The squat is a total body exercise that’s amazing for you. It’s a compound movement that works a lot of muscles and joints simultaneously. Read on to learn what muscles do squats work, benefits, mistakes, and how to do squats.
What Muscles Do Squats Work?
- Gluteal Muscles (buttocks): These muscles are involved in the extension, abduction, and rotation of the hip joint. They also help keep the body erect and assist human locomotion (running, jumping, sprinting, etc).
- Quadriceps or Quads: This large muscle group is located on the front of the thigh, the front & sides of the femur. It’s composed of four muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius). The origin of the name, quad, means four – hence quadricep (four-headed muscle). The quadriceps are knee extensors and hip flexors – essential for walking, running, jumping, and squatting. They, also, help to stabilize the patella and knee joint.
- Hamstrings: Located on the posterior thigh in between the hip and the knee, and are composed of three muscle groups (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris – long and short heads). These muscles are antagonists to the quadriceps and are involved in hip and knee movements. They participate in the deceleration of knee extension and help flex the knee and extend the hips. They are essential for daily movement (walking), speed (running), and deceleration (stopping movement).
- Core Muscles: The erector spinae (set of muscles that run vertically along the side of the vertebral column, originating at the hip and extending up to the skull. They help rotate and extend the spine and neck) and abs (muscles in the abdominal wall: rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominal) make up the core muscles.
- Gastrocnemius: Superficial two-headed muscles that are in the back part of the lower leg, forming the calves. They flex the foot at the ankle joint and the leg at the knee joint. They are involved in fast movements such as running and jumping.
Benefits of Squats
- Fat Loss: Being that the squat is a compound exercise that engages multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously, it helps you to burn more calories and, subsequently, more fat.
- Growth Hormone Release: They increase growth hormone. This helps to keep you young and strong. It increases vitality, strength, protein synthesis, and metabolism.
- Strength: Squats help strengthen your legs, glutes, and core. This movement allows you to get stronger overall. You can increase your strength by using high volumes for 3, 5, or 8 reps.
- Aesthetics: Squats help sculpt a rounded booty and shapely legs.
- Core Strength: This movement tightens and strengthens your core (your lower back, abs, diaphragm, obliques, and pelvic floor muscles).
- Grip & Forearm Strength: If you do squats with dumbbells, you strengthen your forearms and grip as you have to hold a weight by your sides for long periods. This is useful in other exercises such as rows, pullups, snatches, and cleans.
- Endurance & Performance: This compound exercise can also translate into improved athletic performance and less muscle fatigue. You can increase muscular endurance by using lighter loads for 12-20 reps and 2-4 sets.
- Back Health & Posture: Squats strengthen your lower back and core, helping keep your back healthy. This helps to prevent injuries & back pain and to improve your posture.
- Flexibility & Mobility: They involve a big movement, making you more mobile to help prevent injuries/tightness.
- Back Health & Posture: Goblet squats strengthen your scapular stabilizers and core, helping keep your back healthy. This helps to prevent injuries & back pain and to improve your posture.
- Efficiency: This is a highly efficient exercise that works multiple muscles simultaneously. Plus, you can do them just with your body weight, or you can use is a barbell, kettlebell, or a dumbbell.
How to Perform Squats Properly
- Grasp a barbell, kettlebell, or a set of dumbbells by your sides. If you are a beginner, you can just use your body weight and keep your hands in front of you or by your sides
- Position your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and pointed outwards – about 15 degrees
- Stand with your chest lifted, back straight, shoulders back, core tight, and your head facing straight ahead throughout the squat
- As you descend down, inhale and press your hips back and lower down
- Get your hips parallel to the floor or below
- Maintain your weight toward your heels—you shouldn’t put your weight on the ball of your feet
- Exhale as you rise and press through your heels to the starting position. Press your hips forward at the top of the squat to engage your glutes
- Avoid rounding your back and shoulders. Keep your chest open and shoulders back to help maintain your back straight.
- Avoid leaning forward from the waist. Leaning forward prevents you from keeping a neutral spine, throws you off balance, and puts your weight on your toes instead of your heels.
- Avoid keeping your weight on the ball of your feet or toes. This pushes your knees and hips forward, preventing you from fully engaging the glutes.
- Avoid having your knees caving inward as you sink down (this is referred to as knee valgus). You avoid that by allowing your elbows to touch the inside of your knees at the bottom of the squat and engage your glutes. Your knees should be angled slightly outward instead of inward.
- Avoid doing half squats. You should perform the squat’s full range of motion. Stoping the movement before hitting the full bottom of the position doesn’t allow you to reap the full benefits of the exercise.
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