Why Your Butt Looks the Same No Matter How Many Squats You Do
Squatting on the reg and not seeing any results? These training mistakes may be to blame.
You're going after a peach harder than Amy Schumer goes after body-shamers. You squat, and squat, and squat, and still… no glute gains. What gives?
For one, you can't really selectively train one body part. "Squats don't just work the glutes," says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. "They also work your quads, hamstrings, core, hip flexors, and back."
So if you're trying to build your glutes, be prepared for more muscle in your whole lower body. That said, muscle-building results are slow, so some women get discouraged when they don't start seeing booty gainz right away. (BTW, here's Why It's Important to Have a Strong Butt—Besides Looking Good).
"Genetics plays a big role in the shape of your body and anatomy too," says Wickham—but even that doesn't mean you can't develop a round, strong booty with hard, smart work, he says.
The key word here is "smart." There are some common mistakes that might be keeping your glute workout from being as efficient or effective as it could and should be. Below, strength experts share those training mistakes, plus what you can do to fix them.
Your Form Is a C (at Best)
Experts say bad form is probably the #1 reason you're not seeing results. "The squat is one of the best exercises and it has so many benefits... but it has to be done correctly," says Chelsea Axe, D.C., C.S.C.S., a chiropractor and fitness expert for DrAxe.com and Ancient Nutrition.
"The most common mishap I see is people initiating the squat movement by bending their knees instead of hinging their hips backward," says Axe. Think of it like this: When you have a chair behind you, you don't bend at your knees to bring your butt straight down into the chair. You naturally hinge at your hips first to sit back into the chair since it's located behind you. (Related: Squat Therapy Is a Genius Trick for Learning Proper Squat Form)
"This should be the same movement when you're performing a squat," she says. "Hinge your hips backward and think about reaching your butt back behind you." If you initiate the movement with your knees, not only do the muscles on the front side of your body (like your quads) takeover, says Wickham, but you increase your risk for injury. (See more: Guide to Doing a Barbell Back Squat Correctly).
Have a trainer look at your form or record yourself to make sure that your heels are planted, your lower back isn't rounding, your knees aren't caving in, and that you're initiating the squat with a hip hinge. (Heads up: That's just one of the many ways you might be squatting wrong. Here are 6 more, plus how to fix them.)
Your Glute Muscles Aren't Firing
Dead butt syndrome is a fear-mongering phrase, says Wickham. "The glutes aren't actually 'dead' as the phrase implies... if your glutes were dead, you wouldn't be able to stand!" But it is possible that your glutes aren't activating to their full potential. You can thank sedentary modern lifestyles for that. "When you're sitting, your glutes aren't being used. The more you sit, the less you use your glute muscles. This can make it more difficult to activate them during a workout," he explains.
In fact, "it's possible that you're squatting without actually activating your glutes," he says, and if your glutes aren't activating, they're not getting stronger.
Doing glute activation exercises as part of your squat warm-up—or even every morning when you wake up—can help your body relearn how to fire up your rear. "I think body-weight glute bridges are one of the best moves for glute activation if you squeeze your glutes really hard at the top," says Wickham. (As a bonus: also add in these glute activation exercises.)
You're Not Going Heavy Enough
Most women are stronger and able to lift heavier than they realize, says Axe. If you've hit a peach plateau, going up in weight is the best way to bust through it. (Boom: Here's What Actually Happens When Women Lift Heavy)
"Whenever someone stops seeing progress, I have them go really heavy for six weeks because this challenges the muscles and stimulates growth," says Pete McCall, a certified personal trainer, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, and creator of the All About Fitness podcast.
This doesn't mean doing a one-rep max every single day. Instead, Axe recommends doing three to four sets of six to 10 reps, with a rest period of two to three minutes between them, as heavy as possible (AHAP). "You should be going so heavy that you wouldn't be physically capable of performing another rep correctly," says Axe.
You're Not Varying The Tempo
You might be used to doing a simple down-up with each rep, but you can do amazing things by varying your squat tempo or speed. The squat has three phases: eccentric (the downward motion), isometric hold (the pause at the bottom), and concentric (the upward motion). Tempo training involves varying the duration of each of these phases for #gains, says Wickham.
"The eccentric portion of the lift causes the most the micro-breakdown in the muscle tissue because it's when the muscle is under the most tension," explains Wickham. "That means that when it regrows, it grows back thicker, bigger, and stronger." His suggestion: Lower on a count of three to five seconds, pause at the bottom for one to two seconds, then explode back up to standing.
McCall is also a fan of a slow eccentric strength training. "Because the time under tension is long, you will literally feel your muscles shaking after a few slow reps," says McCall. Worth it? No doubt.
