How to Do a Half Squat for Stronger Glutes and a More Powerful Vertical Jump

illustration of woman demonstrating a half squat on a coral background
Half squats are a great option if you don't yet have the mobility or strength to do full squats.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Sure, full-depth squats, where your thighs are parallel (or below) to the ground, are one the best ways to activate your glutes and strengthen your quads, but the half squat deserves a place in your lower-body workouts, too.

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"The half squat is a partial range-of-motion squat to help a lifter who may be nervous about lifting heavier weight or are weaker in the top half motion of their squat," Kemma Cunningham, CPT, an instructor at Life Time in Bridgewater, New Jersey, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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Whether you want to improve your vertical jump or if full squats hurt your knees, there are many great reasons to give this squat variation a try.

  • What is a half squat vs. a full squat?​ A half squat, or partial squat, is when you bend your knees just until they form a 45-degree angle; a full squat involves flexing your knees to 90 degrees, or parallel with the ground, says Kirk Erickson, CPT, personal training manager at Life Time Champlin.
  • What are half squats good for?​ They work many lower-body muscles, just like full squats, specifically your glutes and quads. They also work your core, hip flexor muscles and calves. But the half squat does all this in a way that's more accessible to many people with mobility limitations or orthopedic concerns in their low back or joints, including the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Do partial squats build muscle?​ "You absolutely can build strength while doing half squats; however, research shows that gains in strength over time are more effective with full squats in your training," Erickson says.

    An April 2012 review in the ​Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research​ found that squatting with parallel depth (meaning your thighs end up parallel to the floor) has the most glute activation.

    "That being said, something is better than nothing, so if you are unable to do full squats properly, half squats are a great option!"
  • Who should do half squats?​ If full squats hurt your knees, hips, ankles or back, or if you just can't do a full squat with proper form, a partial squat is a great way to still incorporate a squat movement into your routine without hurting yourself.

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What Is a Half Squat vs. Quarter Squat?

Definitions for squat depth vary a lot. Some people may consider a squat all the way to the floor as a full squat, and a squat to parallel as a half squat. This would make a 45-degree squat a quarter squat. This is often how squat depths are defined in research.

In practice, many people consider squatting to the floor as a deep squat, squatting to parallel as a full squat, and squatting until the knees form 45-degree angles as half squats — so that’s how we’re defining them for this article.

How to Do a Half Squat With Proper Form

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core and Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward or slightly angled out.
  2. Brace your core as you begin to sit your butt back and bend at your knees. Keep an even distribution of weight in both of your feet to avoid rocking one way or the other.
  3. Engage your glutes and keep your chest and head up as you lower down until your legs form 45-degree angles, or until you reach your limiting range of motion — toes or heels come up off the ground, back arches too much or your chest falls forward.
  4. Press through both feet to stand back up. Make sure to keep your glutes engaged and avoid arching your back — you want to keep a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  5. Engage your quads to straighten your legs as you use your glutes to bring your hips back to standing, stopping just short of locking out your knees.

Tip

If you have trouble balancing, grab onto a countertop or railing for extra support. You can also do a half squat with TRX straps to keep your form in check.

Watch the Full Tutorial

Are Half Squats Better for Knees?

It depends, mostly, on whether or not you can do a full squat with proper form. If you struggle to do a squat with your thighs parallel, you’ll likely compensate and use muscles you aren’t supposed to, Erickson says. This can lead to issues not only for your knees but also your hips and low back.

“Generally, a half squat would be considered ‘better’ for the knees but mainly because most people can’t do a full squat properly,” he says. While it’s less likely that half squats will hurt your knees, it's still possible, depending on what’s causing your knee pain.

“You also need to consider the load here as well: Someone may be able to do a full squat without any added weight but struggle once you add some dumbbells or a barbell to the mix.”

4 Half Squat Benefits

1. They're Gentle on Your Joints

The overarching benefit of this move is that it's more accessible to anyone who has joint issues or other strength and mobility limitations that make full squats painful or impossible to do.

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2. They're Functional

The squat is a fundamental movement pattern — you do it when you get in and out of a chair or crouch down to the floor. Knowing how to do it correctly will help you move more efficiently and comfortably throughout everyday life.

"Some sort of squatting motion needs to be a part of your program for it to be a well-rounded approach to reach your goals," Erickson says. The half squat lets you train this motion even if you have limitations that keep you from going deep.

3. They Build Lower-Body Strength

Like full and deep squats, half squats are good for building lower-body strength. The difference between full squats vs. half squats is that half squats build strength in a smaller area of the muscles because the range of motion is limited.

"Mainly you are looking at the glutes and quads, but the muscles of the hip flexors, abdominals, hamstrings and calves play critical roles as well," Erickson says.

