Squats is a dynamic strength training exercise that requires several muscles in your upper and lower body to work together simultaneously.
Many of these muscles help power you through daily tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, bending, or carrying heavy loads. They also help you perform athletic-related activities.
Adding squats to your workouts can help boost your exercise performance, decrease your risk of injury, and keep you moving more easily throughout the day. But these are just a few of the benefits.
Keep reading to learn more about the rewards you can reap from doing squats and variations you can try for added benefits.
What muscles do squats work?
If there’s one exercise that has the ability to challenge most of the muscles in your body, it’s the squat.
The obvious muscles targeted are in the lower body, but in order to do this compound exercise correctly, you also need to use several muscles above your waist.
The lower muscles targeted in a squat include your:
- gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius (buttocks)
- quadriceps (front of the thigh)
- hamstrings (back of the thigh)
- adductor (groin)
- hip flexors
If you do a back squat or overhead squat, you’ll also work the muscles in your shoulders, arms, chest, and back.
How to do a basic squat
Known as a bodyweight squat or an air squat, the most basic type of squat uses just your body weight for resistance. Variations of the squat can include weights, like barbells or dumbbells, resistance bands, or yoga balls.
To do a basic squat:
- Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Keep your chest up, engage your abdominals, and shift your weight onto your heels as you push your hips back into a sitting position.
- Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel or almost parallel to the floor.
- You should feel the squat in your thighs and glutes.
- Pause with your knees over, but not beyond, your toes.
- Exhale and push back up to the starting position.
What are the benefits of doing squats?
The list of squat benefits is lengthy, but to summarize and point out the top picks, here are seven key benefits of doing squats.
Strengthens your core
Having strong core muscles can make everyday movements like turning, bending, and even standing easier. Not only that, but a strong core can improve your balance, ease pain in your low back, and also make it easier to maintain good posture.
A 2018 studyTrusted Source that compared core muscle activation during a plank with back squats found that back squats resulted in greater activation of the muscles that support your back.
Based on these findings, the researchers recommended targeting the core muscles with back squats to reduce the risk of injury and to boost athletic performance.
Reduces the risk of injury
When you strengthen the muscles in your lower body, you’re better able to execute full-body movements with correct form, balance, mobility, and posture.
Plus, incorporating squats in your overall workout routine also helps strengthen your tendons, ligaments, and bones, which, according to the American Council on Exercise, may help reduce your risk of injury.
Calorie burning is often equated with aerobic exercises such as running or cycling. But performing high-intensity, compound movements like the squat can also crush some serious calories.
For example, according to Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person can burn approximately 223 calories doing 30-minutes of vigorous strength or weight training exercises, like squats.
Strengthens the muscles of your lower body
Your lower body boasts some of your largest and most powerful muscles.
From getting out of bed, to sitting down in a chair, your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and calves are responsible for almost every move you make.
Strength training exercises like squats can help strengthen and tone the muscles in your lower body. When these muscles are in good condition, you may find that you can move more comfortably, with less pain, and that everything from walking to bending to exercising is easier to do.
Boosts athletic ability and strength
If you compete in a sport, adding jump squats to your workout may help you develop explosive strength and speed which, in turn, may help improve your athletic performance.
A 2016 studyTrusted Source investigated the effects of jump squat training done 3 times a week over the course of 8 weeks.
Based on the results of the study, the researchers concluded that jump squat training has the ability to improve several different athletic performances simultaneously, including sprint time and explosive strength.
Variety helps with motivation
Once you master the basic squat, there are many different types of squat variations you can try. Changing up your squats can help keep the exercise interesting, while also activating different muscle groups.
Squats can be done with just your body weight. They can also be done with weights, like dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or medicine balls, or with resistance bands or yoga balls.
Can be done anywhere
To do bodyweight squats, you don’t need any equipment. All you need is your body and enough room to lower your hips into a sitting position.
And, if you’re pressed for time, you can still benefit many muscle groups by doing 50 squats a day: Try doing 25 in the morning and 25 at night. As you get stronger, add 25 to the afternoon.
What benefits can you get from squat variations?
Changing up the basic squat allows you to target different muscle groups. It also helps with motivation so you don’t get bored with performing the same move repeatedly.
Before moving on to squat variations, make sure you have mastered the basic squat movement. These exercises are more challenging and require more strength, flexibility, and core activation.
The back squat takes the traditional squat motion and adds resistance to the shoulders with a barbell. It’s often considered the “gold standard” when it comes to enhancing athletic performanceTrusted Source, as it requires the coordinated interaction of numerous muscle groups.
The back squat places an emphasis on the glutes and hips while still targeting the quads.
- Set a barbell in a squat rack, just below shoulder height.
- Move underneath the bar so it’s resting behind your neck across the top of your back. Grip the bar with your hands.
- With your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, step back so you can clear the rack.
- Lower yourself into a squat so your hips are below your knees.
- Pause briefly, then press through your feet and push your hips back up to the starting position.
For an overhead squat you can use a dumbbell or a medicine ball.
This variation engages your core, especially your lower back. In addition, it works the muscles in your upper back, shoulders, and arms.
Your range of motion will be slightly different with this squat, so pay careful attention to your form.
- Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
- Hold the medicine ball above your head throughout the exercise.
- From a standing position, bend your knees and push your hips back as you would for a regular squat. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Pause briefly with your knees over, but not beyond, your toes.
- Push through your heels to return to the starting position, giving your glutes a squeeze at the top.
With jump squats, you don’t need any equipment. This is a plyometric move, which means it’s a powerful aerobic exercise that requires you to exert your muscles to their maximum potential in a short period of time.
The jump squat targets the glutes, quads, hips, and hamstrings while also increasing your heart rate.
Because this variation puts more stress on your joints, it’s important to have healthy knees, hips, and ankles if you want to try this move.
- Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down until your thighs are slightly higher than your knees.
- Propel yourself upward so your feet lift off the ground.
- Land with soft, bent knees, and settle back into the squat position.
While generally a safe exercise if done with the right form, there are some safety precautions to keep in mind when doing squats.
- Only lower yourself as far as you can comfortably go. When you begin to feel discomfort in your hips or knees, stop and use that as your endpoint.
- Make sure you have a solid base. Most squat exercises require you to start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Using a narrower stance allows you to target the outer thigh muscles, but it also decreases the stability of your base and puts extra pressure on your knees.
- Keep your eyes forward. While it may seem natural to look down when performing a squat, you’ll want to keep your gaze straight ahead. To help with this, pick a spot in front of you to focus on. This may help you keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Keep your posture upright. Avoid rounding your shoulders or back. Focus on keeping your spine straight and in a neutral position, with your head neutral, not looking up or down.
- Only lift what you can handle. Avoid going heavy with weight if your form can’t handle it. You will benefit more from the squat if you execute it with proper form than you will if you lift too much weight. Also, lifting too much weight can strain your lower back, hips, and knees, which can lead to injuries.
- Activate your core. Keep your core muscles activated throughout the entire movement. Think of these muscles as your internal weight belt that holds everything in its place.
Developing strength and power are just a few of the many benefits of including squats in your workouts.
When performed correctly, this functional exercise also boosts your calorie burn, helps prevent injuries, strengthens your core, and improves your balance and posture.
To stay motivated, consider swapping out the traditional squat with different variations. Not only will this keep your workouts interesting, but you’ll also be challenged with each new move.
If you have a health condition or an injury, be sure to talk to your doctor or a certified personal trainer before adding squats to your fitness routine.