Kneeling Squat: Benefits, Form & How To

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: April 30, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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Kneeling squats are a great exercise to incorporate into your program if you are rehabilitating or want to build lower body strength and size.

However, most individuals perform the kneeling squat without the correct form, thus not reaping the benefits of the workout.

As a certified fitness trainer, I will provide my findings and expertise on the proper form to perform the kneeling squat, the variations of the exercise, kneeling squat muscles worked, benefits, and the difference between kneeling and regular squats.

Quick Summary

  • The kneeling squat is a strength training exercise focusing on glute activation and development, also engaging the quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • This exercise is performed by sitting back onto the heels from a kneeling position and then driving the hips forward to return to the starting position.
  • According to a study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the eccentric part of the kneeling squat can help you build strength, eventually helping you complete the full movement.
  • In my opinion, the kneeling squat is an excellent choice for anyone looking to enhance lower body strength and size, especially as a rehabilitation exercise or for targeted muscle development.

What Is a Kneeling Squat?

A person about to do kneeling squats at the gym

A kneeling squat is a strength training exercise where you start in a kneeling position and sit back onto your heels, then drive your hips forward to return to the starting position. This exercise primarily targets the glutes and the core while also engaging the quadriceps and hamstrings to a lesser extent.

This movement is a particularly effective bodyweight squat exercise for those looking to focus on glute activation and development, as well as improving hip mobility and lower body strength.

This barbell squat variation is a frequent form of the kneeling squat in which you raise a barbell from a kneeling posture off a preferred power rack or quality Smith machine at shoulder height.

You may even make the exercise more difficult by loading weights while performing kneeling squats.

How To Perform Kneeling Squat

A person at the gym doing kneeling squats with bodyweight at the gym

In my experience as a trainer, I've found that the kneeling squat is a simple exercise everyone can master, regardless of their fitness level.

Begin with your body weight and progress to the weighted version, slowly increasing the load as you progress.

This will not only allow you to improve your workout form but also keep you from injuring your muscles.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to perform the kneeling squat with perfect form:

  1. Place your favorite exercise mat on the ground. This will relieve strain on your knees and give comfort to them. Start in a kneeling position.
  2. Place your hands on your knees, slightly wider or shoulder-width apart.
  3. Maintain toe contact with the ground by flexing your toes.
  4. Position your shoulders so they are directly above your hips, and keep your spine straight.
  5. Maintain a neutral posture and tuck your chin.
  6. Keep your arms at your sides, or stretch them out before you.
  7. Push the chest forward slightly and engage your core.
  8. Squeeze your glutes.
  9. Hinge the hips back and sink your glutes into your heels as if sitting.
  10. Keep your hips and knees aligned without tilting to the left or right.
  11. Drop your glutes till they make contact with the calves without putting any weight on them.
  12. Maintain this position for one second.
  13. Squeeze your glutes and stretch your pelvis while maintaining a straight back to return to the beginning position.
  14. At the peak of the move, squeeze your glutes again.
  15. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Kneeling Squat Variations

A person doing kneeling squats at the gym

One of my favorite things about the kneeling squat is its versatility.

Here are some kneeling squat alternatives and variations you can experiment with.

1. Barbell Kneeling Squat

When I first mastered the bodyweight kneeling squat, I remember how excited I was moving to the barbell variation.

The additional weight of the barbell on your back will require heavy glute engagement, as well as secondary muscle groups.

Therefore, mastering the movement pattern is essential before loading the exercise.

Related: Best Barbell Exercises

2. Smith Machine Kneeling Squat

A person at the gym doing smith machine kneeling squats

This variation is done on a Smith machine.

It's comparable to the barbell kneeling squat but requires a stronger forward lean because the Smith Machine only allows the barbell to go down in a straight line.

Read More: Smith Machine Squats: Form, Variations and Benefits

3. Resistance Band Kneeling Squat

I personally like this exercise because it stresses your hamstrings, glutes, and quads without putting tension on your back like a barbell.

"This band modification is vital for increasing hip tension. This added resistance promotes hip hinging during the eccentric period and glute dominance when the hips return to neutral."

- Micah Le'Gare, Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Nutrition Specialist

4. Kettlebell Kneeling Squat

Because a kettlebell is loaded from the front, your stabilizing muscles and core have to work harder in this form.

Some of the kneeling squat alternatives include:

Muscle Activated by Kneeling Squat

A person with good leg muscles working out the gym

The kneeling squat primarily engages the glutes and quads but also activates the hamstrings, hip flexors, core, lower back, and abdominal muscles.

This may engage fewer squat muscles than the traditional squat, but this is significant for a reviled and ignored activity.

It also cannot be overstated how important all of these muscles are to the health and strength of the posterior chain.

1. Quads

The quadriceps, sometimes called the quads, are the fleshy muscle covering the sides and front of your thigh. They comprise four muscle heads: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, medialis, and intermedius. These muscles are linked to your hips and knees [1].

During the kneeling squat, your quadriceps muscle groups are predominantly engaged.

The quadriceps aid in leg extension at the knee joint and thigh flexion at the hip joint.

During the concentric part of the kneeling squat, your quadriceps assist you in extending your knees and stabilizing your body.

2. Hip Flexors

A person working out her hip flexors

Hip flexors are found on the front of the thigh. According to a study on PubMed, these muscles are essential for stability and knee flexion [2].

Your hip flexors are an important aspect of the kneeling squat because they stabilize and support your body and propel you and the resistance load upward and forward.

The kneeling squat strengthens your hip flexors, which helps you perform better in movements like deadlifts.

