This 9-Week Squat Challenge Gave Me a Butt I'm Finally Proud Of
“See ya later, tiny tuchus!”
I’m not your average exerciser. I grew up playing varsity sports (soccer, swimming, more soccer). I played on a nationally ranked rugby team in college. And I now CrossFit six days week. I have shapely arms and a strong core–yet, I hate my tush. (And I hated it even when my parents still called it my "patootie”.)
It’s the butt my relatives used as an excuse to kick me off their laps. “It’s too bony!” they'd say. The butt whose absence became even more apparent when I started strength training, the butt that’s the reason I wear long cardigans whenever I shimmy into a pair of jeans.
The truth is, the appearance of my butt is partially out of my control. “Genetics is a major component of where we store our fat and how we develop muscle, so genetics is a huge determinator of the size and shape of your butt,” physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist Grayson Wickham, founder of Movement Vault, told me when he overheard me complaining of my flat rear.
Still, I thought there must be something I could do to make my bum a little more JLo and a little less JFlat. Besides, in addition to filling out pants, there are a ton of benefits of having stronger, bigger glutes: increased metabolism, improved posture, faster running, and lifting heavier weights during my CrossFit workouts.
So when I found out my CrossFit box was starting a nine-week squat challenge with CrossFit coach Ian Berger, founder of Altrufuel and the Endure Podcast, I was in. Could my peach really be just a couple months away? I decided I would squat (and squat hard) to find out.
The plan in full is below, courtesy of Berger. The TL;DR version? On Mondays we front squat, and on Wednesdays we back squat, for eight weeks. On the ninth week, we test ourselves.
All the CrossFitters participating in the program with me had, at the very least, a one-week onboarding process to learn how to properly back and front squat with a barbell. And we had Coach Berger there to make sure we were resting enough (but not too much!) between sets. Wickham suggests that beginner squatters first master the air squat and the goblet squat before progressing to the barbell and embarking on this kind of program.
If you're ready for something like this, here's how to do the exercises.
The back squat
Position a barbell on a rack so that it's level with your collarbones, and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar. Step under it so that it rests on the tops of your shoulders, then squeeze your elbows down to "pull" the bar towards you. Gently lift the barbell off the rack, and take two steps back. Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes facing slightly out. Inhale and drop your hips down and back to lower into your squat. As you exhale, push through your heels to stand up, making sure your knees don't fall inward. That’s one rep.
The front squat
Position a barbell on a rack so that it's level with your collarbones, and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar. Step toward the barbell so that it's resting along your chest, then gently lift it off the rack, and take two steps back. Stand with your feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, inhale, then drop your butt back and down as you keep your chest up, sitting back onto your heels without shifting your weight forward onto the balls of your feet. Exhale and drive through your heels. Come back up to standing and give your glutes a squeeze. That's one rep.
Like I said, I've been lifting and CrossFitting for quite a few years, so I more or less had the movements down before I started this challenge. But it was nice having a pro like Coach Berger there every step of the way to give me form tips if things got sloppy. Here's how following this booty-building program went for me.
Weeks 1-3: Everything hurts and I'm starving
I started the program feeling excited. I wore booty shorts every day we squatted for the first month of the program as if to say, “See ya later, tiny tuchus!” I felt optimistic–I front squatted 185 pounds for five reps and back squatted 200, if you must know–and was surprised that these lifting sessions only took about 20 minutes total each day. But I woke up every Tuesday and Thursday morning–after lifting the previous night–sore. And hangry.
And it wasn’t just my glutes that were sore. It was everything! According to certified personal trainer Alex Silver-Fagan, a Nike and MIRROR trainer, yoga instructor, and founder of FlowIntoStrong, that’s totally normally. “Barbell squats work your entire lower body as well as your core, plus the upper and lower back.”
As for the increased hunger? Also normal. “In addition to building up strength, heavy squats can rev up your metabolism,” says Silver-Fagan. But properly fueling is actually a key part of booty growth, she says, so she encouraged me to eat as my body needed.
Weeks 4-6: I started taking the elevator–and focusing on recovery
Status update: still sore. I started taking the elevator up the three flights to my apartment, which felt seriously defeating considering when I first moved in I'd promised myself I’d stay away from the elevator unless I broke my legs (knock on wood). I started prioritizing my recovery after these squat sessions so hobbling up and down a few flights of stairs wasn’t so “ouch!” producing.
I started using the TheraGun Professional Massager—you know, the jackhammer-esque tool you've seen celebs post about on Instagram—after my workouts, which definitely loosened the tight spots. I also made regular use of my foam roller, worked on my hip mobility, and definitely took a Pretty Woman-inspired bath or two.
Weeks 7-9: I'm definitely getting stronger and my whole body feels more stable
Seven weeks in, I could really tell I was getting strong–which was confirmed during the ninth week of the challenge when I was able to back and front squat 10 pounds more than I could during week one!
In addition to feeling like my bum was rounder, my core had definitely tightened up. "If you’re doing a squat properly, you’re bracing and engaging your core muscles for every single rep,” Silver-Fagan explains.
Truthfully, I felt sturdier all around. Lower-body exercises like squats promote stability in the knees, which can help prevent ACL tears (which are especially common in women), according to the American Council on Exercise. Sure, it could be all in my mind, but I think my knees do feel more stable!
The bottom line
I’m proud of myself for sticking to the program from beginning to end. I seriously got stronger, and my glutes looked bigger.
Silver-Fagan says these are the results I should have expected: “Sticking to any program that’s intentionally designed by an expert is beneficial for increased strength and conditioning, especially a squat program. When you aren’t on a specific program and instead vary your workouts every single day, your body can’t begin to keep up and make change.”
Whether or not you should do a nine-week squat challenge depends on your personal goals. But for me, my new backside confidence and strength was definitely worth the investment.
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