Shape a nice butt with wide squats! This exercise is the best and quickest way to build sexy, toned lower body muscles that will turn heads. The wide stance activates your butt muscles better than narrow or medium-width stances.
Personal trainers and strength coaches often tell women that a shoulder-width squat position is optimal for targeting the glutes and quads. This advice is based more on traditional practices and urban legends than scientific fact. A shoulder-width stance makes it harder to engage your hips during the squat. As a result, you’re rocking forward on your toes, taking a lot of the load onto your back and quads, which can cause pain in your knees, back, and neck. Increasing the stance width increases the load on the gluteus maximus and allows you to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
A sophisticated, scientific study was conducted by Antonio Paoli and colleagues at the University of Padua in Italy using a technique called electromyography. Wide-stance squats were found to activate the gluteus maximus muscles better than narrower positions. They measured muscle activation in eight thigh and hip muscles during a narrow stance (feet placed hip-width apart), a moderately wide stance (150 percent hip width), and a wide stance (200 percent hip width). With the exception of greater gluteus maximus activation during wide stance, stance width did not affect muscle activation levels in the thighs or hips. The wider stance engages the glutes without sacrificing muscle overload in other leg and hip muscles.
The gluteus maximus is the strongest in the body. It’s central to a curvy, sensual body and absolutely necessary for powerful movements like leaps and sprints. This study showed that wide-stance squats are best for activating all the muscles in your thighs and hips. This technique also protects your spine and knees as you squat and develops balanced muscle strength that prevents debilitating knee injuries that are so common in athletic women.
Wide stand squats build strong glutes and hamstrings
Shapely glutes are critical to functional fitness — the ability to move your body well during normal activities. Strong glutes encourage powerful movements on the tennis court, the ski slope, or the hiking trail. They relieve the strain on fragile spinal muscles and knee joints, so you experience less back and knee pain. They make it easy to carry bags of groceries up the stairs or lug a heavy backpack to school. Strong, fit lower body muscles give you form and function, so you look fit and move effortlessly and fluidly.
Most women overuse their hamstrings (quadriceps) and underuse their posterior muscles (ie, glutes and hamstrings) when performing lower-body exercises like squats or playing basketball, volleyball, or soccer. This puts undue stress on your knees and lower back muscles. For movements like jumping and cutting, many people bend in the back instead of the hips. Learning to properly engage the hips during lower-body exercises like squats is key to building injury-free lower-body muscle strength and power.
Women with weak and inactive glutes put more stress on the spine because they use the back muscles instead of the hip muscles to generate power when sitting, twisting, walking, and throwing. Poor glute control while walking and running reduces stability of the lower spine (ie, the sacroiliac and lumbar vertebrae), which increases the risk of back pain. Building and learning to use the glutes will lead to more powerful movements and prevent back injuries. The wider stance during the squat makes it easier to engage and build the glutes without overloading the sensitive back muscles.
Experts link weak glutes in women to an increased risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries — one of four major ligaments that provide stability in the knee joint. The ACL prevents excessive forward movement of the shinbone (tibia) over the thighbone (femur) and limits knee rotation. Injury to the ACL causes instability in the knee and often leads to arthritis years later. Women have six times more ACL injuries than men. They also have relatively weak glutes compared to men and use the hamstrings (quadriceps) more when jumping, cutting, and squatting. Reduced use of the glutes increases stress on the knees, which can injure the cruciate ligament. Use proper squatting technique to protect your knees while building a better booty.
Look toned by crouching to the right
Do squats without weights without a barbell when you learn proper squat technique. Stand with your feet more than shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outwards, hands on hips, head neutral and back straight. Center your weight slightly behind the arches of your feet. Squat down, keeping your weight centered over your arches and actively bending your hips until your legs break parallel. During the movement, keep your back straight, shoulders back, chest out, and thighs apart so you’re “squatting between your legs.” Try pushing outward with the outside of your feet as if you’re “spreading the ground with your feet.” Push yourself back to the starting position, maximizing the use of your hamstrings and hamstrings, and maintaining a neutral spine and head. Don’t continue with weighted squats until you can do the exercise without bending your spine (ie, maintain a neutral spine until your thighs are parallel).
Use a barbell when you can do parallel squats properly. Take the bar off a rack and wear it on the fleshy part of your back. A low bar carry (the bar rests below the bone on the shoulder blades) works best for wide-stance squats. Practice with an unloaded bar until you can comfortably perform the exercise while maintaining good posture. Add weight gradually. Wide stance squats, when done correctly, build fit, strong lower body muscles that protect you from serious knee and back injuries.
Fahey, TD Basic Weight Training, New York: McGraw Hill, 2007 (6th edition)
Fahey, TD, P. Insel, and W. Roth. Fit and Well, McGraw Hill, 2008 (8th edition)
Paoli, A, Marcolin, G, and Petrone, N. The effect of stance width on electromyographic activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during the squat with different bar loads. J Strength Cond Res, 23:246-250, 2009