Kneeling Squats – How to Perform, Benefits & Muscles Worked

Kneeling Squat

Kneeling squats are a great variation of traditional standing squats that involve kneeling on the floor and lowering your glutes to your ankles (with an upright posture).

They can be used by those who want an exercise that is easier on the knees, or by those who want to improve their squatting technique for heavier back squats (as you can focus on perfecting a “hip hinge” movement).

They also focus more exclusively on the upper legs/glutes, useful for anyone looking to focus on these muscle groups.

Although it’s a seemingly simple exercise, there are some things to consider and common mistakes to avoid when performing kneeling squats. This exercise guide dives into everything you need to know, including muscles worked, benefits and how to actually perform kneeling squats properly.

Quick Summary

  • Kneeling squats involve kneeling on the floor and lowering your glutes to your ankles (with an upright posture).
  • They can be used to reduce strain on the knees, improve hip hinge movements, or to focus more on the glutes.
  • You can progress the exercise by using a weighted barbell, a resistance band, Smith Machine or dumbbells to add extra weight.

What is a Kneeling Squat – TL;DR

A kneeling squat is a squat that is performed from a kneeling position (as opposed to standing).

With a neutral spine and upright torso, you lower your glutes to your ankles before lifting them back up.

Compared to regular squats, less strain is applied to the knees.

You can also add weight to kneeling squats… usually by either holding a barbell/dumbbells, or using a resistance band placed around your waist.

(If you’re looking for squatting alternatives due to knee pain, we’d recommend speaking to a Physical Therapist first to ensure you get to the root cause of your pain).

Squat Variations

As well as kneeling squats, there are all sorts of variations of the classic squat that allow you to target the lower body muscles differently. Hindu squats, Asian squats, cyclist squats, shrimp squats, and bear squats, are just a few examples.

How to Perform a Kneeling Squat

To do a kneeling squat:

  • Kneel on a cushioned surface with your knees shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core and squeeze your glutes.
  • Hinging at the hips, slowly lower your glutes to your ankles.
  • Pause for a moment before really squeezing your glutes to forcefully lift your glutes back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for repetitions.

Coach’s Tip

Kneeling squats lend themselves really well for slow eccentric repetitions, i.e., lowering your glutes to your ankles slowly (such as a 3 second tempo). Couple this with explosive concentric repetitions (rising out of the squat), and each set is going to make those upper leg muscles work overdrive.

Kneeling Squat Muscles Worked


The kneeling squat puts your glutes in the spotlight by requiring a powerful hip extension.

As you rise from the kneeling position, your glutes are the stars of the show, working hard to lift you.

Strengthening these muscles is vital for enhancing your overall lower body power and movement.


These muscles play a supporting role in the kneeling squat, assisting the glutes as you extend your hips.

Strengthening the hamstrings is like adding a safety net for your knees, providing stability and reducing the risk of injury.


When you perform a kneeling squat, your quads act like the strong lead vocals in a band, helping you control the movement as you lower down and rise up.

Building these muscles is essential for improving leg strength, reducing knee pain, and making daily activities like climbing stairs a breeze.


Think of your core as the conductor of this muscle symphony.

During the kneeling squat, it keeps everything in harmony, maintaining your balance and alignment.

Kneeling Squat Benefits

Focus on Glutes

By initiating the movement from a kneeling position, kneeling squats place a greater emphasis on the glutes.

The hip extension required to rise from the kneeling position really targets those glute muscles, making it a fantastic exercise for sculpting and strengthening your backside.

Less Strain on Knees

Unlike traditional squats, kneeling squats reduce the load on the knees by shifting the focus to the hips.

This can be a game-changer for those with knee concerns, offering a way to work the lower body without the knee strain.

(Although some may find the kneeling position uncomfortable due to the knee flexion).

Improve Hip Hinge Movement

The kneeling squat is like a masterclass in hip hinging. The movement pattern encourages a proper hip hinge, which is essential for many daily activities and other exercises.

Beginner Friendly

Think of kneeling squats as the friendly neighbor of the squat family. The movement is more controlled, and the focus on hip extension makes it accessible for beginners.

It’s a welcoming introduction to the world of squats.

If you want a gentle introduction into weighted back squats, adding weight to a kneeling squat could help you get comfortable holding a barbell, for example.

Refresh Tired Workout Routines

Feeling stuck in a workout rut? Kneeling squats are like a breath of fresh air, adding a unique twist to traditional squatting.

From using them in warm-ups or using them as the main exercise in your lower body workouts, they are easy to adapt and a great addition to any workout routine.

Injury Recovery

For those on the road to recovery, kneeling squats can be a gentle way to rebuild strength without putting undue stress on injured areas.

Spanish squats are also often used in injury rehab and recovery.

Improve Balance and Stability

The kneeling position requires a strong core and careful control, enhancing your balance and stability.


Smith Machine Kneeling Squats

Performed using a Smith machine, this variation provides guided and controlled movement.

Place a pad under your knees, position the bar across your upper back, and perform the kneeling squat. Ideal for those new to the exercise or looking for added stability.

This can be used alongside Smith Machine hip thrusts for the ultimate glute workout.

Barbell Kneeling Squats

For the more adventurous, barbell kneeling squats add an extra challenge, as you need to balance the weight without any assistance from the Smith Machine.

This variation is great for those looking to increase strength and muscle engagement, especially for intermediate to advanced gym-goers.

Resistance Band Kneeling Squats

Looking for a home-friendly option? Try resistance band kneeling squats.

Loop a band around a sturdy anchor and your hips, and perform the kneeling squat. This variation offers adjustable resistance and is perfect for those wanting to add a gentle challenge to their home workouts.

Things to Consider

When incorporating kneeling squats into your routine, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Unlike traditional squats, this exercise doesn’t target the calves, so you’ll need to include additional calf training in your regimen.

If you have limited range of motion at the knee joint, you may find the kneeling position uncomfortable or even unachievable. It’s essential to listen to your body and modify as needed.

Additionally, re-racking a heavy barbell from a kneeling position can be more challenging compared to standing. Ensure proper setup and consider using a spotter or lighter weight to maintain safety.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ignoring Knee Comfort

You don’t want knee discomfort to limit this exercise, so make sure to use padding if needed. Proper knee positioning will help you perform the exercise safely and effectively.

Rounding Back

This movement is all about a hip hinge, so keep your back straight at all times.

If you’re leaning forward or rounding your back, it suggests you’re not hinging at the hips properly.

Rushing the Movement

Quality over quantity is the mantra here. Take your time with each squat, controlling the movement, especially as you lower yourself down.

Lack of Core Engagement

Engaging your core is essential for balance and stability. Keep those core muscles tight throughout the exercise, as they play an important role in the movement.

Using Incorrect Resistance

Choose the right resistance for your fitness level. Whether you’re using a Smith Machine, barbell, or resistance band, selecting the appropriate resistance will help you perform the exercise correctly and achieve the desired results.

Bottom Line

Kneeling squats are a versatile exercise, targeting glutes while easing knee strain. They enhance hip hinge movement, offer a beginner-friendly approach, and refresh tired routines.

Ideal for injury recovery, they also improve balance and stability. It’s a dynamic movement that adds both strength and variety to your fitness journey.

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