The squat, in addition to the bench press and deadlift, is one of the primary compound movements that target multiple muscles simultaneously. When you perform a squat, you are working various muscle groups in the lower body that allow you to get more accomplished in a shorter period of time compared to doing multiple isolation exercises.
Another plus of this lower body exercise is that it can be done anywhere, and there are many different ways to do it! Keep reading to find out how you can best include squats in your workout schedule.
What Muscles Do Squats Work?
Squats are primarily an exercise that strengthens the lower body by targeting the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and abdominals. The calves are also worked along with the core that acts as a stabilizer, and the obliques are used as well.
The glutes are a group of muscles that make up the buttock area. These consist of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. As the name suggests, the gluteus maximus is the largest of the three muscles and is used to maintain an upright position while sitting or standing.
This muscle helps power the body forward while climbing stairs or walking in hilly environments. It also helps to support the pelvis when you walk, run, and climb.
The gluteus maximus is worked during a squat because it helps to maintain the squatting position and balances the body long enough to complete each squat.
The gluteus medius is located between the gluteus maximus and minimus. This muscle is a hip abductor, which means that it helps rotate the leg at the hip joint. The gluteus medius is also used to maintain stability when standing on one leg.
The gluteus minimus acts as a hip stabilizer even though it is the smallest of the glutes, and this is important during a squat, as the hips take much of the force created by this exercise.
The quads absorb much of the pressure created in the lower body by a squat. This is increased further still by performing weighted squats.
The quads or quadriceps are a group of muscles located at the front of the thighs. Running, jumping, walking, and even kicking are all made possible by the quad muscles. Again, these muscles help the body maintain a squat, and the longer each squat is held, the harder these muscles work. This is why it is essential not to hold a squat for an excessive amount of time because this can lead to pulled quads and other types of quad injuries such as tears.
The hamstrings are the set of three muscles that lie at the back of the thigh. They stretch from the hip to just below the knee. These muscles are attached to bones in the pelvis, knee, and lower leg by hamstring tendons.
The three muscles are the semimembranosus, biceps femoris, and semitendinosus. The semimembranosus is involved in the thigh extending and flexing of the knee joint.
The biceps femoris helps the leg rotate from side to side while bending the knee; it also allows the thigh to be extended at the hip.
Finally, the semitendinous, which is located between the semimembranous and biceps femoris, supports similar movements in the thigh and knee as the semimembranosus.
Hamstrings support a range of movements from the hip and knee, such as leg bending and hip rotation. You need solid hamstrings for squats and especially when using weights. They take on q lot of the burden of keeping the hips and legs steady during each squat performed.
Despite being flexible and stretchy, hamstrings are constructed from thousands of muscle fibers that have an elastic consistency. Unfortunately, they are still prone to serious injuries, so it is important not to overwork them by doing too many squats in one session.
The abdominals are sometimes simply referred to as the stomach muscles. These are long protective muscles that hold vital organs in place.
The rectus abdominis is a flat muscle mass that runs vertically from the ribs down toward the pubic bone. This muscle is involved in bending and stabilizing the core.
The external obliques lie on each side of the rectus abdominis and allow sideways bending. For example, if you bend to the left, the right-sided obliques are worked to enable this motion. However, bending to the right, the left side activates this movement instead. This is why these muscles are given the name of opposite-side rotators. However, the internal obliques are the same side rotators and help rotate the trunk of the body.
The deepest of all the abdominals are the transversus abdominis which are also known as nature’s corset. They protect the spine and organs and play a vital role in everyday movements. Strong transversus abdominis muscles are linked to better pelvic flexibility and good posture, which prevents lower back pain and weak back muscles.
It is also worth mentioning the erector spinae muscles. While they are not part of the abdominals, they do help with stabilizing the spine while you perform the squatting motion, and they work in sync with your ab muscles.
The abdominals are important in maintaining the correct posture during a squat, and they help keep the core balanced despite taking a lot of the strain that squats place on the abdomen. However, pulling stomach muscles can be excruciating, so it is sensible not to rush into squats without warming up first.
How to Do a Basic Squat
When it comes to performing the basic squat, proper form is key! This exercise is very effective, but carrying it out in the correct way is essential for minimizing the risk of injury.
In order to do a basic squat, utilize the following steps:
- Stand on even ground in an upright position with your hands either clasped behind your head, clasped in front of your chest, or placed on your hips.
- Place your feet shoulder width apart with your toes pointing forward.
