There’s no denying how incredibly important the glutes are in the squat. They’re the main driver for hip extension and play a large role in controlling our hips when it comes to their stability, power, and strength in everyday life and in sport.
When getting ready for a big squat and leg day session, the glutes need to be engaged and “turned on” as many say, but at times, it can feel nearly impossible to actually do this. Have you ever started warming up for squats and noticed that something felt a little off and then intuitively spent a little more time working on the hips — and more specifically hip extension — doing things like glute bridges, monster walks, hip airplanes, etc.
There are a ton of different methods you can perform to increase your connection with the glutes before squatting. In this article, we’re going to discuss one in particular that is fantastic to use for pretty much every squat variation — and that’s mini band squats.
What Are Mini Band Squats?
Mini band squats entail taking a light band and placing it around both legs, either right above the knee, or around the mid-thigh. The band should be light enough to facilitate and allow full range of motion in the squat without altering mechanics or causing movement compensations when trying to achieve proper form.
Generally, lifters will use something like the Perform Better mini bands (the yellow, green, or blue one), or they’ll reach for something like an EliteFTS Pro Short Mini Band. Either of these options will work and get the job done.
Why Mini Band Squats?
Before diving into the “how” for using mini band squats, let’s discuss why they can be an effective tool for warming up and supporting glute involvement in the squat. To fully understand the why, we should first look at what the glutes do.
- Gluteus Maximus Muscle Actions: Hip extension, external rotation
- Gluteus Medius Muscle Actions: Thigh abduction, anterior fibers play a role in hip internal rotation, and posterior fibers play a hand in hip external rotation
When squatting with a mini band the tension it produces is continually trying to pull the knees valgus (inwards) and cause hip internal rotation. So when squatting with a mini band (and cueing the squat correctly), the glutes will actively resist the valgus and internal rotation in which the band is trying to create, and this will cause what feels like a slight increase in activation.
The degree in which the glutes are active during mini band squats will vary on a case-by-case basis, and it’s a methodology that is rooted in experiential evidence versus cold hard literature. For example, I don’t have an exact EMG number to spit out about glute activation with the use of a mini band, however, I do think it’s a useful tool for increasing awareness in lifters who are having trouble understanding what it feels like to have the glutes engaged when squatting.
Useful Self Cues to Use When Performing Mini Band Squats
- Think: Keep knees over toes — The band is going to cue the hips to naturally externally rotate, but avoid overcompensating and shoving the knees outwards to a large degree. If you think knees over toes or just outside of the toes, what usually ends up happening is the knees meet in the middle and track properly.
- Think: Don’t deadlift the squat — With the band around the legs, continue squatting as you normally would, think “sit” into the hole, not back, and avoid hinging first, a.k.a. don’t deadlift the squat. At times, some lifters break at the hips too dramatically when a band is placed around their legs, so be mindful of how the hips and knees are breaking during the initial descent.
Before plugging in mini band squats into your program and warmup, it’s important to gather context around why you might want to employ them. For those moving weight just fine, then keep on keeping on, but for others with issues cueing the glutes and tracking knee, then they might be worth trying!
A couple reasons I like using mini bands for myself and clients:
- Engaging the glutes in the eccentric and coming out of the hole. With the band constantly putting tension on the glutes, mini band squats are fantastic for supporting awareness of glute involvement throughout various ranges of motion in the squat, and more specifically when loading eccentrically and coming out of the hole. They help you “feel” the glutes.
- Promoting proper knee tracking. The cue “drive the knees out” is good, but it can also be problematic if a lifter is overcompensating and driving the knees out to a point in which the quads lose involvement during the concentric — we know some hip internal rotation is actually good coming out of the hole. So since the band is pulling the knees inwards, and if a lifter has the tendency to over cue the knees to drive outwards, then often times mini band squats can help with proper knees tracking mechanics.
How to Use Mini Band Squats
There are multiple ways to use mini band squats in training and their best uses will be individual per one’s needs. Like every form of warming up and exercise, it’s worth exploring different methods of use and then deciding when to employ the mini band for its best uses.
Below are a couple way you can use the mini band in training.
- Warmup Sets: Use the mini band during your warmups and with weights before you start your working sets.
- High-Bar Tempo Sets: Wear the band for high-bar squats when working with volume and somewhat lower intensities (<85%) and slow down the tempo to help with mindfulness of knee tracking and glute activity coming out of the hole.
- Accessory Squat Movements: Try using the band when performing accessory squat movements like goblet squats and perform 1.5 reps and slow the tempo down for additional benefit.
Author’s Note: If you’re barbell squatting with a mini band, start light and conservative, then scale intensity based on how you adapt to the external stimulus you’ve placed on the legs.
Mini band squats can be useful because they can help cue lifters to properly engage the glutes when squatting. Often times, glute engagement can be defined as simple awareness of what it feels like to use them to create a strong extension in the squats, and a mini band can be a tool to promote this outcome.
In addition to improving glute awareness, the mini band can also be useful for supporting knee tracking mechanics when a lifter has started to overcompensate and drive the knees out too much.