Squat Muscles Worked – Introduction
What muscles does the squat work?
Squats target and develop nearly every muscle group in your body, as well as your cardiovascular system.
If you want to build muscle, get stronger, or improve your athletic performance, in just about any sport, you need to squat.
And even if you are not an athlete, the squat is the perfect prescription to improve your functional mobility and how you look and feel.
With squats, you can dramatically transform your body.
The reason squats trigger full body transformation is because the squat movement works nearly all the muscles of your lower and upper body.
The sheer number of muscles worked by the squat explains why many consider the squat to be the number one free weight exercise on the planet!
Few weight training exercises, besides the deadlift, can match the muscles involved in all squat variations like:
- jump squats
- front squats
- split squats
- single-leg squats (aka pistol squats)
- low bar squats
- high bar squats
What muscles do squats work?
- Quadriceps and hamstrings
- Adductor muscle group
- Gluteal muscles
- Erector spinae muscles
- Abdominal muscles and obliques
- Upper back and lats
Why squats are so powerful
Targeting all the muscles of your body is the reason that squats are so powerful.
Therefore, a squat workout routine using linear progression will change your body even if you’re a beginner.
In summary, weighted squats:
- builds muscle all over your body,
- fights obesity,
- builds confidence, and
- boosts your mood
Air squats, meaning bodyweight squats (not using weights), are excellent for conditioning and mobility.
Still, to build strength, you need to follow a linear progression program like the 3×5 workout plan, where you add weight gradually.
This article focuses on the most critical muscles worked during squats and illustrates why barbell or dumbbell squats are excellent tools to improve your fitness, whether you are an athlete or not.
Note: This post is for information and educational purposes, not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Always take the PAR-Q form questionnaire and consult with your doctor before starting a squat program.
How squats work your lower body
#1. Quadriceps and hamstrings
Your quadriceps femoris muscle is a four-headed muscle group on the front of your thigh which covers the femur bone.
The quadriceps are one of the strongest muscles in the human body, which accounts for the transformative power of squats.
Squats will work your legs hard, specifically your quadriceps.
The quadriceps include:
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus intermedius
- Vastus lateralis
- and Vastus medialis
When you see an image of the quadriceps, you can only see three heads, the rectus femoris, and the vastus lateralis and medialis, because the intermedius is beneath the rectus femoris.
For example, see the quadriceps image of your thigh muscles below:
See further quadriceps details in this video:
Opposite your quadriceps on the back of your thighs are your hamstrings, another great link of your posterior chain.
Your hamstring muscle group includes the:
- biceps femoris
- semimembranosus and
- Achilles tendon
#3. Adductor muscles group
As opposed to dumbbell squats, barbell squats also work the adductor group muscles because you place your feet in a wider position with your toes slightly pointed to 11 am and 1 pm.
This wider position of the barbell squat engages the adductor group muscles as you lower and lift your torso.
The adductor muscles help you move your thighs to your body’s midline, and away from your midline.
They are also known as the hip adductors and are composed of:
- Adductor Brevis
- Adductor Longus
- and Adductor Magnus
- The adductor minimus is often considered to be a part of the Adductor Magnus.
Like the gluteus maximus, the adductor Magnus is one of the largest muscles in the human body.
#4. Gluteal muscles group
- Gluteus maximus
- Gluteus medius
- and gluteus minimus
There are about 640 muscles in the body.¹
The most massive muscle in your body is the gluteus Maximus.
The biggest of the three gluteal muscles, also known as the buttocks.
Therefore, the squat is an excellent lower body exercise to train your quadriceps, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings.
Because squats heavily engage the gluteal muscles, the squat is known as a critical exercise to create power for runners.
A squat variation that primarily works the quadriceps and gluteal muscles are dumbbell squats.
Now you can see how the squat works your entire leg, from the front to the back.
Squats work the muscles you can see in your lower legs, the quadriceps, and the ones that you cannot, your glutes and hamstrings.
The muscle groups targeted are your quadriceps on the front of your thigh and your hamstrings on the back.
While the hamstrings only act as stabilizers during the squat, the quadriceps are the primary muscles that worked by the squat in your legs.
Do front squats to put more emphasis on your quadriceps.
If you do front squats, you will typically use less weight than the classic squat.
Front squats are frequently performed to mimic the movement in the Olympic snatch.
To see some amazing demonstrations of the Olympic snatch, see this article on the spectacular Dmitry Kolokov and his halting snatch deadlift warmup for the Olympic snatch.
In summary, the squats work all the major muscle groups of your entire lower body.
Squats muscles worked in your upper body
#5. Erector spinae muscles
The Erector Spinae muscle consists of three columns of muscles:
- Longissimus, and
Each muscle column runs parallel on the outer sides of the vertebra.
They extend from the lower back of the skull down to the Pelvis.
‘The Erector Spinae provides resistance that assists in bending forward at the waist.
Also, they act as powerful extensors to promote the return of the back to the erect position.’ Source Credit: Learn your erector spinae muscles
These are powerful muscles, which help you to bend forward as well as return to a standing position.
The spinal erectors run down your back, from the base of your skull to the lower vertebrae.
When you squat, you are working your entire posterior chain, from your hips and knees up to your head.
