When we think of squats, we think, “bigger bum!” Well, squats are more than just that. It’s an exercise that targets our muscles in the legs, core, and lower back, helping us strengthen our muscles and burn fat.
This dynamic strength training exercise requires muscles in both our upper and lower bodies to work together at the same time. These muscles help us power through everyday tasks and boost our athletic performance… As long as it’s done correctly. Read on to learn more about how to squat properly, their benefits, and other alternatives or variations to do.
How to Do Squats In Proper Form
What You’ll Need:
If you plan to do a basic bodyweight squat (air squat) you will not need any equipment but a clear area and a flat surface. Other variations have you use alternative equipment, such as:
Step 1: Get Into Starting Squat Position
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your hips should be stacked over your knees and knees over ankles. Roll your shoulders back, down, and away from your ears. Don’t let your back or shoulders go round like a turtle shell, as this causes unnecessary stress on the lower back, so keep a neutral spine for the entire movement.
Step 2: Ready Your Arms
Extend the arms out in front of you, straight and parallel to the floor. Your palms should be facing down or with your elbows pulled close to the body, palms facing one another and your thumbs pointing up
Step 3: Lowering Phase
Inhale, then begin the movement to lowered squat form, unlocking your hips and bringing them back a bit. Continue to send the hips backward while your knees bend. When your bum begins sticking out, ensure that the chest and shoulders remain upright and your back straight. Your head should face forward with your gaze straight ahead, which maintains a neutral spine.
Step 4: Go Lower
Continue to lower yourself down for as low as your mobility permits you. Deep squats are the best ones, with the optimal squat depth being your hips sinking below the knees. If you can’t reach that depth yet, that’s totally fine and you can work your way lower as you train.
Step 5: Go Back to Upright Position
Engage the core and with your body weight in the heels, go back up to the standing position. Explode up and drive through the heels. Imagine the feet spreading the floor without moving them. And you’re done! Repeat this for the recommended number of reps and sets.
Strengthen the core
A strong core will make daily activities like bending, turning, and standing easier. Furthermore, it improves your balance, eases lower back pain, and helps you maintain correct posture. A study showed that planks with back squats had greater activation of muscles supporting the back!
Reduce the risk of injuries
Because you strengthen the lower body muscles, you can execute full-body movements better with improved balance, posture, mobility, and good form. Furthermore, incorporating the squat into the workout routine helps strengthen one’s bones, tendons, and ligaments, thus reducing the risk of injuries.
A high-intensity compound exercise like squats can burn many calories performing squats. On average, a 155-pound person may burn over 200 calories doing 30-minutes of vigorous weight training or strength exercises, including squats.
Strengthen your lower body
The lower body features our largest and most powerful muscles, which we use every day. Squats are strength training exercises that strengthen and tone our lower body muscles, which allow us to move better and with less pain. It makes movement easier to do, whether we’re walking, bending, exercising, or even getting out of bed!
Boost your strength and athletic ability
When competing in a sport, jump squats can help you develop explosive speed and strength, helping athletic performance. A study showed that jump squat training can improve athletic performances in terms of explosive strength and sprint time.
You can do it anywhere
When performing bodyweight squats, you won’t need to prepare any equipment or go to the gym. You simply need your body, a flat surface, and enough room to perform the exercise. Do it anytime, anywhere, squeezing in a few reps daily.
Common Squat Mistakes You Must Avoid
- You only do partial squats. Squats are more effective when you drop at the optimal depth, with your hip joint lower than the knee joint. Just make sure you continue maintaining proper form as you drop as low as possible. To go lower into a deep squat, go for a slightly wider stance, shoulder-width apart. That way, your body can stay steady as you squat deeper, engaging even more muscle groups.
- Knees are drifting inward. As we get used to weighted squats, our knees tend to cave inward. This is a very dangerous mistake that can lead to injury. Stop this from happening by turning your toes out and bringing the knees in line with your hips and ankles. Furthermore, you should be at a proper stance, standing a bit wider than shoulder-width apart if needed, as this decreases stress.
- Body leaning too forward. When you carry weight (like a barbell), some people tend to lean forward to stay balanced. However, this would put more stress in the wrong places. Prevent leaning forward by putting your weight in the heels as you lower, which results in even weight distribution for your torso to stay upright. Also, make sure that the barbell is on your shoulders and not the spine.
- Descending too quickly. When adding weight to your squats, moving too quickly can increase the risk of injuries, like muscle tears or slipped spinal discs. Go slow and steady, breathing and taking the time as you lower down. It’s fine to explode upward, back to starting position, provided that the body and weight stay controlled throughout the full squat.