Your Squat Lacks Depth
From CrossFit to boot camp, "squat at or below parallel" is a common cue. "This means that at the bottom of the squat, your hip crease is parallel to or below your knees," explains Axe. However, many people don't hit this range of motion, she says.
This can make a big difference in your glute gains: "To really strengthen a muscle group, you need to take the muscles through their entire range of motion," explains Wickham.
There are two main reasons why someone wouldn't be able to squat this deep, according to Axe: You set up with your feet too narrow or have limited hip mobility. The fix: "Try widening your stance so that your heels are shoulder-width apart and toes angled slightly out," says Axe. Then, push your butt back and continuing lowering as far as you can comfortably. If you still can't get low enough, mobility is your issue; start incorporating hip, knee, and ankle mobility drills into your routine. Axe's favorite mobility drills are the runner's lunge and pigeon pose, but there are many effective mobility-boosting drills you can try. (P.S. Ankle mobility could be affecting your ability to squat deeply too.)
Friendly PSA: Full range of motion is important, but form is more so. Only go down as far as you can comfortably without compromising form. (Also try squat therapy, a trick for learning proper squat form.)
You're Only Doing Air Squats or Back Squats
"Results won't come from one exercise alone," says Karena Dawn, a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and co-founder of Tone It Up. To develop a stronger, fuller bum, they say it's important to work the muscles from multiple angles.
"There are so many different squat variations to choose from—back squats, front squats, goblet squats, plié squats, squat jumps, etc.—add these to work the muscles differently," says Katrina Scott, a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and the other founder of Tone It Up. (Try more exercise variations in the 30-Day Squat Challenge.)
You're *Only* Squatting
Squats are great, but they aren't the *only* exercise that can help develop the posterior chain (AKA the muscles on the back of your body). That's why the experts recommend adding glute exercises that aren't just basic squats, too: Try sumo squats, deadlifts, lunges, and banded hip abductions or clams to hit different parts of your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. (Related: 20 Top Trainers Reveal Their Favorite Butt Exercises)
Consider adding hip thrust variations and unilateral exercises to the mix, suggest Esther Avant, ACE-certified personal trainer and certified nutrition coach at Esther Avant Wellness Coaching. "Hip thrusts are known to activate the glutes even better than the squat," she says. Trying banded, body-weight, and weighted variations of the glute-targeting move. (BTW: Here's the difference between the glute bridge and hip thrust).
Unilateral exercises—any exercise that has you work each side individually—will also help strengthen your butt while helping to correct any imbalances between sides. "With unilateral exercises, you'll feel muscle fibers you didn't know you had," says McCall. Plus, movements like the rear elevated (or Bulgarian) split squats, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, reverse lunges, and weighted step-ups get your core involved too.
You're Not Fueling Properly
You can't build buns of steel without a proper diet: "The thought of intentionally eating a caloric surplus can be really scary, but often that's what's necessary to actually put on muscle mass," says Avant. "An additional 100 to 300 calories may be what you need to build strong, muscular glutes without putting on excessive fat."
Pre- and post-workout nutrition matters too. Before your workout, you want to eat and drink enough to power through your workout without eating so much that you can feel it sloshing around or sitting in there. (The worst, amiright?). "If eating closer to your workout, choose easily digestible carbs," says certified sports nutritionist Rachel Fine M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.D.N., owner of To The Pointe Nutrition. "But if you have two to four hours before your workout, eat a balanced meal with complex carbs and protein." (Try one of these snacks before your next workout.)
During exercise, your body uses glycogen stores for energy, so post-workout, you want to replenish those stores by noshing on carbs—which your body breaks down into glycogen, explains says Fine. You also want to consume lean protein, which your muscles need to recover, says Avant. "Aiming for 1g of protein per pound of body-weight per day is a good goal." (BTW, here's what eating the right amount of protein per day actually looks like.)
You're Squatting Too Much, or Not Enough
Squatting adheres to the Goldilocks principle: You don't want to squat too little, and you don't want to squat too much.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but squatting too often can keep you from seeing results—especially if you're squatting heavy. "When working any muscle group, you'll want to give yourself 48 hours of recovery time between lifts. Every time you strength train, you break your muscles down so they can come back stronger," says Dawn. As eager as you might be to grow that booty, you shouldn't be working your glutes hard two days in a row. (See: How Often Should You Lift Heavy?)
"Trying to squat when you're not recovered is like trying to watch video on your phone with only 10 percent energy," agrees McCall. (Try these scientifically proven methods to speed up recovery.)
That said, you also can't squat twice a month and expect booty-popping results. For results, consistency is queen, says Wickham. Aim to hit your glutes at least once or twice a week. (And don't only work your glutes: Doing a disproportionate amount of butt workouts can have some negative effects too.)
Ready to build a booty? Try the hardest butt workout of all time.