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Graduate Goodness: Swapping Out Squats

Squats are considered a key exercise for building glute strength – important beyond the desire to achieve a certain aesthetic. Squats not only contribute to the desired appearance of a toned, muscular bum, but also help strengthen the largest muscle in the body. Yet many people perform squats incorrectly – especially when using a barbell with high weights – which can be dangerous for your lower back and knees. Moreover, squats aren’t for everyone; many find it difficult to get an effective range, and some complain that their quads are targeted much more than their glutes, even when the movement is performed correctly.

Fitness YouTuber Jeff Nippard recently cited a scientific study (see B. Contreras et al., 2015) that showed how squats are often better for building quad than glute strength. For those looking to switch up their exercise routine, many other exercises can activate the glutes just as, if not more, effectively as squats. Below is a list of just some alternative exercises you could try instead. As with any workout, begin with low weights until you have the basic movement nailed down. This will help prevent injury as a result of poor form.

Leg press machine

This machine allows you to mimic the movement of a squat whilst protecting your back. Start with high reps on a lower weight and then slowly decrease reps as you up the weight level. Just be careful not to lock your knees at full extension, as this could cause injury.

Bulgarian splits


The balance required for this movement gives your core a great workout as well as your glutes. The use of the step makes your glutes and legs work that little bit harder, but for beginners, the back toe can be placed on the ground for more stability.


Go for high reps and a moderate weight to get your muscles burning. Weights can also be held in the hands if you prefer this to a barbell. Using a Stairmaster machine (or a regular flight of stairs!) will also work to activate the glutes in a similar fashion.

Side lunges

Again, balance is key here, thus turning on both your glutes to maximise stability. Hand weights can be added to up the intensity of your workout, but, even without, the movement sets your muscles on fire.

Hip thrusts

This movement is great for isolating the glutes and giving your legs a break. Make sure to keep the core muscles switched on at all times to protect the lower back. Again, weights aren’t necessary for this movement, but will make the glute muscles have to work harder (and thus building a stronger, peachier bum).

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Third year history student at the University of Bristol.
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