Performing exercises with one leg, like single-leg squats, is good for a number of reasons. Unilateral moves, ones you perform on on side or with one leg, can correct muscular imbalances, help create stability, and also directly target certain muscles that you might not be able to feel with bilateral exercises (bilateral as in two-legged exercises). Since everyone loves squats, we asked some experts about how single-leg squats — or more specifically pistol squats — and the regular exercise benefit our bodies and which exercise, of course, is better for booty gains.
Single-Leg Squats Increase Stability and Improve Imbalances
James Shapiro, NASM-certified personal trainer in NYC and owner of Primal Power Fitness, told POPSUGAR that single-leg squats challenge your stability more than regular squats because they require greater control in your core and hip activity. Even if you're doing them without weights, the amount of leg strength and stability needed is, well, a lot.
NASM-certified personal trainer Sydney Eaton, head of fitness and programs at PK Coin App, said that single-leg squats, like other unilateral exercises, are an important addition to any workout routine because they help prevent muscle imbalances and injury. She explained single-leg squats "pinpoint muscle development in each leg and increase the balance and stability of the knee, hip, and ankle." This can also highlight where you're weaker and, therefore, when you get stronger, your performance can improve in activities such as running, walking, and jumping.
Regular Squats Are Better For Heavy Lifting
If your goal is to squat heavy weights, the two-legged squat is best, Sydney said. "The double-leg base of a regular squat is optimal for loading on heavy weight to challenge and improve your overall strength," she explained. "Single-leg squats, on the other hand, aren't built for maximum loading." It makes sense. If it's harder to balance on one leg and harder to maintain stability while you're moving through that leg, why would it be easy to do with added pounds? James also noted that regular squats benefit total-body strength.
All Squats Are Helpful For Booty Gains
James told us that if he had to pick between pistol squats and regular squats for glute gains, he'd say pistols are better because regular squats, especially high-bar squats performed with a loaded barbell, are more knee-dominant making them more quad-focused. Doing single-leg squats with light weights or even bodyweight, requires more activation in your hamstrings and glutes. He pointed to this small study published in the Human Kinetics Journal stating that female athletes who performed single-leg squats saw statistically higher activation of gluteus medius (the glute muscles on the side of the pelvis that help stabilize the pelvis, especially during one-leg activities) and hamstring muscles.
Even though, as Sydney said, it's easier to lift heavy with regular squats than single-leg squats, James said that if you add any load — like dumbbells — to one leg, it will "wreak havoc" on your glutes ("wreak havoc," as in activate your glutes to the max). But Sydney argued that, that same reason makes squats better than single-leg squats for booty gains. "If glute gains are your goal, I'd recommend regular squats, as they're an ideal exercise for heavier loading," she said. "Lifting heavier weight, if done with proper form, will lead to muscle hypertrophy, or growth." She added that single-leg squats can still help build muscle.
Bottom Line: You Can't JUST Do Squats For Booty Gains
Keep in mind that if you really want to focus on building your glutes, there are other exercises you need to be focused on. James and Sydney both mentioned this, which is consistent with what many trainers have told us in the past. Squats target a variety of muscles in your lower body — and that's great! — but you might not be activating your glutes as much as you think you are, so moves like hip thrusts and deadlifts are essential. Sydney suggested Bulgarian split squats and barbell-loaded curtsy lunges, too. Check out this explainer on why squats alone won't do the trick and more moves for booty gains here.