#6. Squats muscle groups used include your abdominal core and obliques
- Rectus abdominis
- Transverse abdominis
- Internal obliques
- External obliques
The squat activates almost every muscle in your body, including your abdominal muscles, as well.
One of the most important actions you must take when you squat is to brace your core.
This tightening of your core is also called blocking.
Before you begin the descent with the barbell for any squat variation, you must take in a deep breath of air and contract your abdominal muscles.
Bracing your body in this manner creates intrathoracic pressure, which means stability for the thorax region of your body, which is between your abdomen and neck.
This pressure helps you stabilize and support your spine while you perform a weighted squat.
And to prevent injury of your spine or vertebrae, you must maintain this intrathoracic pressure during the descent and lift phases of the squat.
Therefore, you stabilize your spine in the squat with your abdominal muscles.
Warning: To repeat, you must maintain a neutral back, a flat back, throughout the squat from when you lower your hips to below parallel and back to a standing position.
To maintain a flat back, before you squat, you must take a deep breath and brace, contract your abs, and maintain this intraabdominal pressure throughout the squat.
Bracing, which some also call blocking, will help prevent injury to your spine during squats, as well as when you deadlift.
#7. Upper back and Latissimus dorsi muscles
Besides the erector spinae muscles, squats also work your upper back muscles, especially your latissimus dorsi muscles, as you brace and balance the weight on your back.
How to Squat
A brief synopsis of how to barbell squat:
Get the right footwear for squats. The best shoes for squats and deadlifts in 2020 details the reasons at length.
But, in short, you need to use shoes with a flat sole that is not compressible but has a solid grip on the floor without the lack of stability that can result in a knee injury.
The next most important piece of equipment for the squat is a squat rack.
Never squat without a power rack.
While the squat is a powerful movement that can turn you into an athlete or looking like one, it is a dangerous movement.
Always be safe and squat inside a squat rack, whether you work with a personal trainer or not.
Unrack the barbell:
- Rack a 45-pound Olympic barbell approximately chest height in front of you.
- Grab the bar about with a shoulder-width grip or a drop wider.
- Duck your head under the barbell and get your shoulders under the barbell.
- Let the barbell sit across your back a bit above your posterior deltoids.
- The barbell should sit on the ‘shelf’ of your traps across your shoulders. This barbell position is called a high bar squat.
- Stand to full height with the barbell across your back and firmly pull the barbell down onto your shoulders. This action seems counterintuitive, but it is a helpful cue to solidify your body together with the barbell, whether you have weights on the barbell or not.
- Step back when you unrack the barbell.
Alan Thrall Squats Tutorial – How To Squat: Low Bar
Foot position and descent:
- Take a wide stance
- Your feet should be a bit wider than shoulder-width
- Point the toes of your shoes to 11 am for your left foot, and 1 pm for your right foot, approximately 30 degrees.
- Now take a deep breath, brace, and begin your descent by pushing your hips back as if you are going to sit in a chair.
- This action of pushing your hips back is called a hip hinge.
- Maintain the brace throughout the squat, on the descent and the ascent.
- As you lower your torso, make sure to keep your knees tracking over your toes. You accomplish this knee position by consciously moving your knees out, as is suggested in this squat workout routine for powerlifting and fitness. Mark Bell's slingshot hip circle is an excellent warmup tool to prevent your knees from caving inwards. Never let your knees cave inwards.
- Feel like your feet and shins up to your knees are screwed into the floor, in cement. As your hips hinge back, bend your knees and lower your torso till the crease of your hips drops below the top of your knee joint. This depth is called a squat depth that is below parallel and is considered the full range of motion in competitive powerlifting.
The ascent – how to generate power to stand
- As soon as your hips reach below parallel, pull the barbell down on your body even more, and drive your feet into the floor, which will generate the force necessary for you to stand up. Think of doing a leg press against the ground.
- Keep a neutral back by lifting your chest and maintaining the intrathoracic pressure created by your deep breath before beginning the squat.
- Until you reach a standing position
Squats Muscles Worked – Final Thoughts
You cannot compare the number of squats muscles targeted to most other weight training exercises.
Take the ever-popular biceps curl, for example.
Think of the size of your bicep.
Now, think of the size of the entire back half of your body.
Although you cannot see the rear of your body, you know that the muscles from your heels up to your neck are much larger than your biceps.
If squats only worked your entire leg muscles, the squat would still be superior to curls.
But, squats use many more muscles than just your legs.
The squat requires a powerful push against the floor to lift yourself to a standing position from a squat position.
This drive engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, calves, glutes, erectors, abdominals, and upper back muscles as well.
This total muscle usage of squats is why you should not waste your time only doing only curls, machine leg extensions, or only shoulder presses.
Also, squats require ankle, knee, and hip extension all at the same time, which is why squats are called a compound movement as opposed to the biceps curl, which consists of single-joint elbow flexion alone.
The bottom line is that squats are one of the most effective movements you will ever do.
Squats can improve your performance as an athlete or only improve your functional daily activities and quality of life.
The next steps on your fitness journey are:
But, if you need to lose weight first, follow these five simple steps to lose 20 pounds in 3 months.
Once you are ready to start squats, use the beginner squat workout routine mentioned above, and experience the transformative power of barbell squats muscles worked on your mind and body.
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