Squats Muscles Worked
Squats are a compound movement that works multiple muscle groups and joints, such as:
- Glutes: Squats work on your gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius. Yes, these primary muscles make up your bum!
- Quadriceps: These are located at the front of your thighs
- Hamstrings: These are located at the back of your thighs, which are worked on as you lower.
- Adductor: This is the group of muscles functioning to adduct your femur at the hip joint.
- Hip Flexors: Your hip flexors work as you lower your body to a squat.
- Calves: Squats work on the calves as they use the muscle groups requiring strong calf muscles, which are the soleus and gastrocnemius.
- Core Muscles: Besides the lower body, squats work on your core muscles, including the obliques, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and the erector spinae.
- Upper Body Muscles: If you perform an overhead or back squat, you can work the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, and chest.
Squats vs Lunges
Both squats and Lunges work on the legs but they have slightly different purposes. Squats help build your overall muscle mass while improving strength and performance. Lunges can define our legs and glutes while improving balance, stability, and coordination. Both work the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but since lunges are a single-leg exercise, they activate the gluteus medius more on one leg.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
To Build Muscles
If you would like to build muscles and size, then it’s important to achieve muscle hypertrophy. This can be done when performing higher repetitions at a load where you feel close to your fatigue limit by the end of each set. We recommend doing 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps each, increasing your reps and intensity gradually.
To Improve Muscle Endurance
For muscular endurance, it’s best to do more sets with a light to moderate weight. If you’re a beginner, you can go for the bodyweight squat first and add in weights as you get used to the exercise. We recommend performing 2 to 4 sets of 25 reps each.
For Strength Training
If your goal is to gain as much strength as possible, it’s important to lift as heavy as you can (still within safety range). For this, you will want to do 3 to 4 sets of 1 to 5 reps each, squatting with heavier loads (over 85%).
After you mastered the basic squat, there are other squat variations to try, which keep your workout routine interesting and give you a challenge. Furthermore, different squat variations would activate other muscle groups.
The back squat follows the traditional and basic squat motion but with added resistance to your shoulders using a barbell and squat rack for safety. This exercise is often seen as the “gold standard” in terms of improving athletic performance because it needs many muscle groups to work and interact. Back squats will place more emphasis on the hips, glutes, and quads.
You can use an overhead squat with a dumbbell or medicine ball. The exercise will engage your core, particularly the lower back. Moreover, overhead squats will work your arms, shoulders, and upper back muscles. Because the range of motion slightly differs with the overhead squat, you must be wary with your form.
Jump squats are a plyometric move that requires no equipment. You will need to exert the muscles to the maximum potential in short periods. Besides targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips, jump squats increase the heart rate. Since this squat variation adds more stress on the joints, it’s vital to have healthy ankles, hips, and knees.
The goblet squat requires a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball held at your sternum, which is the center of the chest. The squat works well for beginners and experienced lifters as it prevents you from meaning forward.
The front squat will need you to be more comfortable with the front rack position. When using a barbell for the front squat, rest it above the clavicles, on your neck, and let it rest on the fingertips. You can also do this squat with dumbbells.
If you have knee or hip issues, or just want a break from squatting, there are other ways you can power through during leg days. Here are alternative exercises to the squat that work similar major muscles:
The Romanian Deadlift will have you keep your legs fairly straight throughout the exercise. That way, you can lessen pressure on the knees while still working on your glutes. There are also other variations you can work with, like the staggered stance deadlift, which fires up your glutes and hamstrings without adding too much stress on the knees.
Step-ups on a sturdy box are a good way to use muscles required to create and extend your hips’ dynamic stability when performing upright movements. It’s a functional exercise building your quadriceps and glutes’ strength, which is helpful when performing daily activities and sports.
Glute bridges will use our hip extensor muscles in a position safe for your back and knees. This exercise will target your bum and hips without placing weight on the knees. If you want to add more intensity, you can add weight across your hips’ bony part or perform variations like the single-leg glute bridge.
Squatting and lunging forward may be painful on knee joints, especially when your knees bend more than the ankles and hips. Stepping backward will reduce the risk of your knees moving too forward as it will transfer the movement to the hips. That’s why reverse lunges are a good squat alternative, mimicking the squat movement without feeling too taxing on the knees. You can also opt for a lateral lunge for variation!
The kettlebell swing is a dynamic version of hip hinges, so it’s important to master the hip hinge before performing this exercise. This exercise can develop your glutes, back, and arms but is considered less taxing than squatting.
The squat is an excellent compound exercise that works the lower body and core. Other variations can also work some of the upper body muscles, increasing strength and athletic performance in the long run. If you’d like to build more strength, then you can add weights to your squat using a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball. Just make sure you achieve proper form before lifting heavier!