What is a Squat Plug? Efficacy Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 29, 2022

Anyone that has spent time in an online fitness forum or had a gym locker room discussion has doubtless heard of the squat plug; a supposed piece of lifting accessory equipment meant to be placed within the rectum of the exerciser for the purposes of greater bowel movement control and abdominal muscle contraction.

While this is clearly a joke with origins being traced to anonymous online image boards, the concept of a squat plug has numerous theories as to whether actually using such equipment will legitimately benefit a lifter or not.

The most common explanations as to why a lifter would use a squat plug is that of preventing rectal prolapse, preventing any sort of emissions from the rectum or even an improved total weight load due to greater abdominal muscle contraction, with the plug meant to act as a source of stability.

Why are Squat Plugs Used?

According to various accounts and stories online, squat plugs are used for a wide range of purposes - ranging from simply preventing one from expelling gas during heavy squat sets to actually improving their athletic performance during compound exercise execution.

While the vast majority of these are likely just individuals having a laugh, we have nonetheless compiled the most frequently cited reason as to why squat plugs are supposedly employed in the first place.

It’s pretty important to note that none of these supposed reasons are backed by clinical studies, and are entirely anecdotal in nature - except for one, which will be discussed further in the article.

Preventing Gaseous or Solid Emissions

Perhaps the most reasonable explanation as to the supposed usage of a squat plug - many stories describe frequent gaseous or solid emissions due to the amount of pressure placed on the abdomen during heavy deadlift or squat sets. 

The usage of a squat plug is meant to contain these emissions within the body until the workout has been completed, reducing the risk of embarrassing or unhygienic occurrences within the gym. 

Such issues are clinically known as incontinence, and are a legitimate medical issue that are addressed through physiotherapy and physical therapy - two medical specialties that make frequent use of gym equipment.

Within these medical disciplines, the term “squat plug” is known as an “anal plug”, and is otherwise only used in rare and infrequent cases where neurological damage or muscular weakness results in frequent accidental emissions during rehabilitory work.

Preventing Rectal Prolapse

Another clinically documented occurrence (and frequently cited reason) as to why a squat plug is used is that of rectal prolapse during cases of heavy weightlifting, wherein the inner walls of the rectum are inverted, protruding from the anus due to high internal pressure and failure of the rectal muscles.

This is a serious medical condition, and can easily lead to the aforementioned chronic incontinence, intestinal infections and injury of the intestinal epithelial lining.

While there is little evidence to support the fact that objects clenched in the rectum will prevent prolapse, it is a frequently cited reason as to why squat plugs are employed.

Supposedly, individuals prone to this condition will make use of squat plugs in order to prevent their rectum from prolapsing during heavy squats or deadlifts, usually out of their own volition rather than with the advice of any medical professionals.

Strength Improvements

Considering the fact that solid objects (such as the bones) are meant to act as scaffolding from which the muscles can exert opposing force against, one particularly roundabout stream of logic behind supposed squat plug usage is that it improves the abdominal and gluteal strength of the lifter by providing a hard surface with which the muscles can press against.

While it is indeed true that skeletal musculature functions by pulling and pushing against the bones of the body, a small object placed within the rectum is unlikely to influence these biomechanics in any manner that could result in noticeable strength improvements.

Are Squat Plugs Actually Used by Lifters?

Just in case it isn’t quite obvious yet - no, nearly every purported case of squat plug usage is a hoax or a joke. 

There are indeed legitimate medical reasons for the usage of rectal plugs, though the majority of these cases occur outside of the gym, and most patients making use of these plugs are unlikely to be physically healthy enough to be performing heavy weight lifting workouts.

As such, the next time your friend or an online message mentions the usage of squat plugs, it is likely that they are making an attempt at humor and not legitimately placing objects within their rectum during a workout.

Medical Evidence for Squat Plug Usage

As was mentioned previously, though the majority of “squat plug” mentions are of a less-serious nature, there are indeed medically documented cases of rectal plug usage during rehabilitory or workout sessions - the majority of which are due to two serious medical conditions, incontinence and clinically-induced retrograde colonic irrigation.

While most of the sufferers of such conditions are not in sufficient shape to be performing strenuous exercise at the gym, those that are undergoing physical therapy or some sort of rehabilitation would indeed make use of rectal plugs in order to contain the contents of their bowels during medically-administered exercise routines.

This is likely where the concept of a squat plug originated - from a legitimate medical device meant to aid in rehabilitation or similar forms of exercise.

Do Squat Plugs Actually Help with Clenching Too Hard?

During squat execution in particular, clenching the gluteal muscles or buttocks too tightly can result in a disadvantageous pelvic tilt that pushes the hips forward, reducing maximal strength and potentially resulting in injury during particularly severe cases.

Though this is indeed a legitimate form cue and vital squat mechanic, the usage of a squat plug does not directly affect gluteal muscle contraction in any significant manner, meaning that there is no medical evidence to support the idea of squat plugs preventing lifters from clenching too hard during a squat repetition.

Similarly, clenching improperly or “butt wink” is also unaffected by the usage of a squat plug, and is otherwise unlikely to be corrected through any other method than proper form assessment and correction.

So - Should a Squat Plug be Used?

Apart from legitimate medical reasons backed up by a physician, it is wholly unnecessary to use a squat plug during your workout.  While doing so is unlikely to have any serious negative consequences, it is generally not needed and may even be uncomfortable in certain cases.

And to reiterate further - nearly every mention of a squat plug is simply a joke, and is not meant to be taken as exercise advice. We do not condone lifters placing items in their rectum while performing strenuous exercise, especially not in a public area.

Parting Thoughts

And there you have it; the ins and outs of squat plug usage, with a brief overview of actual medical instances where a rectal plug is used in a gym-like setting. 

In the event that your physician has indeed advised the usage of such devices, it is best to follow their recommendations in every matter possible, and to ensure that you are physically healthy enough to engage in strenuous exercise prior to actually working out.

References

1. Buono K, Davé-Heliker B. Mechanical inserts for the treatment of faecal incontinence: A systematic review. Arab J Urol. 2019 Apr 8;17(1):69-76. doi: 10.1080/2090598X.2019.1589776. PMID: 31258946; PMCID: PMC6583709.

2. Mazur-Bialy AI, Kołomańska-Bogucka D, Opławski M, Tim S. Physiotherapy for Prevention and Treatment of Fecal Incontinence in Women-Systematic Review of Methods. J Clin Med. 2020 Oct 12;9(10):3255. doi: 10.3390/jcm9103255. PMID: 33053702; PMCID: PMC7600070.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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