- Take a deep breath before pushing your glutes back and bending at the knees.
- Keep your upper back muscles pulled back and your chest up as you come down into a squat. Pause for a moment when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Push back up through your heels to come into standing once again. This is when you can maximize your hip extension with the shortening of the gluteal muscles to help with glute gains.
- Repeat this overall motion for a predetermined amount of reps while being sure to maintain proper form and good posture.
What Are the Benefits of Squats?
1. Help Build Strength and Prevent Injuries
Squats help strengthen important muscles, including stabilizer muscles, that are in constant use, which helps prevent injuries from occurring in daily life. It is not only muscles that are conditioned by squats; this simple exercise also helps maintain strong and flexible ligaments and supportive connective tissue, which protects muscles from pulls and strains.
Even the knees that come under immense pressure from a squat can be strengthened enough to prevent injuries. This is because the connective tissues within the knee are stretched and not allowed to tighten through inactivity, helping to build strong, stable knees. In addition, powerful knees can help with other exercises such as weight training that place even more force on the knee joints.
Because of this, squats are sometimes referred to as functional exercises because they condition the body and help it perform simple everyday activities more efficiently. In addition, balance and flexibility are also improved by performing squats on a regular basis.
2. Aid With Proper Lifting Posture
Squats help maintain a correct posture when you sit, stand, walk and lift heavy objects. A correct squat position strengthens core muscles and other muscle groups that are involved while lifting.
If your daily job involves heavy lifting, then you may want to add squats as a regular daily exercise. Squats can train the body to lift objects using the correct muscles and posture. Too many people use their back muscles to lift heavy objects, but lower body power should be used instead.
Many avoidable injuries are caused by using the wrong muscles to lift objects. Instead, much of the strain should be taken by the legs and stomach muscles, which minimizes the pressure placed on the lower back.
3. Strengthen and Stabilize the Core
Squats, whether classic squats or variations, strengthen your core and lower body. Your core muscles are used to hold a squat and to bring you back to a vertical position. However, the core of the body is also needed to keep the body stable and balanced during each squat.
Again, having a strong core makes everyday life easier because you experience more ease with movements like bending, standing, and twisting. It can also improve posture, ease back pain, and prevent back strain. Only squats performed correctly engage core muscles. Therefore, following the instructions or watching videos can be useful in getting the correct posture for whatever type of squat you choose to do.
4. Improve Training Performance
A strong core and lower body can help boost performance in all other exercise disciplines, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a professional athlete or just eager to keep fit and healthy. The muscles worked from squats can aid in running, jumping, and weight training.
They can also prevent injuries from occurring while doing any exercises that involve any of these actions. Squats are also known for building stamina, meaning you can work muscles harder for longer.
Squat Variations to Try
1. Barbell Back Squat
As already mentioned, there are numerous variations on the classic squat, and some put the body under more pressure than others; this is the case with the barbell back squat.
To begin, stand up straight with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Remove the barbell from the rack with the bar behind your back, resting on your shoulder muscles, with both arms gripping the bar evenly on each side to balance the bar.
Lift the bar and remain standing while keeping your spine straight. Then lower into the squatting position, and go as low as is comfortable for your knees. The lower the better, as this really strengthens your legs and core.
Remember to keep your back straight, shoulders back, and gaze forward. Take a deep breath and hold it during each squat and then exhale. This will ensure that your chest and shoulders remain in the correct position.
Hold the squat for a few seconds and then return to a standing position. You can complete as many reps as you feel comfortable, but two groups of ten are adequate to work the lower body and get the most out of a barbell squat.
2. Front Squat
A front squat requires you to have the barbell in front of your chest. The bar is supported by your arms crossing over your chest, with the bar itself resting on your shoulders. Squat down and hold this position for a few seconds before releasing and coming back up.
Similar to the barbell back squat, focus on maintaining good posture throughout the exercise to prevent any injuries.
3. Sumo Squat
The sumo squat gets its name because the stance used is similar to that of a sumo wrestler. It can be done as an unweighted squat, making it useful for light training or for those who avoid lifting weights. The traditional sumo squat is a bodyweight squat because it uses your own body weight to target and strengthen specific muscles. Bodyweight squats are best for those who may have to avoid lifting weights due to injury or other medical issues.
Begin in a standing position with your feet wider than hip-width. Your toes should be pointing at 45-degree angles. Next, bend your knees and push your hips back until you come down into the squat with your thighs parallel to the floor. Make sure you keep the head and neck straight.
