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Squats may be one of the easiest workout moves as far as execution goes (you don’t need any equipment), but they’re also one of the most effective—especially when it comes to building up your glutes. That being said, there is more than one type of squat. And, while many of us are familiar with traditional squats, there is actually an even more effective variation—the sumo squat.
Curious? So were we. So we enlisted the help of two fitness experts—Adam Swartz and Selena Samuela—to break down the difference between sumo squats and traditional squats exercises (and explain which one is more effective at building muscle mass).
Meet the Expert
Swartz explains that squats are a fundamental movement pattern for humans, as our joints are designed to squat. “They are compound and multi-jointed, meaning they engage multiple joints of the body simultaneously,” he says.
Squats are pretty easy to execute in form, explains “In a regular squat, your feet are positioned about shoulder length apart with your toes and knees facing forward, or just slightly turned out. I like to tell people to point their toes at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock as if you were looking at a clock and 12 o’clock was down the middle.”
As Swartz previously mentioned, squats are a compound exercise, engaging multiple muscle groups. The lower body is the active part of the squat and goes through what’s called triple flexion as the body lowers. In other words, the hips, knees, and ankles all bend together to enable movement. “When this happens, large muscle groups such as the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps and calf muscles become active. Upon reaching the bottom of the range, those three joints then extend to drive the body back up, with all of the attendant muscles working. So the entire lower body goes through different levels of work to lift our bodies up and down.”
Simultaneously, the upper body is working as well, especially the core, in order to stabilize the torso throughout the movement. “So the neuromuscular recruitment patterns for the squat are vast, and really affect the entire body,” he says.
Because the hips are actually ball-and-socket joints, there is a broad range of hip positions to squat in, Swartz explains. One of them? The sumo squat.
While in a regular squat, your feet are positioned about shoulder length apart with your toes and knees facing forward, just slightly turned out. In a sumo squat, “your feet are positioned in a much wider stance with your toes and knees pointing outward in opposite directions,” Samuela says.
Swartz does point out that with the wider stance of the sumo, “you really have to fire up the outer glutes, otherwise, the knees will cave in, which is not good,” he says, suggesting that you start off conservatively, and only go as wide (with appropriate foot turnout) as you can track knees over toes.
Because sumos are still fundamentally squats, they provide many of the same benefits, Swartz points out. However, there are a few key differences:
Sumo squats are a variation on a squat so they work similar muscles, Samuela points out. However, along with quads, glutes, calves, hip flexors, hamstrings and core, the sumo squat also targets the adductors (inner thigh), due to the positioning of your feet. “I personally find it easier to recruit your glutes for this movement as well, so the glutes get a little extra love,” she says.
So, which are better: traditional squats or the sumo? Both experts recommend both.
“They are both important exercises to incorporate into your workouts,” Samuela says. “I’m personally partial to the sumo squat because it’s tougher to find exercises that target the inner thigh, and this is a great one for that!”
“Our bodies do better when they move in different ways as intended by our joint design. This means a variety of movements in our routine is always a good choice,” adds Swartz. “My own advice is to lean into the traditional squats, but work in sumos at least once or twice a week to cover as much of the benefits as possible. And if a trainee is looking to increase hip mobility or target inner thighs, I’d reach for sumos even more frequently.”
Additionally, pregnant trainees may want to stay away from sumos during their term. “With the hormone relaxin being secreted in the body, this means the joints—especially in the pelvic/hip region—may not tolerate the loads placed on them via the wider stance. Always check with your physician first.
There is no question that both traditional squats and sumo squats majorly pay off on the back end. While both trainers recommend incorporating both types into your workouts, the sumo squat is slightly more “effective” as it targets the inner thigh and the traditional squat does not.
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