3. Glutes

Your glutes comprise three muscles: gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. These muscles arise from your pelvis and hip and connect to the thigh bones [3].

Your glutes conduct various activities, including maintaining appropriate posture and functional actions such as jogging and athletic performance.

They aid in any action involving your legs and steer you in the desired direction.

During the kneeling squat, movements like hip extension are powered by your glutes.

4. Hamstring

A person stretching out her hamstrings

During the kneeling squat, your hamstrings and other muscles work as secondary movers, keeping you stable through the movement.

The hamstrings are the muscle groups at the back of your leg that begin from the hip and insert into the knee.

These muscles aid in knee flexion, thigh extension, and lateral movement of the lower legs [4].

The hamstrings are also recruited during the hip extension phase of kneeling squats, but to a lower extent than the glutes and quads.

5. Lower Back

The lower back muscles aid in the stabilization, rotation, and extension of your body and spinal column [5].

They may not be that visible throughout the kneeling squat, but they get enough attention to keep them engaged.

6. Core

People at the gym working out their cores

Any squatting exercise targets your core and abdomen; the kneeling squat is no exception.

Your abs not only complement a good physique, but they additionally stabilize your torso and facilitate mobility.

Your core comprises several of your deep ab muscles and back muscles. The core stabilizes your body, keeps your torso straight, protects your spine, and keeps you safe from injuries [6].

As a result, your core muscles keep you stable during the kneeling squat.

They provide support and keep your body from becoming tense.

Benefits of Kneeling Squat

A person with good leg and core muscles at the gym

"The major advantage of the Kneeling Squat is it is an efficient exercise for activating and strengthening the Glutes. Many individuals want to have big Glutes, and the Kneeling Squat is an excellent technique to get them."

- Stephanie Zaban, Master of Professional Kinesiology

Kneeling squats provide several significant advantages:

  • Kneeling squats help to strengthen the core: When done correctly, kneeling squats assist in increasing upper-body strength by stimulating your abdominal muscles. Your abs aid in stabilizing the lower back and support your entire body during the workout.
  • Kneeling squats help to strengthen the lower body: Kneeling squats are among the greatest squat exercises for gluteus maximus toning. Concentrate on the hip thrust range of motion to promote glute activation and hip extension. Kneeling squats train your hip flexors, quads, adductor magnus, and hamstrings, among other lower-body muscles.
  • Kneeling squats are an easy at-home workout: Kneeling squats do not require any specific equipment. Kneeling squats are an efficient and convenient activity to integrate into your bodybuilding program, whether you work out at the gym or at home.
  • Kneeling squats are versatile: The kneeling squat may be customized in any way you wish. You might attempt the weightless option if you want to take things slowly. Carry out the exercises without using any additional resistance. You can employ weighted plates, barbells, good home gym resistance bands, or even dumbbells to improve your kneeling squat.

Related: Hack Squat Alternatives for a Leg Workout

Kneeling Squat vs. Regular Squat: The Difference

A coach writing down on a clipboard at the gym

The starting position is the most significant distinction between standard and kneeling squats.

Conventional squats, also called air squats or bodyweight squats, are complex exercises that work muscles all across your body.

They're done standing up, with your knees and ankles bent to lower your torso until your upper feet parallel the ground.

Kneeling squats are done while kneeling and rely heavily on hip flexion to lift and lower your body.

Tips For Performing Your Kneeling Squats

A coach teaching a person at the gym how to do kneeling squats

The kneeling squat may appear an easy workout, but I've seen many people struggle to get quality reps in.

So, I've included a few pointers to help you perform the kneeling squat.

1. Start With Negatives

If you find a bodyweight kneeling squat too challenging, that's okay. You can progress with negatives.

Negatives involve you performing the eccentric part of the lift (in this case, lowering yourself) slowly and using support to bring yourself up. Start with three sets of 10 negatives thrice a week till you can do one or two full reps.

According to a study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the eccentric part of a lift can help you build strength and size, eventually helping you complete the full movement [7].

2. Don't Lean Away

When executing the kneeling squat, you may feel inclined to lean to the front or side to make the workout easier.

This may disrupt your form and prevent you from activating the appropriate muscles in the posterior chain, particularly your core.

Maintain your head erect and your eyes ahead throughout the movement.

2. Don't Use Momentum

A typical error first-time kneeling squatters make is sinking or elevating their hips too soon.

Using momentum heavily uses your knees rather than your hips and glutes. This places undue strain on your knees, resulting in a knee joint injury and worsening an existing knee ailment.

During the kneeling squat, engage the glutes and use the hips to perform each rep.

4. Choose an Appropriate Weight

The kneeling squat's simplicity and reduced range of motion are not an excuse to overburden your muscles by lifting too much.

Choosing a large resistance may strain your knees and make it harder to maintain proper form throughout the workout.

Instead, select a barbell weight that you can easily control for the number of sets you intend to perform.


What Are Kneeling Squats Good For?

Kneeling squats are good for training and toning your gluteus maximus. Concentrate on the hip thrust motion range to improve glute activation and hip extension.

Are Kneeling Squats Better?

Yes, kneeling squats are better. Compared to a standard squat, kneeling squats are a lighter and safer approach to enhance hip extension under load.

Do Kneeling Squats Burn Belly Fat?

No. Kneeling squats do not specifically burn belly fat. While you can't selectively burn fat from your tummy, squatting burns fat and develops muscle. While squats primarily improve your power and strength, heavy squats enhance lean muscle development, which boosts your capacity to burn calories at rest throughout the day.


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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
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James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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