Home Exercise 101 5 Reasons Why Your Squats Aren’t Working, and 5 Tips to Guarantee Success

5 Reasons Why Your Squats Aren’t Working, and 5 Tips to Guarantee Success

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Suppose you took my initial advice, and decided to use squats to help you lift, firm up, and round out those cheeks. And, say you did squats every day for thirty days, with the expectation that you were gonna look like the cover of XXL magazine when everything was said and done.

And, once that 30th day arrived, you jumped out of bed and gleefully switched your hips to the mirror… nothing.

In fact, you grabbed your tape measure, and groaned – half an inch!! What the hell is that?

Methinks that someone didn’t quite explain to you how booty building works.

Booty building – which is, essentially, bodybuilding – isn’t a fast process, and there are no cheat codes. I do, however, know the five primary reasons why many people struggle with the process of body building – especially in a region as delicate and ‘important’ as… the booty:

1) It’s only been 30 days, sis (bro?), and nothing happens that fast. For starters, the premise of doing squats every day for 30 days is faulty on its face – the process of breaking down and building new muscle takes time, and if you’re adequately squatting every day with a challenging routine, you’re doing more harm than good and not giving your body enough time to heal. You’re wrecking the same muscle groups every single day, and not letting them heal. What kind of muscle do you think comes from that kind of program?

Not only that, but 30 days isn’t long enough to expect to be seeing inches on your frame. The anabolic process of rebuilding muscle fibers can only happen but so fast, and you do yourself a disservice by thinking 30 days is enough. The average newbie can only put on possibly 5lbs a month with top notch nutrition – I mean, top notch flawless nutrition – and that’s for a full body program. You’re not slapping five pounds of lean, solid meat on your booty in a month.

The average dedicated and diligent newbie should expect to not add an inch, but in fact lose an inch around the widest part of their waist – not because their squats are ineffective, but because a) the addition of muscle should mean a decrease in body fat and b) the execution of a long term dedicated squat program should result in a lifting of the booty, thereby pulling it up off the thighs and reducing the size of the hips.

2) You’re actually not as consistent as you think you are. Take a calendar, and mark off all the days you actually did your lower body exercises. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t all thirty. In fact, I hope it wasn’t. The process of breaking down muscle fibers and rebuilding them actually results in an excess of proteins in the blood stream that are harmful to the kidneys, thereby triggering a disease called rhabdomyolysis, and it’ll land you directly in the hospital.

Basically, it’s your body telling you, “Don’t make me do it to you, baby, ’cause I’ll overdo it.” and then telling you “Told ya so!” as you whimper and groan in your hospital bed.

The breakdown of muscle fibers releases different kinds of proteins into the blood stream, and as we know, protein and your kidneys don’t get along. One particular protein – myoglobin – actually destroys your kidneys and since you need those, it can be a huge problem. The hospital stay is a non-negotiable component of this – they need to flush your insides and get the myoglobin out of your system ASAPtually. Do yourself a favor – remember that rest days exist for a reason.

Most people who aren’t used to working out regularly actually aren’t going to be able to commit to something for 30 days straight, and in this case, that’s okay. But the average person will struggle far more with the task of carving out the time for the work out than anything else, and that struggle with undoubtedly hinder your ability to make progress in your booty building.

You fight this two ways: the first is by scheduling a time – like a business meeting or a doctor’s appointment – for you and only you, and that is when you do your workouts. The second is by remembering that rest days are essential – not just so that you’re not bugging the folks at your gym or studio every day, but so that your body can rest. Many systems within the body are affected by a body building routine, and incorporating adequate rest allows your body to recuperate so that you don’t, y’know… wind up in the hospital.

3) You’re actually not squatting properly every time you do a repetition (or “rep”), and every time you do a rep improperly, you screw up the effect that your good reps would. Have you ever wondered why we do reps and sets the way we do? We do repetitions of movements in a secession of groups because it’s just enough of a challenge to the muscle tissue while still allowing you to get a little rest in the middle. The mid-set rest period – which should be no longer than 3 minutes – gives you just enough time to rest from whatever damage (good damage!) you did with your first set. Then, you go in and do a little additional [good] damage to your muscle tissue. Wash, rinse, repeat. It doesn’t even actually matter what kind of rep/set combo you do – super sets, pyramids, whatever – they’re all set up with the same goal: to get that burn in without pouring on the pain.

When you fail to successfully maintain good form during your entire set, you’re basically giving your body a rest period instead of letting that rep do some [good] damage.

Squats – and, for the record, just about every lower body exercise is some variation of a squat – all require the same basic components: knees pointing in the same direction over the toes, back arched, neck in proper alignment with your spine, no hunching forward or leaning back. We could talk about The 90 Degree Angle, but the truth of the matter is this: since the squat is almost a full body exercise, engaging everything below your rib cage, many people don’t have the muscle in the calves, thighs, or abs to safely form a 90 degree angle with their thighs and calves. Some people will need to go as far down as they safely can, and come up as safely as they can. They’ll need to develop the muscles to safely go that far, and that takes time.

