Squatting to a level that is below parallel is a well-known training method to work the gluteus maximus and hamstrings but it is always surprising how often trainees fail to go all the way down. If you walk into a corporate gym or group exercise class, half squats will abound and you’ll be hard pressed to find a full depth squat anywhere. Unfortunately, these misguided people are missing out on maximal motor-unit involvement and optimal muscle development.
Research shows that in comparing muscle activity when squatting to full-depth with a partial or parallel depth, the full depth squat requires two times the contribution of the gluteus maximus. Take note that squatting to full depth doesn’t diminish the activity of the quads; it simply leads to increased glute action during the concentric or up motion of the squat.
To further go after the glutes, use a wide foot stance and remember to lift a load that is at least 70 percent of your 1 RM if using a program of three sets of ten. Research shows that taking a stance that is double the distance between the hips requires a significantly greater contribution from the glutes than if a hip-width stance is used. It’s also more effective than a stance that is 1.5 times hip width. Again, just as squatting to a low depth doesn’t decrease quad activation, using a wider stance doesn’t decrease the contribution of the quad muscles to the squat. The factor that does affect muscle activation in the quads is the load of the bar—loads below 70 percent of the 1RM decrease the work of the quads.
Grip width on the barbell, bar placement, and elbow orientation are other factors that dictate percentage of recruitment of the various muscles involved in squatting. For more information on different squat methodologies check out the Tip on Affecting Percentage of Muscle Contribution to the Squat.
Caterisano, A., Moss, R., Pellinger, T., Woodruff, K., Lewis, V., Booth, W., Khadra, T. The Effect of Back Squat Depth on the EMG activity of Four Superficial Hip and Thigh Muscles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
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Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., Petron, N. The Effect of Stance Width on the Electromyographical Activity of Eight Superficial Thigh Muscles During Back Squat with Different Bar Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. 23(1), 246-250.
Gullett, J., Tillman, M., Gutierrez, G., Chow, J. A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. 23(1), 284-292.