These Are the 9 Best Squat Variations to Strengthen and Sculpt Your Butt

Photo: Stocksy/David Prado
On a quest to make some booty gains? One of the best ways to target those glutes is to do several different types of squats, the original butt-sculpting move. You can use squat variations to help the biggest muscles in your body grow stronger and more sculpted.

What are squats?

Put simply, squats are an exercise in which you lower your hips from a standing position, then straighten your knees to stand back up again.

"Squats work your complete lower body, including glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips, and calves, and they also work your abs and core," says Erika Rayman, founder of The DB Method. "They're one of the best functional exercises at building muscle throughout your body, helping your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promoting mobility and balance. Squats also improve the range of motion in your hips and ankles."

Experts In This Article

Basically, squats are one of the most basic but effective strength training exercises around.

Why you should squat regularly

It's super important to work your butt. Because squats benefits aren't just aesthetic. Those glute muscles are responsible for a lot more than you probably realize.

"Your butt as a whole is a major muscle group that powers the body," says trainer Ashley Thompson, who created Build & Burn with her sister. "Not only does working your bum make your backside look great, but it strengthens the entire back side of the legs as well, enabling your legs to power stronger, longer workouts."

And exercising that tush helps to take pressure off of your spine. "High-functioning glutes prevent stress from rotational movements—present in almost all exercise—[from manifesting] as spinal pain," says Dan Cohen, MD, a Mount Sinai spinal surgeon in Miami Beach.

"Not only does working your bum make your backside look great, but it strengthens the entire back side of the legs." —Ashley Thompson

Tips for building a strong and shapely derriere

Glute-targeting squat exercises are the primary way many fitness pros will recommend you work on your backside. However, "to grow your glutes, you don't want to just stick to squats," says Azul Corajoria, a certified health coach and personal trainer. Corajoria explains that the glutes are made up of three major muscles (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) that are responsible for a range of movement, not just bending up and down like in the classic squat. And in order to support that full range of movement (and grow the muscles that power them), you should be working in moves that include "a bridge pattern, hinge pattern, and abduction pattern," as well as a squat pattern. You'll also want to work both legs at a time, one leg at a time, and "train the body in its different planes of motion: frontal (side to side), sagittal (front to back), and transverse (rotational)."

While the squat can't do it all, it sure can do a lot. There's a whole world of different types of squats that you can employ in your fitness routine that will help you work different muscle groups and those different planes of motion.

"Your position changes everything," says Thompson, who notes that by simply switching up where you place your feet, you can work many different areas of your rear.

Pro tip: Make sure you're squeezing your butt when you rise up from any kind of squat.

"Because the general population sits on their butt for hours upon hours a day, the mind-muscle connection to our glutes gets atrophied over time," Corajoria says. "That's why when most people start working on their glutes, they'll say they can't feel them working." So she encourages anyone doing leg exercises to try to mindfully squeeze their butt as much as they can as they work through the movement. "In a squat, for example, I'd instruct my client to squeeze their butt as hard as they can from the bottom of the squat, all the way to the top, and end with a big squeeze once they're standing straight," she says.

Nine different types of squats to try

Ready to get that booty burning? Hold onto your butts: Get out your squatting shoes, and add these nine squat variations for glutes to your workouts.

1. Classic squats

Keep your feet six to eight inches apart, engage your abs, and push your butt back and down a few inches, then come back up. "You'll activate the butt, inner thighs, and lower abdominals," says Thompson.

Watch the video of how to do a squat properly:

2. Sumo squat

Place your feet wider than you would in an OG squat, turn out the toes, and lower and raise. This is true for all squats, but especially in a sumo squat, Corajoria advises that you keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. (Learn which muscles sumo squats work, too!)

Watch the video of a sumo squat:

3. Curtsy squat

Start with your legs six to eight inches apart. Shift your weight to your right leg, then take your left leg and place that toe behind and to the right of your standing leg. Bend your knees and hinge at your hips as if you're going into a curtsy, but make sure to keep your chest upright. You can repeat this on one side and then move to the other, or alternate.

Watch the video of a curtsy squat:

4. Squat jump

Lower yourself down into a regular squat, but on the way up, explode out of your heels and jump vertically in the air as you straighten your legs. On your way down, make sure to land with bended knees, and then do the whole thing again.

Watch the video of a squat jump:

5. Bulgarian split squat

"This challenges balance while also focusing on one leg at a time," says Charlee Atkins, founder of Le Sweat. "As a cyclist, this is my favorite squat variation because it feels good on the quads and allows for a deep stretch through the exercise." To do the Bulgarian split squat, start with your front foot on the ground, rear foot on a bench (with toe pointed or foot flexed), and lower into a deep lunge while keeping the chest up. Return to the starting position by driving up through the front foot and quads.

6. Goblet squat

"If you use an added weight, it allows for stabilization in the upper body, plus it can relieve tension in the lower back," says Atkins. To try this weighted squat, start with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest, sit back through your hips while keeping a flat back. Lower down until the hips are between the knees, without losing the upright chest. Your knees drive out on the way down and back in on the way up. An alternative to the goblet squat is the front squat with a barbell across your shoulders.

7. Squat to calf raise

While you're squeezing your butt on the way up from your squat (you'd better be squeezing!), don't let the move stop just because your knees have straightened out. Instead, at the top of the move, lift your heels off the ground so you come onto your toes. Then, lower back down onto your heels before you move into the next rep.

Watch the video of a squat to calf raise.

8. Elevated front leg split squats

This move is like the front-side mirror version of the Bulgarian Split Squat. Instead of resting your back leg on a surface behind you, place your front foot on an elevated surface in front of you. Then practice squatting up and down while your legs are at different elevations to feel the burn.

9. Banded squats

Before you move into an OG squat, grab a resistance band and slip it over your feet until it's resting above your knees, across the middle of your thighs. As you squat down, you'll feel the band wanting to turn your knees inward—don't let it. Use those quads and butt muscles to keep your knees tracking in the same direction as your toes, which will give your squat some extra oomph.

But what if squats are just... not happening?

Although squats are considered a basic strength-training move, that doesn't mean they're easy. If you find yourself struggling, you have a few options:

  1. Make a modification: Sometimes our ankles don't have the mobility to allow us to get low. If that sounds familiar, try a heel-elevated squat: Place your heels on a raised platform (like a weighted plate) and your toes on the ground. This way you won't be challenging the range of motion in the ankle joint quite so much.
  2. Loosen up with a few stretches first: If proper squat form feels out of reach, you might need to loosen up some tight muscles. Try these five squat-specific stretches during your warm-up.
  3. Build up strength slowly: Maybe it's not flexibility your body lacks, but strength. Start with the wall squat and build from there to progressively challenge your muscles.
  4. Swap squats for another move: Not all bodies are able to squat. And that's okay! You can target similar muscles through several alternative exercises.
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