4. They Help Improve Jump Height and Sprint Speed

Half squats can be useful for athletes, too. A small March 2016 study in ​Human Movement​ found that the quarter squat — what we're calling a half squat — more effectively trains jump height and sprint speed in highly trained athletes.

Although the study is small, it suggests that a shallow squat can actually have some specific performance benefits. And that's important to know when you're examining half squat vs. full squat benefits.

4 Half Squat Technique Tips

1. Plant Your Feet Into the Ground

Keep your heels planted on the floor throughout the entire movement for a strong base of support, Cunningham says. If your heels are coming up, make sure to sit back into the squat instead of leaning forward.

Placing a chair behind you and squatting into the chair will help you feel what this "sitting back" should feel like.

While it's OK if your toes are slightly angled out, if you keep feeling the urge to turn them out farther, it could be a sign of limited ankle mobility. Erickson suggests foam rolling and stretching the calves to reduce tightness in the ankles.

Increased ankle mobility may also help you progress from a half squat to a full squat, since it plays a big role in being able to squat deeper while still keeping your heels planted on the floor.

2. Align Your Knees With Your Big Toe

If your knees are caving in as you squat, it's going to put strain on the joint and probably hurt. To prevent this, look at your hips.

"The knees are usually a good indicator of what is happening with the glutes and their relationship with the hip flexors," Erickson says. "We all sit too much, so stretching the hip flexors while doing some exercises to engage and strengthen the glutes will help here."

3. Keep Your Chest Up

Keeping your chest and head elevated and avoiding looking at your feet will help prevent you from leaning forward, Cunningham says.

"If you find your chest and head falling forward, it is likely due to tightness in the chest and shoulders," Erickson says.

Adding in some daily upper-body stretches can help give you the flexibility needed to remain upright and keep a strong upper-body during squats.

4. Brace Your Core

This will help keep you from arching your low back, Erickson says. If you have a hard time doing this, adding planks to your routine can help you strengthen your deep core and get better at engaging it during exercises like half squats.

3 Half Squat Variations

1. Half Squat With Dumbbells

Once you're ready to progress your body-weight half squat, you can grab a pair of light dumbbells for extra resistance. This will challenge you to keep your weight even on both sides by firmly planting your feet on the ground.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Core and Lower Body
  1. Stand up straight up with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward or slightly angled out. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides.
  2. Brace your core as you begin to sit your butt back and bend your knees. Keep an even distribution of weight in both of your feet to avoid rocking one way or the other.
  3. Engage your glutes and keep your chest and head up as you lower down until your legs form 45-degree angles or until you reach your limiting range of motion — toes or heels come up off the ground, back arches too much or your chest falls forward.
  4. Press through both feet to stand back up. Make sure to keep your glutes engaged and avoid arching your back — you want to keep a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  5. Engage your quads to straighten your legs as you use your glutes to bring your hips back up to standing, stopping just short of locking out your knees.

Tip

If using two dumbbells is too challenging for you right now, consider doing a goblet half squat, where you hold one dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest.

“This will help you be able to sit back into the movement a little easier,” Erickson says. “This is a great next step before looking at dumbbells to the side or a bar on your back."

2. Barbell Half Squat

If you feel confident with your dumbbell half squat, you can try this barbell squat variation. Make sure to squat with the bar itself before you tack on weight plates. This will help ensure you're nailing the movement pattern and can handle the weight.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Barbell Workout
Region Core and Lower Body
  1. Start by standing under a squat rack with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward or slightly out.
  2. Grab onto the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Unrack the bar so that it rests across your back.
  4. Step out from under the rack.
  5. Engage your core as you begin to sit your butt back and bend your knees. Keep an even distribution of weight in both of your feet to avoid rocking one way or the other.
  6. Engage the glutes and keep your chest and head up as you descend to your limiting range of motion — toes or heels come up off the ground, back arches too much or your chest falls forward.
  7. Press through both feet to stand back up. Make sure to keep your glutes engaged and avoid arching your back — you want to keep a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  8. Engage the quads to straighten the legs as you use your glutes to bring the hips back to standing, stopping just short of locking out the knees.

3. Half Squat Jump

This variation not only helps activate your glutes but encourages you to build power from your leg muscles to jump straight into the air.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core and Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward or slightly out.
  2. Brace your core as you begin to sit your butt back and bend your knees. Keep an even distribution of weight in both of your feet to avoid rocking one way or the other.
  3. Engage your glutes and keep your chest and head up as you lower down until your legs form 45-degree angles, or until you reach your limiting range of motion — toes or heels come up off the ground, back arches too much or your chest falls forward.
  4. From the bottom of your squat, push through your feet to jump off the ground, straightening your legs at the top of the jump. You can also extend your arms down along your sides as you do so.
  5. Land safely with your knees slightly bent.

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