Kneeling squats are a glute activation and strengthening exercise. Their purpose is to teach and strengthen that powerful hip extension you need on squats and deadlifts and everywhere else. They are also widely promoted, similar to ‘hip thrusts’ to women looking to work their glutes and get a bigger butt. They are not just a woman’s exercise, as some people seem to think but can be a valuable hip strenghtening tool for anyone who can do them properly and safely.
The videos below show two different kneeling squat demonstrations, one is a barbell kneeling squat in a squat rack and the other is a Smith machine kneeling squat. You don’t need a smith machine apparatus like in the second one and you probably don’t need a lifting belt. First, read the explanations and cautions provided here.
Kneeling Squat Setup:
Put some padding on the floor in a squat rack (don’t be a tough guy- use the padding!) You will need the bar so that is is just below your shoulders if you are “standing” on your knees in front of it. Get under the bar, set it on the upper back (a middle position setup to start) and unrack it by extending your hips until your knees are 90 degrees and you are upright again.
To begin, actively engage the glutes and bring the butt back and down in a slow controlled ascent. When your butt touches your calves thrust the hips forward with a powerful glute contraction. As you lock out, squeeze the glutes together to ensure completion of the rep.
This can be a useful exercise for trainees who are not absolute beginners but there are some very important cautions. More advanced trainees may still find some benefit but the weights used tend to become extremely high. So much so that one may have more trouble supporting the weight than lifting it. Use caution and pay strict attention to the points below:
1. Use higher repetition ranges.
You will be shocked at how much weight you can use with these. Even with weak hip extension, when you isolate the hips in this manner you find out how strong they really are. Lower reps will require ridiculously unmanageable weights and one slip up can make for a serious knee injury. Which brings us to number two…
2. This movement is all about the glutes.
You initiate the rep with a powerful glute contraction and a hip thrust. You must CONTINUE to engage the glutes on the way back down. If you let the glutes relax too much and basically drop back down the knees will take the brunt of it at full flexion. NOT GOOD.
3. Don’t get carried away trying to become a kneeling squat champion.
Use this either as part of a program designed to train hip extension and fix related deficiencies or as a useful variety thrown in here and there. This is NEVER to be a max effort or main movement. It is a supplementary movement only and used near the end of a workout. I would advise using at least 10 reps and up to 15 for 2 to 3 sets. Do not expect a direct and predictable impact on your squatting or deadlift numbers.
4. Keep the back extended and set.
The shoulders back. If you allow the shoulder to come forward and thus lose lumbar extension it will not allow glute activation.
If used correctly and cautiously kneeling squats will pay off but well, and help teach you that all-important hip thrust you need to get out of the hole in a squat or to finish a deadlift.