In terms of “knees not passing the toes,” I get it, but I don’t think it’s that much of a worry. Why? Drop a $20 bill on the ground. Now, pick it up. Bet your knees are well past your toes!

The knees are built to go past your toes, and an otherwise healthy person shouldn’t fear this. As long as your knees and toes are pointed in the same direction – meaning, your toes shouldn’t be facing your sides while your knees are facing forward – you should be fine. (If you know you have knee issues, then trust your primary care physician/physical therapist/corrective exercise specialist.)

In terms of assisted squats – squatting to sit in a chair and standing back up – you’re doing necessary work, but that’s much more about corrective training than it is body building. Much of the work in squats is being done when your body is at that 90 degree angle; in an assisted squat, you’re sitting or holding onto a bar.

4) There’s not enough protein in your diet. Muscle rebuilding requires amino acids only available in protein to make that happen. If you’re doing squats and eating celery because you’re on a diet and adamant about losing this weight, then chances are high you’re not building new tissue, and possibly breaking down the tissue you have because of cutting too many calories.

Ideally, muscle development happens when calories are in a slight surplus, but minimal development can happen when you’re at maintenance or even a mild deficit as long as adequate protein is consumed. There is no way around that. A diet with no more than 40% of your calories coming from protein is healthy for your kidneys, but somewhere around 35% will do the trick (provided you’ve gotten the OK from your respective health professionals.)

5) You’re not challenging yourself enough when you do squat. It’s also wholly possible that your body is already used to the rigamarole of the regular squat, and it’s time to challenge yourself. Instead of a regular squat, try a pistol squat or a squat on a bosu ball. If you do have a gym, jump in the cage and use a barbell to add weights to it! Deadlifts are glorious. Try them. So are Good Mornings. Try those, too. And then up the weights on ’em.

Hey, you! Pin me!

Hey, you! Pin me!

As you can see, there are lots of ways to mess up your potential for muscle gain, but there’s so much more to gain from taking the extra bit of time to get it right! As I’ve always said, your body will thank you for it!

What about your strength training program? Successes? Struggles? Share! Let’s hear it!

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7 comments

Naa-Dei March 26, 2015 - 9:35 PM

Thank you for this post. I actually came upon this specific post by reading – Q&A Wednesday: Fitness Advice for Changing Body Shapes? I agree with everything you say about squats, but I was a bit concerned over “In terms of “knees not passing the toes,” I get it, but I don’t think it’s that much of a worry. Why? Drop a $20 bill on the ground. Now, pick it up. Bet your knees are well past your toes! The knees are built to go past your toes, and an otherwise healthy person shouldn’t fear this.” The issue is the repetition of doing squats in a way that causes a person’s knees to go past their toes. This can cause problems in the long run. In reality most people are not born with issues with their body. Usually through accidents, incorrect training, etc, a person will harm their body. And that also goes for doing squats incorrectly.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 26, 2015 - 9:47 PM

“The issue is the repetition of doing squats in a way that causes a person’s knees to go past their toes.”

Which, unless you literally have joint issues that leave you unsupported in this regard, isn’t a problem, either.

You have to think about this in terms of functional movement. The joints are meant to experience the fullness of their hinge, and it’s okay to train the muscle to be able to support the fullness of that hinge. If you aren’t meant to bend that way, your bones will tell you because they will stop you. The idea that it’s improper to train a muscle group to support a hinge literally flies in the face of training for QOL, IMO. I just don’t agree with that, and I don’t train that way, either.

“And that also goes for doing squats incorrectly.”

Exactly. It’s just that this doesn’t include going over your toes. It’s much more about the direction your knees are pointing in correlation to your toes, not merely never passing your toes. The way some people are built, they will literally have to pass their toes in order to adequately balance (among other functional challenges) and it won’t negatively impact the way the muscle develops in response to the way they squat or support the related joints.

Shannon August 26, 2016 - 11:56 AM

This is an incredible article, thank you for the much-needed education.

Tee Jenkins November 2, 2016 - 4:36 AM

Excellent blog. I can tell you arena researcher. Thanks you for this very informative article.

precious May 5, 2017 - 12:29 PM

This is really helpful thanks a lot… My only problem is the protein intake… Im in school and I don’t have the cash to start buying fish meat chicken everyday I have to survive in school yunno and I can’t do that by spending too much I already spend on fruits and vegetables and the sport drink I take while working out in d morning I buy it everyday and now I also have to buy fish or meat or chicken in my every meal.. It’s too much for me. Is it possible for me to achieve my results even without the protein?

Erika Nicole Kendall May 5, 2017 - 12:44 PM

No. Strength training like squats tears muscle fibers and rebuilds them using the amino acids in the protein. Without the protein, you can’t recover or heal properly, and you can’t build what you’re after.

It’s possible to get that protein in fresh produce and foods like chickpeas and brown rice and other things, though. You also probably don’t need that sport drink every day.

Shaneice Hardnett August 1, 2018 - 11:31 PM

So I’ve cut my calorie intake and have been working out. At 1st I was losing weight now I’m gaining what am I doing wrong?

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