 3 years of home working out, I’ve understood some mistakes I’ve made like not lifting enough weight. I’m trying again some new training program on my own, focusing on my real goals like butt shaping. I don’t get it completely on the kneeling squats: is it okay to include this ‘activating glute’ exercise once a week (for example: with a barbell of 20kgs – 2 sets of 10) before exos like walking lunges, glute bridges and american deadlifts?. This would be part of the glutes/abs-day routine.
    Thanx a lot for your advice and excuse my english.

  • Jess says:

    Hi Bret. I’m a little confused about something. I saw an article where you said for a good butt workout do 3 sets of a compound movement like squats or deads lifting heavy for 6 sets, 3 sets of hip thrusts or lunges for 12 reps, and 20 plus reps for kickbacks. My question is can I replace the squat with a lunge because I’m trying to stop squats for a while since I hurt my back. So I would do lunges, hip thrusts, and then the kickbacks, Will this still be as effective even tho lunges aren’t a compound movement? Also should I still do 12 reps or change it to 6? I hope my question makes sense lol

  • Tom says:

    I would like to know in what part of the lift hit peak force… During the eccentric, concentric, or at the lockout? Do you have the graph data for the entire lift so we could see when you hit peak?? This was very interesting, thanks for the data!

  • Jaffery Kong says:

    Hi Bret, can I know where you get your information for the EMG activities in kneeling squat on glutes ? I am a student and are ready to do some research regarding about power training.

  • Brianna says:

    Would the kneeling squat still be considered a stretcher? I’m trying focus on stretchers that limit quad and hamstring activity (at least in comparison to the glutes).

Leave a Reply

SIGN UP FOR THE FREE NEWSLETTER

and receive my FREE Lower Body Progressions eBook!

You have Successfully Subscribed!