Lately, so many people have told me that they're in the middle of a 30-day squat challenge, I've started wondering if Queen Bey herself might have leaked some top-secret training plan.
I have as intimate a relationship with my derriere as the next person, trust me. My glutes have had my back (literally) through thick and thin (shout-out to the kid who called me "watermelon butt" in high school), and I really enjoy a good squat session.
What I couldn't get behind was the idea of doing a 30-day stint of any single workout, even squats. Desperate for someone to convince me not to jump on the bandwagon, I turned to Jason Tran, New York City trainer and Fitbit ambassador, and Cameron Yuen, certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments.
To my surprise, both Tran and Yuen answered my question, "Should you do a 30-day squat challenge?" with a "yes," followed by—appropriately—a big 'ol "but..."
Both of these squat-savvy pros defended the value of a month-long challenge as a tool for kick-starting a more consistent fitness routine.
"Thirty-day challenges are valuable because they hold you accountable and typically have a built-in progression, so it's more challenging as time goes on and you can easily track results," Tran says. "It's a realistic amount of time that can jump-start a healthy habit and, ultimately, a healthy lifestyle. If the challenge was longer, say, three months, it wouldn't be sustainable, and most people would likely quit early."
Yuen agrees that a 30-day challenge can be helpful to those who feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting a training program without any guidance because it provides a scheduled workout with a definite end date. He also believes that the benefits of a month-long focus don't only apply to beginners. "For those who already exercise regularly, a 30-day challenge can be a way of bringing up lagging muscle groups by providing additional volume."
Does it last?
Yuen thinks so—as long as you're keeping up with your training after the challenge. "Generally speaking, to maintain strength and size changes made on a program, the area needs to be stimulated at least once per week," he says. "But that's the bare minimum—stimulation at least twice a week would be ideal if your goal is to maintain the changes."
After a simple Google search, I found the 30-day squat challenge that one of my friends had mentioned—it was a ladder-up progression, starting with 50 air squats on day one and ending at 250 by the end of the month. This is where the experts had an issue.
Air squats, no matter the depth, primarily target the quadriceps (your thigh muscles) and glutes (your butt muscles). Yuen explains that when we focus solely on any specific muscle group for long periods of time, we're neglecting others by default. "If you were to only focus on air squats, you would definitely be missing out on some important muscles," Yuen says. "The hamstrings, adductors, and lateral hips are not recruited heavily during air squats, which is unfortunate, as each of these muscles contributes to stability at the knee and hip."
Studies show that a dynamic resistance training routine is the key to success and Tran agrees. "Besides all the advantages of mixing up exercises and targeting different muscle groups, doing air squats all month would be boring!"
And if "boring" doesn't turn you off, maybe the potential for injury will. "With a 30-day challenge, a major concern is the development of an overuse injury," Yuen says. "These types of injuries generally present as pain near the tendon where it meets the bone, and occur when there is an acute overload to a specific area without adequate time to rest and recover." Knees typically take the brunt of squat injuries, and Yuen says it wouldn't be surprising if you developed patellar or gluteal tendinopathy—these are general terms describing dysfunction at the tendon of the knee and posterior hip, and as someone who has experienced patellar tendinopathy, let me tell you: It sucks.
Still wanna drop it low?
If you're dead-set on a 30-day squat challenge, Tran and Yuen both suggest a program that incorporates functional movements to ensure that you're addressing all important areas while also maximizing recovery. "You can improve the 30-day squat challenge by changing foot position, adding in single leg variations, and moving in multiple planes," Yuen says.
Luckily for me (and you!), Tran—who, I might mention, has one of the best butts ever—provided us with a program to do just that. There are a ton of ways you can target your glutes, but Tran's narrowed it down to these three moves for toning that will keep you well, ahem, rounded all month long. And if you're the kind of person who enjoys starting things on the first of the month, you know that only five months out of the year actually have 30 days (or less—we see you February), so Tran has kindly prepared you for 31. You're welcome.
A challenge we can get behind:
Targets quads and glutes
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, lower into a squat position, and then explode through the heels to jump in the air. Land softly back into the squat position. If plyometrics aren't for you, modify these with basic air squats.
Alternating Lateral Lunges
Targets quads, glutes, and adductors
Standing tall with your feet hip-width apart, step out to the right with your toes pointing forward. Shift your body weight over your right leg as you lower your butt back so that your right leg is at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back as upright as possible, your left leg straight, and left foot grounded (toes forward). Press through the right heel to step back to center, then repeat on left side.
Single-Leg Hip Thrusts
Targets glutes, hamstrings, and quads
Lying on the floor, bend your right leg and place your right foot on the floor. Raise your left leg in the air so it's as straight as possible (perpendicular to the ground) and press through your right foot as you lift your left leg to the sky and squeeze your butt. Remember to keep your head on the ground and feel free to press your hands into the floor for extra support. When you finish the set, repeat on the left side.
Keep it interesting.
Tran didn't add those rest days every week to be nice, he did it because they're necessary. "Rest days are an important part of the process required to build strength and endurance," he says. When we build muscle, we're actually damaging our muscle fibers so they can be reconstructed thicker and stronger, and the body needs time to go through this process. "However, resting doesn't mean drink wine and binge Netflix—you could still go for a walk, take a yoga class, or stretch."
Yuen advises that in addition to rest, you should be supplementing your challenge with complementary upper-body strengtheners and chill out on the additional leg work. "Add in some form of pushing (such as a chest press or overhead press) and pulling (like chin-ups or rows), several times per week."
While I may be a skeptic, I'm certainly not one to back down from a challenge. After a final pro-tip from Tran—"Remember to ask a friend to join you to hold each other accountable and have fun!"—I sent the workout to my best friend who replied with the peach and double hands-up emojis. Looks like I'm spending the next month squatting, lunging, and thrusting my way to a stronger butt—watermelon is about to be back in season.
Jamey Powell is an editorial intern at Greatist, as well as a cycling instructor, yoga teacher, and triathlete. When she isn’t sweating, she’s usually eating or trying to pet someone’s dog. You can follow her antics on Instagram.