Training Ground

The Ultimate Guide To Squats

The Ultimate Guide To Squats

Get the best out of your body by mastering squats. This guide will describe why you should be performing squats to enhance performance, lose weight and improve overall strength.

What It Is

Squats are a compound strength movement that is generally considered the ultimate lower body strength exercise. Squats are so effective because they are arguably the most natural movement for the human body, besides walking and running. Toddlers sit and play in a deep squat position without fatiguing for long periods of time because it is the natural human seated position.

A squat can be done in a dozen unique variations, all using the same technique. Start in a standing position with feet comfortably apart and toes turned out. Your stance will be unique to your abilities and physiology.

To activate, dip down, pushing your hips slightly back, then bending at the knees. Imaging dipping to sit on a very low stool… Your hip should dip below your knees while your back remains neutral and erect.

Your knees can’t pass…what? There is an old myth that the knees should not pass forwards beyond the feet. This is biomechanically impossible and has been debunked over the last 15 years. Still, the myth persists. Your knees should actually follow your toes, in both width and direction. Keep your heels on the ground throughout the movement and you’ll be just perfect.

There is another myth that squatting at depth (hip below knees) is bad for the knees. This has also been debunked, and people who squat to the end range with correct technique have much stronger, more stable knees than those who do not.

What To Expect From It

The first benefit of squatting is improving your lower limb mobility:

The squat movement requires mobile hips, a stable lower back and flexible calves and hamstrings. Adults who are unable to perform squats at all are the unfortunate result of a lifetime of sitting in chairs which leads to a loss of mobility. Those adults who are flexible enough are fortunate to have genetics that allows them to have mobility and flexibility without ever having practiced.

Another benefit of squatting is improving lower limb strength:

The quadriceps are the main winners when squatting, performing knee extension. They are aided by the glutes, which perform hip extension.

The upper and lower back, abdominals, as well as the calves and tibialis muscles (front of calf) are working to stabilize the body through the entire movement to keep you balanced, and support any weight you might be carrying. 

The hamstrings and calf muscles are working eccentrically to control the descent of the body, during hip and knee flexion.

As you can see, the great number of muscles and joints involved in a squat make it nearly a full body exercise. You can expect sore muscles, improved strength, improved mobility, and improved lower limb muscle endurance by working squats.

Variations Of Squats

We love squatting because it is such a diverse exercise while still being safe, functional and effective. Once you have mastered the movement of 10 to 12 air squats in a row with no weight, you might want to try adding some level of difficulty. Here are a few variations you might want to try:

Back Squats: Performed with a barbell behind your neck. Great for strength training, and maintains a center line of gravity, working the posterior chain of muscles.

Front Squats: Performed with a barbell in front of the neck. This is a great way to focus on the quads, abs and anterior chain of muscles.

Overhead Squats: Performed with a barbell, or dumbbells or kettlebells in a locked overhead position. This is great to improve flexibility in the back and lats and to improve shoulder stability. This is also a really effective functional abs exercise.

Goblet Squats: Performed with a weight held in front of the chest. You can use a dumbbell, a kettlebell or a moderately heavy object at home. This also works the front chain of muscles and is a simple way of increasing the level of difficulty when you are bored of doing air squats.

Dumbbell Squats: This can be done with the dumbbells (or other weight) hanging at your sides or held up at your shoulders. This might be awkward at first, adds an element of grip work and shoulder work into your squat.

Jump squats: These are usually done with no weight, or with a back squat (preferably lighter). Simply stand up more explosively, getting your feet off the ground.

How To Reach Your Goals By Squatting

Getting Stronger: With this goal in mind, you’ll want to perform front and back squats with a barbell at least 3 times per week. Load up the appropriate amount of weight for sets of 3 to 5 repetitions. Perform between 3 to 5 sets to improve strength.

Getting Bigger: To achieve hypertrophy of the legs, you’ll want to add front and back squats to the beginning of your leg-day training. Fatigue the muscles by performing weighted squats for 10 to 15 repetitions for 3 sets.

Improving Athletic Performance: To be a better athlete, mix up front, back, overhead squats and goblet squats in your program. Be sure to always squat as deeply as possible.

Getting Rid of Back Pain: Always ask your physician or qualified medical professional before embarking on this goal. Use very light sets of dumbbell and back squats to achieve this goal. Perform 3 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions to help improve the strength and mobility of the back and glutes.

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Christie Leclair
Christie Leclair - Author

FD Bulsara, BSc is a competitive athlete in Olympic weightlifting and a student in Osteopathy. She coaches private and group fitness classes and freelance writing about her passions: fitness, health, sport, nutrition, weightlifting, CrossFit, injury prevention, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and the latest research on all these topics! She is a dog person and spends free time training at the lake. Find her at

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