Pause here for a moment before slowly returning to a standing position with your feet still wide apart.
There is a weighted version for those who want to push themselves harder. This involves a similar position, but a kettlebell or dumbbell is used and held in front of the body just above the floor, allowing for a deeper squat depth to be achieved.
4. Hack Squat
A hack squat is a squat that is performed on a certain piece of gym apparatus. The gym equipment looks similar to a leg press machine. To begin, sit against the back pad and place your shoulders under the horizontal pads. Positioning your legs on the foot platform at 90 degrees with knees bent is best for quad development. If you want a full lower body workout, then your backside needs to be almost touching your heels when you push down to perform each squat.
5. Goblet Squat
A goblet squat is a squat that involves a weight; a kettlebell is most often used. You can hold the kettlebell with both hands at chest height or between your legs. Keeping your back straight and your head up looking forwards, slowly move downwards into the squat position, hold for a few seconds, and then release. You can do more reps with these because the kettlebell will not provide quite as much resistance as a barbell would. It’s a great way of adding some depth to classic squats without using heavy weights, too!
6. Split Squat
A split squat is an excellent workout for the legs, and it also helps to stretch the pelvis and release any tightness that can cause pain and stiffness. All you need is a knee mat on the floor to cushion the knee joint that is in contact with the floor.
Firstly, one leg needs to be placed forwards with the sole of the foot firmly on the ground. The shin should be straight with the knee over the shin line. The chest should remain out with the head up while you are in this forward split position.
The knee of the back leg should remain behind the hip in a half-kneeling position with the knee touching the floor. From here, use the strength in the feet and legs to push up into a standing position. Since one leg is far forward and the other is far back, you may want to use a rail or other sturdy object to support and balance yourself as you perform each squat. If you have no problems with keeping your body steady, then you can remove the support.
Muscles Used in Different Variations of the Squat
1. Barbell Back Squat
Barbell squats help work the gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius. The quadriceps and hamstrings are also strengthened. Holding the barbell in position helps to exercise the shoulder muscles, back muscles, and arms.
2. Front Squat
The muscles strengthened the most by front squats are the quads, as they take most of the strain from the barbell being positioned in front of the body. It also helps with breathing because it is important not to slouch. Instead, the chest must be pushed out, which helps expand the diaphragm.
3. Sumo Squat
Sumo squats, whether weighted or unweighted, work the core and the hip adductors, which are often ignored by most individuals. The glutes are worked as well, in addition to some of the muscle groups that are used in traditional squat exercises.
4. Hack Squat
Hack squats develop various lower body muscles, and different muscles can be worked. All you need to do is adjust where you place the soles of your feet on the foot platform. Feet should be parallel to each other, and both should be at the same height to prevent muscle injuries. Glutes and hamstrings can also be given extra attention with hack squats.
5. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat primarily works the quads and the glutes. The motion of holding the weight at chest height means that the core is used to stabilize the torso, and the upper back and shoulder muscles get worked as well.
6. Split Squat
The split squat works the glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads; it can also improve balance and strengthen the core and pelvis.
What Benefits Can You Get From Squat Variations?
1. Increased Core Strength
A strong core helps to successfully execute many different types of exercise without tiring easily. It also improves mobility and flexibility, reducing the chances of developing pain in the lower back and pelvis.
Since there are many different types of squats, varying the ones you do can help strengthen the core of the body by targeting the abdominal muscles, back muscles, and pelvis.
2. Help Keep Exercise Interesting
There are those who are addicted to working out and those who find it a chore but want to remain active. Squat variations can prevent exercising from becoming monotonous, meaning that you are more likely to remain active. Whether it’s jump squats or an overhead squat, variety keeps things interesting!
3. Improved Lower Body Power
If you struggle to climb stairs while out or walk long distances and suffer from achy, crampy muscles, then you may need to improve your lower body strength by building up those leg muscles. Squats are great for the hamstrings and thigh muscles, and they can also strengthen the pelvis too.
4. Burns Calories
Some forms of squats burn more calories than others, but even unweighted squats can ignite the metabolism and begin the calorie-burning process. The more sets of squats you do, the more calories you burn; this also applies to the variation in squats that you try. You could buy a squat rack or use one in a gym to try out as many varieties as possible. They are quite expensive to buy, but they are the safest and easiest way of completing different types of squats safely.