Discover the science behind squats’ many benefits.
Why do people squat? Yes, many! Squats are a joint strength-training exercise for athletes and bodybuilders. This can be done with your own bodyweight, with adjustable dumbbells, or with a barbell and weight plates.
Personal trainer Chris Gagliardi says this strength-training exercise isn’t just for pros.”Everyone should squat,” he says. “From elite athletes to postpartum women.” Why? According to the CDC, strength training reduces the risk of osteoporosis and sarcopenia and improves posture, focus, and balance. Squatting is similar.
Squats are beneficial regardless of whether you use a resistance band or your body weight. We explore the main squat variations and proper form below.
1. It builds lower body muscle
BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation found that squatting builds lower body muscles. As you squat, your low back, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles must work together.
According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, squats build muscles. Gagliardi says squatting is essential for building or maintaining muscle. “Including squats in your exercise routine will help you maintain muscle strength and endurance,” he says.
2. Squats keep you functional
Most people squat without meaning to. According to a study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, squatting “features everyday functional movements” like sitting and standing.
Squatting is one of the five primary movement patterns we use daily, Gagliardi says. Every time you stand from a sitting position or squat to pick something up, you squat. We do squats often, so it’s important to have the right muscular fitness and power.
3. Squats can improve your joint stability and posture
Squats target more than muscles. Gagliardi says squats teach proper postural and joint stability. Science concurs. One study found doing squats improve bone mineral density (BMD). This strengthens your bones and skeleton.
The Journal of Human Kinetics found that squats activate the spine four times more than planks. These muscles help with standing and posture.
4. You can burn fat
Squatting can help you lose weight, as can running. According to a 2022 peer-reviewed chapter in Weight Management-Challenges and Opportunities, resistance training exercises for weight management should focus on large muscle groups and compound movements, such as Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and squats.
Compound exercises require “high oxygen use and hormonal response,” resulting in “high-calorie expenditure.”
5. Squatting can improve flexibility
Squats work all your lower muscles. PeerJ research says that’s because this exercise involves the hip, knee, and ankle joints and requires “significant hip and ankle mobility and lumbar spine stability.”
Tendons, muscles, and ligaments lose elasticity with age. Harvard Medical School says squatting stretches hamstrings that stiffen from sitting. result? Lower body flexibility
Bodyweight squats are performed using only bodyweight. This compound movement benefits beginners and those recovering from injury. It helps you learn squat form without any weight-bearing stress. A squat works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, and hips. It improves balance, coordination, and range of motion, and it lays the groundwork for more advanced squat variations.
The proper form for this squat is as follows:
Hip-or shoulder-width apart, point toes forward. Rearrange your shoulder blades. Inhale, brace your core, push your hips back, and lower by bending your knees. Keep your chest up and your weight on your heels, not your balls. Standing on your heels, exhale. Keeping your arms out in front of you can help you balance.
Front squats are front-loaded squats. Rack a dumbbell or plate close to your chest or a barbell across your deltoids (shoulders). Front squats strengthen the hips, core, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Front squats emphasize the anterior chain (front body muscles) and are quad-dominant. This type of squat reduces knee stress, preventing injury and improving range of motion.
The proper form for a front squat is as follows:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward. Inhale, brace your core, push your hips back, and lower by bending your knees. Keep your chest up and your weight on your heels, not your balls. Standing on your heels, exhale.
Tip: Front squat weight shouldn’t go past midfoot. During barbell front squats, place the weight on your shoulders, not your clavicle.
A back squat is a barbell-loaded squat (like a sandbag). Back squats work the same muscles as bodyweight and front squats, but they emphasize the posterior chain (the muscle groups in your back). This strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Back squats require shoulder, ankle, and back mobility to drive and stabilize the movement.
The proper form for a back squat is as follows:
Rack the barbell on your traps and rear deltoids (backs of your shoulders). Shoulder-width apart, toes out 45 degrees. Inhale, tighten your core, and push your hips back to lower your thighs to the floor. Maintain a lifted chest and your bodyweight over your heels rather than the balls of your feet. Standing on your heels, exhale.
Single-leg squats improve mobility, balance, core stability, and coordination. They’re a progression from squats and work the same muscles. Single-sided exercises can help prevent imbalances and injury by activating weaker muscles. Why? Your stronger side can’t fill in.
Instructions on how to perform a squat with one leg only:
Stand on one leg and extend the other, knee bent or fully extended (known as a pistol squat). Squat as low as you can while keeping your chest up and your spine straight. At the bottom, pause, then drive through your heel to stand on your exhale. Invert.
Tip: You should keep your weight on the heel of your foot at all times, and your knee should never go over your toes.
Bulgarian split squat
This squat variation works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Leaning forward can improve glute activation during this quad exercise.
The proper form for a Bulgarian split squat is as follows:
Rest one leg on a knee-high box or bench. Untucking toes is possible. Hold weights by your sides if exercising. Keep your chest up, spine straight, and hips square, and bend your front leg and back knee. Exhale and stand on your front heel, squeezing your glutes. Invert.
Tip: To get the most out of your movement, lean forward just a little bit. Make sure there is enough room between you and the box or bench you will be using.
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