The squat is the ultimate exercise for the lower body. But which range of motion (ROM) is best to use if you specifically want to train your buttocks: half ROM (until the thighs are parallel to the floor) or full ROM (Ass To Grass)? New research provides more clarity.
The study compared full squats to half squats based on the growth of the muscle groups involved. To this end, a group of male strength athletes was split into two: one group trained for 10 weeks with a full squat (140 degrees knee bend and almost all the way to the floor), the other with a parallel squat (90 degrees knee bend and no lower than parallel), with the same training volume. The researchers measured muscle mass using MRI at the beginning and at the end of the training period.
The result? Both training programs resulted in significant muscle growth of the large buttock muscle (the gluteus maximus) – however significantly more with the full squat than with the half squat: 7% versus 2% muscle growth. The researchers also measured the distance the barbell had to travel in both conditions: 88 centimeters for the full squat versus 54 centimeters for the half squat. So there was clearly a larger ROM with the full squat.
An electromyographic study (EMG) was published in 2002, which showed that the full squat activates the large gluteal muscle more than the parallel squat. This is research based on muscle activation and not on the basis of actual muscle growth.
Another EMG study from 2016 found no differences in muscle activation between the different squat forms. However, EMG studies do not always prove to be reliable indicators of muscle growth and/or strength gain. For example, a 2020 biomechanical study found that deep squats are excellent butt builders: they were more than twice as effective for muscle growth of the buttocks as the hip thrust, considered by many coaches to be the ultimate glute exercise. So this was not an EMG study, but actual measurement of muscle growth after a twelve-week training program.
The researchers attribute the results to the large ROM in which the buttocks are stimulated during deep squats, while the ROM of hip thrust is relatively small. The fact that hip thrusts have the highest peak activation of the buttocks, according to several EMG studies, does not appear to be of decisive importance in practice.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose: full squats and hip thrusts are both excellent butt builders either way.
FULL SQUAT NOT FOR EVERYONE
Not everyone can squat full or Ass To Grass (ATG). Do you have trouble keeping your back straight during the squat, especially as you go deeper (parallel or lower)? There is a good chance that your flexibility and (ergo) your mobility are the limiting factors. Here you will find three tips to increase your ROM.
Do you ‘only’ squat parallel? No problem, a parallel squat is a full-fledged squat when you look at the main target muscle, the quadriceps. Parallel is not a full ROM, but you can use more weight. On balance, you train your quads equally hard. If you also want a round butt, do other exercises, such as the hip thrust, cable pull-though and leg press.
DO YOU NEED TO SQUEEZE YOUR GLUTES?
Another frequently asked question is whether you should squeeze your buttocks when you’re upstairs when squatting. There ‘s no need to, according to glute expert Bret Contreras . He has his clients squeeze their buttocks on the hip thrust and 45 degree hyper, but not on the squat.
In theory, squeezing the glutes during squats could increase the risk of injury, although Contreras thinks this risk is greatly exaggerated. As long as you don’t overdo it with squeezing, it’s doable, but the question remains whether it’s of added value, especially if you also do the hip thrust.
You do squats to a minimum parallel. In this way, the target muscle, the quadriceps, receives a full training stimulus. If you go deeper than parallel, you put the gluteus maximus more to work, while the quadriceps are trained equally.
The full squat, Ass To Grass, is one of the best exercises for your butt, next to the hip thrust. Well, full squats demand a lot from your flexibility and mobility; not everyone trains ATG without any problems.
It is not necessary to squeeze your buttocks together when squatting.