Correct Way To Do Squats & What Muscles Do They Work?

barbell squatsSquats are a highly effective method to increase all over body strength if done properly. When you complete squats the correct way they work the following muscles:

  • strengthen legs, glutes and many other muscles can benefit
  • they help the lower body mobility
  • they also keep your bones and joints strong and healthy

If you use incorrect technique:

  • you miss targeting the correct muscle groups at the right intensity
  • you can put additional stress on your ligaments and joints
  • you definitely run the risk of injury to back, shoulders, and legs

In this article we’re going to detail the correct way to do squats and answer the question “what muscles do squats work?”

Do them with or without weights

You can do the bodyweight version (this means no weights required or any other resistance other than your own body weight). They are commonly known as Body Weight Squats or Air Squats.

Alternatively, perform the squat with weights, usually fixed or added to a barbell. Front squat and back squat are variables of the Bar Bell Squat.

The squat exercise mainly targets your thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and your glutes. But as mentioned earlier it works for many more muscle groups. It covers your core strength, stability, ankle movements, back muscles, and calves. It’s no secret that many rugby and football professional players do plenty of squats!

How To Set Yourself Up For The Squat (with barbell)

barbell squat

  1. You stand with the barbell on your upper back, keep your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Lower into a squat position by pushing knees to the side, while moving hips back.
  3. As you continue in squat motion your hips should be lower than your knees
  4. Start moving back up while keeping the knees out and chest should be upward
  5. You should be standing with knees and hips locked at the top.

When you get back to the top standing position hold for a second, breathe out. Then take a big gulp of breath, hold it and perform your next squat. You should decide your reps prior to starting and your level of weight.

Mistakes To Avoid

  1. When your body lacks tautness, it’s not braced and ready to perform the actual squat.
  2. If you position the barbell wrongly it may result in too much weight on one side. The barbell must be centered behind the back of your shoulders or in front of your chest.
  3. Lifting your heels off the floor when you get down to squat mode is wrong – the heel is one of the main pressure points so keep feet firmly on the ground
  4. Your knees moving beyond your toes is not correct. This can cause you to risk the involvement of your hips.
  5. Try not to move the knees inwards, as it leaves the knee joints in a vulnerable position to an injury
  6. Avoid the wrong take off – you must ensure that both feet are shoulder-width apart and not one leg behind the other.

Different Types Of Squats

Overhead  Squat

The overhead squat is viewed as the ultimate core exercise. Here is a step by step method to successfully performing an overhead squat

Step 1

Begin by setting the barbell on the squat rack, the bar should just be under your shoulder height. Secure the bar with your hand’s slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Step 2

Prepare your core by keeping it tight and braced, place barbell shoulder height level and remove it from the rack.

Step 3

Step back with your feet set at shoulder width and toes pointing slightly outwards. Here is where you flex your knees and lower your hips slightly, you are now starting to get into the proper position.

Step 4

Now you got to quickly drive through the heels and extend your knees to lift that barbell over your head.  When the barbell is over your head, try and maintain an arched lower back (you should be fully erect at this stage). Your jaw, the mouth should be parallel to the floor. Your arms should be locked out during the entire squat motion.

Please note this is a difficult exercise and can take time to develop the power to complete it and at your desired level, most new beginners set off with low weights on the barbell.

Once you have mastered it properly, muscle groups such as hamstrings, calves, shoulders, back, core and triceps all benefit.

The Kettlebell Squat

The kettlebell squat can be more suitable for beginners who want to develop the strength to go on to bigger squat lifts. Alternatively for those who want to do light squats or those coming back from a muscle injury and want to ease back into the squatting routine.

A quick 2 step guide to do the kettlebell squat:

Step 1

Grip the kettlebell handle with both hands, it should be an overhand grip and hold the kettlebell in front of your chest. You should stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outward. You should be fully focused and staring in front with your face straight. Alternatively, you can hold two kettlebells like in the demonstration video above – one in each hand.

Step 2

Now by keeping that fixed focus start to descend down into the squat position until the folds in your hips drop below the knees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Don’t jerk or move the kettlebell it must remain close to your chest during the entire squat movement. At this point its time to drive hips and knees upward to return to the original standing position.

Doing kettlebell squats will develop your quads, glutes, delts, and biceps.

One-Legged Squat

The advantage of doing a one-legged squat is it helps your balance, your mobility, and your high-tension strength. Its the ultimate test when it comes to lower body strength.

Step 1

Stand up tall and relaxed, your normal position, position your arms straight out in front of you. Now you must balance on one leg with the other leg behind you. The leg which is not on the floor should have the knee bent.

Step 2

Here is when you start to squat down bringing the rear knee toward the floor. You should lean slightly forward at this point but keep the back straight. You must try and lower your body as far as it can go without allowing the back leg to touch the floor. Once you have decided that’s as far as you can go pause for a second and return to starting position.

Body Weight Squats

body weight squatsThe bodyweight squat is a basic “no equipment required” motion. You get into the squat position, keep feet hip-width apart and feet slightly pointing out. Now try and squat down until your knees reach a 90-degree angle while trying to maintain your body weight through your heels as you push up to starting point. It is important not to lean forward while keeping your back flat. Your knees should never be over your toes.

Plie (Sumo) Squats

You start this squat movement with feet wider than hip-width apart and your feet angled significantly outward. Focus on the same quat rules. You need to push through the body-weight keeping heels firmly on the ground. this allows the tension to stay on your glutes. For the plie squats your knees will be pointing outward. This type of squat targets your inner thighs and gives your body a lift. You can add harder resistance by using a kettlebell or just use your body weight as resistance.

Plyometric Squats

The Plyometric squat will send your heart rate racing. Try and use the same rules as the body-weight squat. The only difference being when you get to the bottom of the squat you are going to explode up, pushing yourself upwards into a jump, and then land softly on your toes. You must stay focused and maintain good body control when performing this squat.

Single-Leg Squat

As the title suggests, it’s a squat that is performed on one leg. Here you are going to lift your left leg either behind or keep it as straight as possible in front of you while you squat down on the right leg. If you are a beginner or feel you will struggle for balance then you can use a chair as you master the precise movement. It is essential to keep the body-weight through the heels so the tension remains on the butt.

In Conclusion

Whether you choose to use your body weight as resistance, or you want to lift heavy and build some serious muscle, squats are an excellent lower body exercise for anyone – male or female, and all ages from 16 upwards. It’s well worth learning the correct way to do squats though to get the maximum benefit from your workout (and to avoid injury).


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